This Empire review contains spoilers.
Empire Season 2 Episode 6
Empire was perfectly bonkers tonight, just sublimely silly and confident, campy with hubris and swagger. Of course there were some truly ridiculous writing, some over-serious schlock, but that’s such a part of Empire’s DNA at this point, I look forward to the bad almost as much as the good. There’s just no getting around the fact that the show is entertaining, and tonight had so much crazy to consume.
The episode begins with Cookie and Laz in bed, as we zoom in to join them in a post-sess chat. If you removed the hip-hop soundtrack and replaced it with swelling, intrigue-building strings like the melodramas of yesterday, it would play like any soap opera. Of course, Empire isn’t just like any old soap opera, because then, Cookie and Laz just start to go back at, in an over-the-top stylized montage that’s supposed to take place over the course of three days! Then afterwards, Cookie gets to drop some innuendos involving eating (I won’t spell it out for you, listen to some Nicki Minaj if you don’t get it). Cookie breaks the Internet every Wednesday night.
In this episode alone, Lucious pretty much has a threesome with Marissa Tomei, Hakeem gets to play She’s All That with Laura, and Andre almost gets whored out against his will to the Deputy Mayor. That’s Empire; that’s what the people want. I mean, Lucious, sweet, insane Lucious, spends the episode TORTURED trying to take what he believes is already a hot track to the next level. Never mind that the song is actually horrendous, that the “genius” hook is just Lucious saying “BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM, BANGBANGBANGBANG,” because IT DOESN’T MATTER! It doesn’t matter that the song is laughable, hot garbage because we get to watch Lucious visit a wise old elder who tells him HE HAS TO DIG DEEPER! We get to witness him sit in his studio diddling on his SITAR slaving over how to make BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM the emotional megahit that will validate his entire career.
I guess you can say my enjoyment of this is ironic, but laced throughout all of this are some actually compelling flashbacks to childhood trauma that Lucious suffered at the hands of his mother. There’s also this weird subtext that’s underneath, if say you’re really stretching and have to interpret these sorts of things, about the struggle of aging hip-hop stars to stay relevant. Jamal gets invited to play Huey Jarvis’ living room, and Lucious has to feign his excitement, because he’s actually jealous he wasn’t asked to play himself. Lucious’ egotism is huge, but so is his insecurity.
The main thing to take away from this episode is that Cookie is being set up by Laz. Cookie wants to start her own festival as a showcase for her artists, and Laz sees the opportunity to guide Cookie into business with the men that he’s secretly leading. He’ll profit as a promoter before revealing himself as a true villain. That was the main plot take away tonight, that, and the fact that Jamal is getting antsy wanting to record with his Mom. Clearly, that’s not a lot of forward momentum since the reveal at the end of the last episode, but it doesn’t really matter when the show can find these bombastic, Twitter-worthy moments to fill for time.
Instead of trying to figure out if the story is working, I find myself wondering what kind of Pastor would tell a mentally ill man in recovery that he’s God’s Warrior? Or I get caught up laughing about how only in the universe of Empire would a girl group openly push and shove each other and throw shade during a performance surrounded by the media. Basically, I stop thinking about the show as a critic and just start shaking my head or rolling my eyes or laughing out loud or moving to the edge of my seat or throwing my head back in satisfaction. Whatever the reaction, I’m engaged, glued to my TV, and if that’s not what makes good TV, then what does?