This Empire review contains spoilers.
Empire Season 2 Episode 8
Is Empire good? Is Empire bad? I’ve spent the last seven weeks tackling that question and I don’t really think I’m any closer to answering it. Last week, I embraced the crazy. With an open heart, I praised Lucious playing the sitar along to the world’s best-worst song ever made! I think I gave the episode four stars!
This week, I feel the exact opposite about Empire. Is it just me? Am I just tired this week and not in the mood, and last week I was more susceptible to Empire’s campy charms? Perhaps, or maybe last week just had a specific, inimitable brand of crazy, whereas this week felt more like, I don’t know, a Pepsi-sponsored night time soap by the numbers. Surprise pregnancies have been done to death. Long-lost sisters, even if a more-than-game Vivica A. Fox plays them, are tired in this territory.
Yep, I really don’t care that Anika is carrying Hakeem’s child. For starters, Anika has never been interesting. Actually, this whole crying-with-no-makeup thing Anika has been doing was almost watchable, mostly just because it proves how gorgeous Grace Gealey is, but her and Hakeem’s scenes never have any energy and it was clear that Anika was heading into crazy ex-territory the second Hakeem gave her the breakup via awkward chin-touch. However, I will award points to Anika driving Laura’s private car in what looks like a kidnap attempt, but only because of that ridiculous wig that Ankia was wearing.
The other main problem with this episode is that watching Lucious and Cookie fight over Jamal is plain old at this point. It doesn’t help that half the storyline served as a Pepsi advertisement, but then the other half is devoted to getting Lucious and Cookie to put aside their differences and fuse their songs together. That means more screentime devoted to Cookie and Lucious “producing” which usually consists of lots of enthusiastic nodding, hand movements, and vague lines about “feeling it.”
And as I’ve pointed out many times before, the episode’s big set-piece comes courtesy of some huge musical event at Leviticus, this time a rap battle between Freda and Hakeem for the Lyon name, because sure, they haven’t done a rap battle yet, so why not? This is important to Lucious and Cookie, who each bet on their artist, wagering Jamal and Hakeem’s albums, respectively. The battle actually has some fun lines, most coming from Freda, but inexplicably Hakeem gets the crowd involved, having them sing along to the lyrics that he’s supposedly making up as he goes, and he wins the battle after he announces his abandonment of the Lyon name. It’s sort of silly, but it’s also fun, which is usually the case when Empire dives further into hip-hop territory. Two rappers having beef is just a part of the culture, it always boosts records sales, and here, it lifts an otherwise forgettable episode.
In other news, I think I’m going to start counting the amount of times Hakeem says “on point” in an episode. And that’s all I’ve got, because this was a particularly uneventful episode of Empire. Hakeem stepped on Laz’s toes a bit more to inch that story thread along, and something was going on with Lucious buying that streaming site, but honestly who cares about that? It feels even less essential than all of the repetitive family drama. I’m not sure what Empire needs to get back on track, but it has to start being unpredictable again.