LUCIFER is now running all of its six seasons on Netflix. In Part 2 of our exclusive conversation with LUCIFER co-executive producer/writer Mike Costa centers on the character of LAPD detective Daniel Espinosa, played by Kevin Alejandro.
Dan is Costa’s favorite character. Ex-husband of Chloe (Lauren German), father of their young daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez) and frenemy of Lucifer (Tom Ellis), Dan has wound up on the wrong side of decisions. When he was murdered, Dan also wound up in Hell. Even with Lucifer’s command that Dan’s soul was not to be tortured, Dan was kept in Hell by his own guilt – which turned out to be about leaving Trixie too soon. When Dan (temporarily possessing someone else’s body) hears Trixie talk about how much she loves him, he realizes he’s been a great dad and is able to ascend to Heaven.
Before all of that, though, Costa wrote the Season 5 episode “Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid,” which finds Dan waking up next to a corpse and being blackmailed by drug dealers. Dan dashes hither and yon, trying to come up with a way to clear himself, only to wind up in the middle of a shootout – that turns out to be fake. The whole thing is an elaborate practical joke on Dan, orchestrated by Lucifer.
The prank is referenced later on as proof that Lucifer has enough big-picture vision and planning skills to be God, even though Lucifer ultimately decides not to take on the divine mantle.
Costa says that the notion of using “Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid” to demonstrate Lucifer’s ingenuity came after the episode had been completed. “I had come up with the idea for ‘Naked and Afraid,’ as we always referred to the episode, back in Season 3. I wanted to do an episode about Dan where Dan wakes up next to a dead body, and he doesn’t know how he got there, and he’s essentially being framed for a murder, and he can’t tell anybody for whatever reason, and he’s got to solve this murder before he is framed and caught for it. And he’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to do this without involving anybody else. And that was my original concept.
“Back in Season 3, my idea was, ultimately the person behind it is going to be Pierce [the police lieutenant pseudonym of the Biblical Cain, played by Tom Welling], because he was the villain of Season 3, and the concept was, it was going to be towards the end of the season, and Dan was going to have figured out who Pierce was – not that Pierce was Cain, but that Pierce was actually into some criminal activity, and that Pierce was secretly the Sinnerman. Dan was the one who was going to figure that out, and then in the very next episode, he’s going to wake up next to a dead body. And he’s going to know that Pierce framed him, but he can’t prove it, and he’s going to be running around, and that was the idea. It wasn’t Lucifer, it was Pierce.”
However, the episode was not made in Season 3. At that time, “That was as far as the idea ever got, so we didn’t get any more nuanced or granular in the story. That was just the episode I wanted to do, and it ended up not fitting in that season, and then it became much like another episode I did in Season 4, ‘Expire Erect.’ It became just sort of a thing that floated out there – ‘Oh, we’ll do the DIE HARD in Lux episode.’ You had these ideas that come up, and they sound like really good ideas – ‘Yeah, we should do a DIE HARD in Lux episode’ – but then, as you’re working on the season, you realize, “There’s no place in this season for this story to happen, so we’re just not going to do it.’ That’s just the reality of working on a TV show. And then eventually, in Season 4, there was an opportunity for [‘Expire Erect’], and we did do it.
“Through Seasons 3 and 4, there was, ‘Oh, yeah, we should do “Naked and Afraid”,’ but there wasn’t any room for it. And I remember, when we had decided that we were going to kill Dan towards the end of [Season 5], I said, ‘Okay, we need to do “Naked and Afraid.” Because, one, it’s an episode all about Dan, and we can do it right before we kill him, so we can give Dan a big spotlight before his character dies. And secondly,’ I said, knowing that Lucifer was going to become God, ‘that is a useful thing if Lucifer’s behind it.’
“Because also, at that point, we had decided that Dan was going to find out that Lucifer was the Devil, and [Dan] was going to shoot [Lucifer, believing Lucifer is evil before learning otherwise]. And that was what I really seized on. ‘It would be Lucifer doing this, and he would be doing it as retribution.’ That is the reason, because it has to boil down to a dumb petty Lucifer thing. He’s just torturing Dan, because Dan shot him,” Costa laughs.
“And actually, I don’t know if it was me or someone else that also came up with the idea that, ‘Oh, and it works because it proves that Lucifer can figure out all this stuff, and it makes it seem like he could be God.’ I honestly don’t think that I came up with that concept; I think it may have been [executive producer/show runner] Joe [Henderson], or maybe somebody else, but it all just worked together. And that’s the kind of thing that happens where then an episode comes together, whereas before it’s like, “We should do an episode about Dan being framed for murder and trying to figure it out.” It doesn’t fit anywhere until you have all of those other ideas that are already existing in the season’s story that work in concert, and make it happen.”
Costa thinks it may also have been Henderson’s idea to bring back Dan’s friends from the amateur improvisation workshop (a recurring motif earlier on) for the episode. “I can’t remember. I did come up with the idea early on that everything that happened in the episode should be some sort of reference to something we knew about Dan’s life, and the way that Lucifer structured it would almost be like a ‘This Is Your Life, Dan Espinosa.’
“And it also, in a larger character way, was this almost existential way for Dan to work out the crisis he was having in his life, to be constantly confronted with these situations that echo his past. So, he mixes it up with the Los Xes, because that’s a gang that he and Maze fought at one point, and there’s a severed head in a box, because that happened one time, and then the Russians show up, because he and Maze [Lesley-Ann Brandt] met the Russians. All of that stuff was very intentional. I even worked in some really subtle ones that I don’t know if they even communicated very well to the audience, but I had all kinds of crazy Dan Espinosa Easter eggs.
“So, I think I did have the idea of the improv people showing up to rescue Dan on the side of the road, but it was Joe who suggested that they had to come back at the end of the episode. Because I remember Joe, as the show runner, he’s got to have a bigger bird’s-eye view of what’s going on with the show. We all try to, but it’s Joe and Ildy’s [Modrovich, another exec producer and the other LUCIFER show runner] legit job to do it. So, they take that very seriously, and they own their responsibility way more than any one writer does.
“Joe and Ildy, as show runners, trade off episodes. So, Joe takes the odd episodes, Ildy takes the even episodes, and they change season to season. And so, that was a Joe episode, and I remember Joe being very concerned that it couldn’t be just a no-reason that the improv people showed up. Everybody had to show up again in order to justify it all, and that’s where the idea of everyone showing up at the end to get into a big gunfight – and I think the hardest thing to figure out was, why would the improv troupe be there?” Costa laughs. “I don’t know if it was me or someone else who had the idea of like, oh, well, Lucifer hired them to pretend to be Dan’s gang, because they’re an improv group. That was the idea that made that work.”
Had there been no Season 6, Costa adds, Dan would not have gone to Heaven. “Again, that was something else that we got to actually expand. And that might be my favorite thing that we expanded, though of course I do love the character of Dan, so I guess it would be,” he laughs.
When Lee (Jeremiah Birkett), a formerly Hellbound soul, in Heaven, Lucifer realizes that it’s possible for people to free themselves from Hell by finding a way to move on from their guilt. “That was always there,” Costa explains. “It was going to be the same thing of, there was going to be this revelation, and it was going to come from Lee, who Lucifer sees when he’s in Heaven. ‘Oh, this guy made it out of Hell.’
“The original idea was, in that little therapy session [run by Lucifer for souls in Hell in the series finale], Dan was going to be in there. And then you would get the sense that Lucifer’s really working on saving Dan. We actually thought it worked out better that we get to see Dan actually go up to Heaven and everything in Season 6, whereas in the original ending at the end of Season 5, that therapy session is Lucifer and Dan, and maybe a couple other people. We were always throwing ideas of which previous characters that we know are in Hell can we get to see here. But Dan was definitely going to be there.
“And then there was some worry that, well, does this feel like Lucifer’s only doing it for Dan? Shouldn’t it be very clear that he’s doing it for everybody? Because this character that Lucifer was very close to was in that room, it was a little ambiguous, and we felt like it kind of blunts the idea that he’s doing it for everyone. Season 6 gave us the opportunity that Dan makes his own way [to Heaven], and then when you see Lucifer doing therapy, you know that he’s doing it for the greater good of Hell, and not just because a friend of his is there. So, that worked out pretty well.”
Minus the LUCIFER characters, of course, could Costa rework “Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid” as a feature film script? He laughs. “I think you could. It was intentionally structured that way. It was structured like a neo-noir film. I remember the director, Greg Beeman, saying, ‘I really like this script. It’s kind of like a Coen Brothers movie.’ Which is like the highest compliment I could possibly be paid. I mean, I am nowhere near a writer of material of the caliber of the Coen Brothers, but I love that he recognized that impulse in it, and I think that he made attempts to stylize it directorially in a way that also echoed that kind of work. There were a lot of unusual-for-us kinds of shots for that episode, and we really got to play around with our own format. Other than the fact that it’s all these characters you already know, the story itself is pretty self-contained. So, it was very much in my mind that I’m writing a little mini-movie inside of LUCIFER. It was the most fun I’ve had writing a script, for sure.
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Article: LUCIFER: Exclusive interview with writer and co-executive producer Mike Costa on Season 6 character motivations – Part 2