There’s occasions where I watch something and it moves me
enough to think about it in excess. Hazbin Hotel is one
The general conceit of the show is one of a deep desire to be redeemed out of habitual sin. It begins following the aftermath of a yearly purge (a la The Purge film franchise) wherein the angelic host of heaven descends into a Dantean like Hell to cull the population of demons that have begun to overcrowd the region. (Fantasy notwithstanding, I was already interested with the idea from a theological perspective, wondering if this was some form of delayed annihilationism.) Charlie Morningstar, the daughter Lucifer Morningstar (Aka Satan), having witnessed this for the umpteenth time, is moved to action and decides to establish a halfway house for sinners desiring salvation. And, of course, there’s lots of singing.
What I found really remarkable about the show, developed by Vivienne Medrano, was
the honesty and authenticity of the characters. In the same vein as her
previous YouTube series, Helluva
Boss—despite what I, a white, Christian male may think about the character’s
choices or actions—there is something inherently magnetic about Charlie’s
altruism, Vaggie’s cynicism, Angel Dust’s deviance, and Husk’s standoffishness.
They are real and relatable, which, honestly, is the true objective of any kind
of creative writing, and the result is fantastic. And while the overtly crass
language is unrealistic and distracts from what can be transpiring in the
episodes, the overall substance underneath I found compelling.
Theologically speaking, the writers of the show ask very
thoughtful questions about the nature of life, or justice, of forgiveness. For
instance, in episode 2, when Sir Pentious (essentially cobra commander anthropomorphized
as a full sized cobra in steampunk attire) is caught in the act of trying to sabotage
the hotel, Charlie encourages him to ask forgiveness. In the musical number
that ensues she says “… it starts with ‘sorry.’ That’s your foot in the door.
One simple ‘sorry’… The path to forgiveness is a twisting trail of hearts, but ‘sorry’
is where it starts.” Even when Vaggie (Charlie’s girlfriend) and Angel Dust,
indicate that they would rather succumb to their desire to just kill Sir
Pentious, Charlie insists, “but who hasn’t been in his shoes?” It’s easy to
dismiss the show as “satanic” and “depraved” as conservative critics are
undoubtedly saying, but as we are all made in the image and likeness of God, our
deep inner propensity to want forgiveness and salvation is startlingly on
display throughout the show.
In a subsequent episode, “Masquerade,” Angel Dust’s sexual abuse
is discussed, where it’s implied that, despite being proud of his overtly erotic
disposition, the life that he has been sold into is demeaning and exploitative.
Like many of the unknown actresses and actors that work in the adult film
industry, His only recourse is to forget his trauma through heavy substance
abuse. Although the musical exposition between himself and Husk seems to
undercut the same need to reform that Sir Pentious expresses earlier, their conclusion
is still something remarkable: that they are damaged and exploited people that
need each other to get by in a brutal and desperate world.
My favorite episode, “Welcome to Heaven” was by far the most theologically developed. Charlie and Vaggie are allowed passage in to Heaven to argue their case in an angelic court as to whether a soul can be redeemed out of Hell. When asked what the criterion is for salvation, Adam (of Genesis 3 fame) rather ineptly suggests that it’s to, “act selfless, don’t steal, [and] stick it to the man.” When Angel Dust demonstrates these moral acts mere moments after, it begs the question: what actually earns a soul a trip to heaven? The assumption that it is by some formula of good deeds and virtuous living that allows a soul to migrate to Heaven after death is nothing new. We seem to naturally justify—or wish to justify—that what we do matters. I think that this is because our mortality compels us to make a mark on this world so that our memory outlives us. I myself want to write books, to be incorporated into the cannon of Western Literature. But we are taught by both the Bible and recorded history that this aspiration is the height of folly. The list of famous and well to do figures, forgotten by the passage of time must be staggeringly large, just as 99.9% of all the species that have gone before us are now extinct. That Hazbin Hotel seizes on this ambiguity regarding the requirements to go to heaven, is remarkable, if only because it encourages discussion around the worthiness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and why something like it would distinguish itself so much from the competing ideologies around justification. It just makes me happy that people who may, or may not, know God have come so far and has expressed a desire to try something different.
Of course, this isn’t a show about Jesus, or why we should be compelled to accept his grace and forgiveness. The cosmology of Heaven and Hell is all wrong. The motivation behind why someone may take part in heaven, or willingly chose hell, isn’t accurately described. The hierarchy of demons, sourced from the Lesser Key of Solomon (based on the Testament of Solomon), is not sourced from the canonical books of the bible, but from dubious extra biblical sources that cannot be reliably dated. And yet, those who wrote the show and brought it to life, are people with dignity and respect, being made in the image and likeness of God. Even though I may not agree with the conclusions, the questions asked are valid and demand a response.
I think it behooves us as Christians and non-Christians to dialogue
about these kinds of things more frequently, and it encourages me that someone like
Medrano could voice them so creatively and compellingly. I would highly
recommend a watch. Be advised however, and understand, that this is certainly
not Veggie Tales, but a show about very real people who are closer to the Kingdom
of God than they realize.