This Empire review contains spoilers.
Empire Season 2, Episode 2
I watched this latest episode of Empire with my parents, which was an interesting experience to begin with and probably worth a separate review in and of itself, but one of the first in my mother’s incessant line of questions was, “So Lucious doesn’t have ALS anymore?”
My first thought was “Oh my god, we are so past that.” The way that Empire burned through plot in its season premiere, I had forgotten all about Lucious’ illness for a moment, and I instantly assumed that since we hadn’t heard about Lucious’ condition in the first episode, that the whole thing was behind us. So I was a little shocked to see it brought to the forefront this week when an antagonistic prison guard (real-life rapper Ludacris) tries using Lucious’ medication as a bribing tool to get Lucious to cooperate with prosecutor Roxanne Ford.
Lucious not having access to his medicine in prison is the kind of story that I can really get behind. Lots of shows in recent memory have presented flawed antiheroes that have really deserved to spend time behind bars, but when those shows push their characters close to getting caught, they always pull back or change course. Instead of changing the status quo and dealing with the ramifications of their characters’ actions, writers take the easy way out and concoct a cop-out to return everything back to normal.
That’s why I was bummed that new character, lawyer Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo), gets Lucious out of jail so easily. I’m sad to see Lucious’ prison days go, as the show could have got some more mileage out of the material, but isn’t that the Empire way to just blow right ahead, and I couldn’t be happier that Thirsty seems to be sticking around.
Empire adding their own Saul Goodman, right down to the flashy suits, shoddy education background, and wicked criminal connections, is a fantastic idea. The thing is, I think Thirsty might be a little more dangerous than Saul. Sure, Rawlings flexed his muscle to get Lucious out of jail in a hurry, but how much further can that muscle flex and how long until it starts asking for something in return from Lucious?
Other than that, I found this episode to be a step back from last week. The Lyon family is still center stage in “Without a Country,” it’s just that they’re pulling all the same tired moves. Besides Jamal, whose new weariness and “heavy is the head that wears the crown” attitude is a welcome development, everyone is stuck in the same indecisive motions. Just like last season, everyone’s loyalty shifts constantly; Hakeem is with his mom, then considering his brother, then back with his mom, and Andre is with Cookie, but then crawls back to Lucious, only to be dismissed once again. We’ve seen this all before, and Empire is supposed to always propel forward.
Well, I guess not always forward, because Empire really shined last year with its flashbacks, and tonight we have our first flashback of the season. In what would have been a cryptic moment had Kelly Rowland’s casting not been announced months ago, a young Lucious watches his mother sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” as she slowly starts to space out. It’s a puzzling moment only made more puzzling because Lucious recalls it as Andre is having one of his “why do you hate me?” monologues for the hundredth time. Perhaps Lucious the Bad Father stems from some deep-seated mommy issues a la Tony Soprano.
Moving forward, I hope the lines on Empire have finally been drawn, and the two Lyon camps finally commence with all-out war instead of constantly going back and forth. With Lucious finally freed from jail, something tells me a storm is coming.
The Best of the Rest
- The split-screen phone call scene that opened the story was perfect. It highlighted the communication issues in the Lyons and it felt like conversations between a real dysfunctional family unit.
- Hakeem’s idea of starting a girl group is a good one, but in typical Hakeem fashion, everything about its execution is comically dreadful.
- Cookie and Anika are still at odds, but its Anika tonight who gets in the best burn. When Cookie suggests Anika has made her A&R career using her body, Anika snaps back “oh, compared to your stellar career in pharmaceuticals?”
- Jamal is now exclusively wearing all black, showing up in an all black car to intimidate/talk business with his brother. Let the Godfather comparisons continue.
- Tiana’s new song “Get No Better 2.0” has a 2007 Rihanna vibe to it.
- Rhonda visits Jamal to ask for his help to get Andre back in Lucious’ good graces and reveals that she’s pregnant, but there’s definitely something more sinister hiding behind that visit.
- Terrance Howard lip-synching to “Snitch Bitch” as Lucious, recording in a prison supply closet, is one of the greatest/funniest things that this show has ever done.