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'Hazbin Hotel' and What it Means to Burn Forever, by Ethan K. Poole

What does a soul do once it is damned to Hell? Is it possible to hold onto humanity and empathy in the face of everlasting suffering?

Hazbin Hotel is an adult-animated-musical-comedy series released on Amazon Prime. It centers on Charlie Morningstar, daughter of Lucifer and Princess of Hell, as she attempts to redeem the souls of sinners so they can earn a second chance at an afterlife in Heaven.

That is in and of itself an interesting premise, and it opens the plot up to a lot of fun scenarios with wacky characters. Indeed, the main cast is a motley crew of demons filled to the brim with quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Where the series really comes into focus, though, is in its ticking clock. Heaven, with an army of semi-invulnerable angels behind them, has enforced a yearly slaughter in Hell called the “extermination,” where the evil dead are brutally killed again, this time forever. One of the early songs of the series, “Hell is Forever,” features Adam, the extremely powerful angelic form of the first man, threatening that he and his host are coming even sooner than expected and are planning on being more brutal than ever. With the next extermination coming soon and both Heaven and Hell doubting that redeeming a soul is even possible, a question looms over the entire series: how is any of this fair?

Near the middle of the series, this question is explored directly, with Morningstar and her ideals placed on trial in Heaven and her (with the help of a more sympathetic angel) raging against the divine machine and calling out the hypocrisy of a system where the “pure” and “noble” are allowed to kill with impunity.

Now, of course, these ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re borrowed from various religious traditions, the most obvious and direct being Christianity.

That’s not to say that this series accurately represents Christian tradition. Many of its story elements, including the extermination, are obviously original ideas and are not directly lifted from any theological tradition. But the inspiration is still obvious, taking cues from classical depictions of Hell like Dante or Milton with a parody twist.

Religious imagery has the potential to be more than a little controversial, especially when you take as many creative liberties in the interpretation as Hazbin Hotel did. However, religious imagery also has the potential to expand on the meaning of a work of art, whether it’s Michealeagelo’s Pietà or Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (the latter being particularly controversial and sparking nationwide backlash from politicians and normal people alike). Still, it allows people with a preexisting relationship with these images to resonate with a work’s message on a deeper level than they otherwise could.

The concept of Hell has been controversial among theologians since before the Council of Nicaea (a long time ago). The nature of Hell, or its perceived existence at all, is a complicated topic with many clashing views. It is a centuries-old debate that is still raging.

Hazbin Hotel takes the discourse about Hell and uses it as a springboard to build an entire story, one with a strong stance on this issue. The series believes, in no uncertain terms, that a system that allows for a place like Hell to exist must be corrupt all the way to the top. It believes that if Hell exists, it means Heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Now, that’s not a stance that’ll resonate with everyone. It is easy to imagine that many would get upset or react negatively to the series’ ideas. Satirical takes on religion are not universally well-liked.

The show also jumps from more comedic moments to discussing serious topics (as a content warning, one of the main characters is in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship) lightning fast, not always giving you a chance to prepare emotionally. 

And those are not the only parts of the series likely to turn people off. Not only does the series feature original music, but they are mostly show tunes. Its comedy has a manic energy that some will find grating. Its pacing is also incredibly quick, almost always never giving you a moment to breathe.

Basically, the series has the energy of an over-the-top, edgy theater kid with strong opinions about God bouncing off the walls. And I don’t say that as a criticism. That’s honestly the show’s main selling point. It has a strong sense of its own identity and doesn’t compromise for a second.

That conviction has undoubtedly paid off. While it definitely isn’t for everyone, the people who love it love it a lot. Hazbin Hotel is far from a perfect show. However, it is unapologetically and fearlessly itself.

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