Empire is a powerhouse that shows no signs of slowing down. The viewers keep rising along with the tantalizing over-the-top dramatics. Hitting the mid-point of its first season, Empire has yet to devolve into too many B-plots and filler, though tonight’s episode does certainly indulge a bit. The cast continues to grow, but remarkably, the mounting tension and different character motives have yet to feel overwhelming. Sure, Empire can be gaudy, I mean you don’t cast Courtney Love to play a junkie washed up rock star if you’re not hoping for at least a little bit of a car-crash spectacle, but solid performances weekly from Taraji P. Henson, Terrance Howard, and Jussie Smollett keep the more corny, soapy aspects of the show in check.
This week Empire even looks to the fringe of its cast to find some quality moments. Vernon is a character we’ve seen conspire with Andre, but we haven’t really been formally introduced to. Tonight, he’s by far the most intriguing thing happening. Once he points out to Lucious that Detective Walker is still snooping around, Lucious comes clean about Bunky’s murder. The scene is tense, and features Howard’s best line deliveries yet, as we see Lucious scared, conflicted, yet violently defensive about his actions.
Vernon then spends the episode grappling with how to handle the situation. For one, he needs to find a fall guy for Lucious, which he does easily, but he also has to come to grips with the fact that Lucious murdered one of their closest associates, someone that had been with them from the beginning, and if it happened to Bunky, what says Lucious wouldn’t turn on Vernon at some point too? It’s this revelation that leads Vernon to move even further into Andre’s corner. The two are planning something big, and the news about Bunky only accelerates their plans.
Another character that gets some special attention is Michael, Jamal’s boyfriend. Michael worries that Jamal’s pursuit of fame is changing Jamal and pushing him further away, which is only reinforced when Jamal cancels special weekend plans to do an interview with Sway, in which Jamal denies that he’s involved with anyone special in his life. Unfortunately, its hard to feel bad for Michael or even root for the two to stay together, because Michael as a character has been so poorly fleshed out and presented one dimensionally. If anything, I think viewers will want Jamal to ditch the guy so they don’t have to sit through more scenes like these.
Now let’s talk about Courtney Love. The show can’t be all about Lyon family drama every week, we all knew there would be more storylines featuring members of Empire’s roster, but I don’t know if anyone had a character like Elle Dallas in mind. A former cash cow, now disappointing junkie, Elle Dallas is giving to Cookie as a project as a last resort before the label drops her. I’ll say this; Love certainly looks and sounds the part of a washed up junkie, and at some moments, she brings her real life experience to add a little pain to Dallas’ eyes, however, she delivers a lot of her lines flat and is more of a distracting presence than anything.
In the rest of the Empire camp, Hakeem is still acting hilariously immature, recording misguided songs about his distrust of women and drunkenly squashing any chance of reconciliation with his brother, Jamal. Andre is still scheming, as is Anika, who tries to persuade Porsha to do a little inside sabotaging for her. And in true soap opera fashion, the episode ends with Raven-Symone popping up as new character, Oliva, claiming to be the mother of Jamal’s child, the last person we’d expect to have baby-momma issues. Surely, this is another character angling for a piece of Empire, or at least some money. How many more can this show add before it feels overstuffed?