It’s not strange for an episode of Empire to be all over the place, but this week’s episode, the last before next week’s two-hour season finale, is a scattershot collection of highs and lows for the show. Some moments were cringe-worthy, others were genuinely touching, but overall the tonal inconsistencies were distracting, even by this show’s standards. I’ve enjoyed Empire thus far, but I’d really like the show to have a sharper focus in season two.
The scenes that transpired at Lucious’ home were fantastic. I’ve stated many times that I believe the show is at its best when the Lyon family is brought together in close quarters to interact. The insanity that comes from Olivia’s abusive partner Reg pulling a gun is exactly the right type of craziness for this show, and it allows the family to see Lucious as the manipulating egomaniac that he is while he’s trying to convince Reg to focus the gun on him. This episode went full tilt on Lucious being something of a villain, at this point scorning everyone, including his precious Hakeem. For a moment, I almost believed that Lucious was in real danger, and I was considering how the show would look with him removed, but alas, Malcolm saved the day.
As far as the bad stuff goes, there’s a lot. Jennifer Hudson as a music therapist was pretty silly and only seemed like an excuse to let her show off her incredible voice. Vernon’s coke relapse came out of nowhere and was comical as well. Olivia’s abusive partner had no acting skills, and I still can’t get into Andre’s storyline whatsoever. However, the scenes that involved Jamal trying to take responsibility for Lola were sweet and effective, and I love the development of Cookie and Malcolm’s relationship. The scene where Cookie believes she’s being watched on camera by Malcolm is classic Cookie, the exact sort of thing we’ve loved about the character. As I said above, the show was really all over the place, but the things that the episode did well were done incredibly well.
The best part of the episode was Cookie rejecting Lucious. The role reversal of the two makes complete sense based on the way their stories have moved over the course of the season. Cookie is strong and independent, so I’m glad the show didn’t have her act out of character and end up back with Lucious. The thing that bugged me the most was the revelation that Lucious is Lola’s real father and her removal from the show. I would have liked to see the fallout between Jamal and Lucious over this detail, and it would have been interesting for Lola to stick around through that chaos, but instead, the show just swept the whole storyline aside and had Olivia whisk her off as if the whole thing never happened.
I have no real predictions for next week’s finale, but I’m excited to see if Empire can stick the landing. The show has already made history with its ratings, but it has the chance to truly cement itself as one of the best programs on network television if the finale satisfies.