Empire / Screen

Empire: “The Lyon’s Roar”

Empire is, at its core, about the Lyon family, and the family at odds is proving to be the show’s strongest aspect. Which is why the one episode that tries to pull them together doesn’t work so well, at least not until it sees the family falling apart once more. In light of Lucious’ confession, the family decides it’s time to rally around him, Cookie suggesting a legacy album and a song recorded by Lucious, Hakeem and Jamal that will cement the company as family-oriented and make Lucious immortal. It’s very cheesy, of course, and gets underway ridiculously fast, but it elicits a few nice moments between the family, even if it does’t do justice to some of the ongoing conflicts.

We witness Cookie’s last moments with her family before the verdict comes through in her court case, the last time the family was truly together, and it’s a fitting and touching considering how the story is unfolding now. Cookie’s finally getting what she wanted in her family coming back together, starting with hers and Lucious’ reunion and his promise to break things off with Anika. Cookie even gets to resolve things with Hakeem, though its so rushed and so simply fixed that I wonder why it was ever meant to be a problem in the first place. A single scene has them laughing and smiling together. The episode stuffs so much into the episode it feels unhinged and underdeveloped, the importance of Hakeem and Cookie’s relationship being lost in the shuffle.

It’s predictable to see Lucious going back on his promise to her, and even that unfolds confusingly. Lucious’ relationship with Anika has made little sense, as the show hasn’t done much to develop them together (or Anika on her own). Anika confronting him is painfully hilarious. The music alone is horribly funny, and Lucious’ frazzled response is ridiculous. As is Lucious agreeing to marry Anika the next week. We’re not supposed to really like Lucious I suppose, but the flip-flopping is confusing with no indication given of his love for Anika, who he’s cheated on before and seems to hold some sort of tepid affection for. But Lucious looks even more simpering than usual, telling Anika he’ll marry her then sleeping with Cookie in the studio. But it’s only when Cookie angrily implodes the relationship, sending Anika to get her revenge through Billy Beretti, that the episode begins to make more sense.

The Lyon’s just aren’t at a place where they can exist peacefully in the narrative and still be compelling. Taking all their issues and bundling them up doesn’t work, even when it comes for the noble purpose of easing Lucious through his remaining time with them. Andre’s the only one who keeps the ball rolling, intent on being named temporary CEO. I’m not sure why he and Vernon think right now is the best time to go about taking the company from Lucious, when everyone else is trying to make him feel better about his impending doom, but he leaps headfirst into acquiring the necessary votes. This includes pimping Rhonda out in a weird and humiliating sequence of her having to endure the gross flirtations of an elderly board member, which finally has Rhonda calling it quits on their games.

Trai Byers hasn’t had much to do since the show began, but Empire‘s easing into a much more significant storyline for him. His mental illness is going to come back to the forefront, as Rhonda notes that he shouldn’t be drinking while on his medication, and he confronts Lucious about voting against him. Their argument elevates Andre’s current relationship with him as more than struggling to live up to a musically inclined father and upstaging equally musical brothers. Andre’s trying to live up to Lucious and to white people, which Lucious cites as his reason for never allowing Andre to take control of the company. It’s a particularly cutting scene for Andre, who finds all his ambitions to be crushed in the span of a single scene. And the next time we see him it’s during a particularly harrowing scene where Andre sits in one of the studio booths playing Russian roulette.

It’s Jamal’s storyline that ends up saving the episode. His story has had more focus than others,which seem to be made up of a lot of winging it and guess work. Jamal’s has the forward momentum that makes the planning and consideration obvious. No one’s concerned about Lola’s paternity apparently, but she (and Eka Darville’s filmmaker Ryan) propel Jamal to come out at the white party even though he’s considered waiting until after Lucious kicks the bucket to do so. It’s a triumphant moment in Jamal’s arc, his performance

The episode is certainly saved by this moment, Jamal deciding to come out at the white party by changing a lyric to “a man love a man” which turns Lucious immediately sour while the rest of the guests, and the family, are having a wonderful time. “The Lyon’s Roar” didn’t work because it put the family back together too soon, but once they’re fractured again, it’s working once more. The episode concludes with the family back to where they were in the season’s beginning. Hakeem and Jamal have come back together, but Lucious has killed the legacy album, so ashamed after Jamal comes out, and he and Cookie are done. The final scene, of a jailed Cookie singing “You’re So Beautiful” beneath a photo of the family, is haunting and beautiful, all the more so because, if Cookie really is the heart and soul of this show, this episode has her getting and losing what she came back for in the first place.

Stray Observations

  • Cookie: “if you want Cookie’s nookie, ditch the bitch.”
  • Cookie’s lines were cool, but the dialogue in this episode was…off.
  • Why did Andre originally say he needed Rhonda to seduce Blakely’s wife? Or rather, why did it change to Blakely himself? Are they both board members? I’m confused.
  • So we know “You’re So Beautiful” is a terrible song, right? But when Jamal sang it, it actually sounded really nice.
  • Camilla and Cookie’s confrontation was not as great as it should have been. I’m not sure why this episode had to call everything out on the nose like it did, like Cookie pointing out that Hakeem was obviously using his relationship with Camilla to make up for Cookie’s absence. And when Hakeem told Camilla, after his and Cookie’s resolution, that he was over the mommy thing.
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