This Empire review contains spoilers.
Empire Season 2 Episode 11
Empire returned tonight from its midseason hiatus and it’s quite evident that the record is starting to skip. When Empire arrived on the scene, it felt fresh, fun, and vibrant, but somehow not even a lengthy winter break could make the familial in-fighting over Empire Records seem interesting again. “What will Empire do next?” quickly has become “When will Empire do something different?”
I can only listen to Hakeem defy Lucious with a line to the effect of “I’m not going to do what you want me to do,” so many times before I start to become bored. I can only hear Cookie recycle a burn like “Yoko” so many times before it starts to become stale. Lucious’ melodramatic monologues are starting to become parodies of themselves now, they’ve become so routine.
Not only has Empire lost its ability to surprise, but it’s hardly any fun anymore as well. I understand that the show is a drama at its core, but tonight’s best moments were when Jamal and Cookie were teasing each other like mother and son or when Cookie worked a smile out of Lucious. Things have largely become so dour, yet in moments like the episode’s open, when Cookie waits for Hakeem in his apartment furious, broom in hand, it’s almost like the episode is playing the moment for comedy. Basically what I’m saying is that the show is tonally mess, making bizarre choices as it goes along.
Bizarre like deciding Naomi Campbell, a mediocre actress at best, should return for a major run as an antagonist, or that Rhonda’s tragic miscarriage should become a plot about Rhonda denouncing God. Isn’t there enough drama in the unsolved murder attempt that we could avoid such a goofy effort at internal conflict for Andre?
As always, barring Cookie, Jamal gets the best material tonight, confronting the gay lobbying/bullying of Jamison and the jokes of his mother with thoughtful discussions about sexual fluidity. Too bad the corny, on-the-nose song he writes about it minutes before performing it with a choreographed dance sort of takes the all the air out of the moment.
The other bright spot of the episode comes in a dark moment. When the Lyon family arrives at the hospital, with tears in their eyes over the loss of Andre’s unborn child, their pain feels convincing. The scene is well acted, until Andre starts crawling around on the floor, but it just proves that when you put these characters in the same room with something else to talk about beside who is running Empire that this show can be engaging.
Empire is going to need to be a hell of a lot better than this in this next run of episodes to redeem what has been a lackluster slog of a second season. Thankfully Empire never sticks to any one plot point for too long, so hopefully all things Camilla and Daddy-issue related fall by the wayside rather quickly so we can get so Empire starts sounding innovative again.