The numbers are in after another episode of Empire, and yet again, those numbers are up from last week. That’s six weeks in a row. That’s pure insanity in today’s TV landscape where viewers can pretty much decide when and where they watch their favorite programs. It’s still early to predict how Empire’s ratings dominance will impact the network television scene, but Fox has to be completely ecstatic about the performance of their freshman drama.
Last week’s Empire was sort of all over the place, focusing on new or background character’s outside of Lyons family. This week, the story brings it back to the family at the core in of the season’s most straightforward plots: everyone is preparing for an Empire showcase being put on for a room full of wealthy investors. That means that Hakeem and Jamal will have to put their beef aside to perform, Cookie will have to keep Elle Dallas clean so she can rock the stage, and Lucious must keep his withering health in check long enough to sell his company to the room.
The other element of the story that’s on display is the love triangle between Cookie, Anika, and Lucious. When Lucious collapses at the Empire offices, he chooses Anika to ride with him in the ambulance, much to Cookie’s chagrin. Later, when his voice falters, he choses his ex-wife Cookie to deliver the keynote address to the investors. It’s interesting to see Lucious juggle his feelings for both women, and his chemistry with Cookie, all of their longing gazes and Cookie’s fiery jealousy, makes for great drama.
The problem is Anika. She isn’t bringing the same passion to the table. She seems far more interested in proving that she’s more valuable to Empire than Cookie is and less interested at proving that she’s Lucious’ true love. She drugs Elle Dallas to sabotage Cookie, but she doesn’t protest at all when she’s overlooked to give the keynote speech, and she doesn’t even bat an eye when Lucious audibly announces his love of Cookie after Cookie nails it. As far as characters go, Anika’s has the least clear motivations of everyone, and as a major villain in the story, she shouldn’t be so yawn-inducing.
The beef between Hakeem and Jamal isn’t quite as explosive as it should be either. To me, they seem just like normal brothers bickering, not two men on a warpath against each other like the show hinted at in its premiere. I can’t even really remember why things are not copasetic between the two of them in the first place. And what’s up with Cookie and Lucious forcing them to perform and get along? I get that they’re trying to impress investors, but I was under the impression that Cookie and Lucious were trying to pit the brothers against each other, trying to make one a bigger star than the other.
Even with all the irregularities, I still enjoyed this episode, mainly due to the scene between Jamal and Lucious where it is revealed that early on in his career, Lucious forced Jamal into a sham marriage. That fact only further complicates their relationship, but Lucious still manages to make the move seem less about his homophobia and more about him being concerned for his son. He even warmly offers his support to help Jamal with his newly arrived daughter. Also, I loved that Cookie and Lucious finally hooked up. The sexual tension had been brewing and maybe it will add some fuel to the Cookie vs. Anika battle. And with Lucious’s disorder out in the open, maybe we’ll see an even more evilly ambitious Andre, finally making moves to remove the other players from the table instead of just having manic fits in private.
I’ll take the good with the bad on Empire because even when things aren’t living up to the show’s potential, the leading performances are outstanding and there’s just a certain air of fun to everything that’s happening. I’m hoping in this back half of the season that things really start to go up to 11.