This Empire review contains spoilers.
It’s been a tough year for Empire. After becoming a ratings juggernaut phenomenon seemingly over night, season two then took on the responsibility to live up to the hype and keep the hits coming. In music, they say the second album is always the hardest, and usually musicians fall into either two traps; they either recreate their first album too faithfully, or they falter by being over ambitious and create something bloated and indulgent. Somehow, season two of Empire has ended up being both. Not only did things become repetitive and formulaic, but the show also took big swings that ended up as big misses, like filling the season with distracting guest stars or attempting to comment on social issues like mass incarceration, but doing so in an incredibly tone deaf fashion. Fortunately, it’s only the midseason finale, and perhaps Empire can turn things around in March.
If this episode is any indication, the show has potential to right its wrongs, though I wouldn’t exactly count on it, because though Empire is weaving some interesting threads together in its tenth hour, it’s using all of the wrong colors. On one hand, it looks like a true antagonist has come forward to bring Cookie and Lucious back on the same side, a development that will likely re-energize the show, but on the other hand, that antagonist is Camilla, one of the worst characters from the first season, played by the minimally talented supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Yes, all along Mimi Whiteman was positioning to take over Empire for her “wife” Camilla. The betrayal by Whiteman could have actually had some shock value had the audience not been hit over the head with the fact that Mimi’s pen was a recording device. I figured that Mimi was working for the police and Roxanne Ford, which would have been a much more dramatically satisfying moment instead of Lucious being tricked by a character no one likely cared about seeing again.
I suppose making Camilla the person behind the nefarious plot was a way to give Hakeem more motivation to turn his back on his family and complete the arc that he has been on all season. I like the idea of keeping one of the Lyon family members on the outs, and it makes sense that it’s Hakeem; he started the series very resentful of his mother, has often fought with his brother Jamal, and we all know his well-documented issues with Lucious. What makes this all more interesting is the fact that now Hakeem is the only person keeping the Lyon name going.
The “heir” that Rhonda was supposed to give Lucious is likely no more, now that Rhonda has been pushed down the stairs by a mystery assailant who is most certainly Anika. Once again, I hate that its Anika, a terrible character, creating such an impact on the proceedings, but it’s the right move for the show. Anika taking her frustration out on Laura made little sense. Rhonda was hinting to Anika that she had all of the power she could want over the Lyons growing in her stomach, why did she need Hakeem? So for Ankia getting rid of Rhonda’s child ensures her safety and her child’s, as she’s the only person currently able to give Lucious a grandchild, giving her even more leverage. Once again, this is Hakeem’s child too, making his defection more important.
That’s all just praising the episode for the ways that it set the show up for itself in the future. In the present, this was still a decent episode. Nevermind the fact that episode revolved around yet another big music event, the show’s favorite device – there were still good character moments. Lucious’ jealousy towards Jamal, his refusal to be usurped, is a great dynamic, and his tantrum after losing Empire was a great scene. Likewise, Cookie had some key emotional moments as well during her return to jail, though the side plot between her and Da Brat never really went anywhere. Jamal confronted his kiss with Sky last week in a very nonchalant way, being honest with her about his sexuality and letting her down easy. However, Lucious reveals Jamal’s foray into heterosexuality to gay industry heavyweight Jamieson, a move that will likely have repercussions for Jamal.
So could this midseason finale be the turning point for Empire? Could the back half of this figurative record contain all of the best tracks? Only time will tell, but I honestly believe after weeks of forgetful episodes, Empire went out tonight on a good note.