Empire / Screen

Empire: “Die But Once”/”Who I Am”

Everyone’s wishing Lucious would just drop dead already by the time the back to back finale episdoes are airing. People at home, people on the show…everyone just wants Lucious dead. And rightfully so. There are few characters as deplorable as Lucious, who has no rhyme or reason to what he does other than that it will benefit him in some way. When “Die But Once” begins, Lucious is looking for his family to rally around him as the IPO approaches. He wants Cookie to help him write one last song, but she’s vacationing with Malcolm, Hakeem’s considering defecting to Creedmore, Andre’s devoting himself to God, and Jamal’s basking in the light of his newly released album. Essentially everyone’s perfectly fine without Lucious.

And would probably continue to be fine after Lucious kicked the bucket.

But Lucious won’t be kicking the bucket after all. His ALS was a misdiagnosis, and he’s actually stricken with a non-fatal though still severe disease that’s going to allow him to torment his family for many more years. Though this change was likely inevitable, killing Lucious off being far fetched this early in the season, it feels somewhat cheap now. The series began with Lucious looking to make himself immortal, his impending death making him all the more eager and now he’s just fine, laughing to himself about having beat fate.

With Hakeem and Andre having written Lucious off, Lucious turns his attention to Jamal. He never acknowledges that he hardly has any choice in the matter with Andre wrapped up in Michelle (Jennifer Hudson) and planning on devoting his life to God. And Hakeem makes his hatred of his father known in a performance, promising (and making good on that promise) to sleep with Anika. And Cookie, her weekend with Macolm discovered, is kicked out of Empire, leaving Lucious with only Jamal for company.

Jamal’s been the show’s most consistently written character, and his storyline’s had the most promise and the most emotional heft. With his brothers and Cookie out, it’s up to Jamal to manage Lucious’ writer’s block which only serves to expose him to more of Lucious’ homophobic nonsense before they’re able to connect at least on a musical level. That’s all they need I suppose, since Jamal’s satisfied with even this tenuous hint of his father’s affection. That’s not hard to believe, since Jamal’s angled for Lucious’ affection for this long and now has a chance at getting it, but after seeing the potential for Jamal to make it on his own without Lucious, seeing him fall back into him is gut wrenching. Jamal’s shaping up to the be the one most affected by Lucious’ taint, as he’s tasked with getting Lucious’ early music back and does so by dangling Baretti precariously over a balcony .

“Die But Once” gives us our most Shakespearean scene yet, as Lucious, hopped up on sleeping pills, imagines being faced with Bunkie’s ghost. A nearby Cookie is there to witness Lucious’ hazy (and prideful) confession of murder as well as learn that Lucious isn’t dying after all. Because this a disappointment to everyone, Cookie picks up a pillow to smother him with, which would probably save everyone a lot of trouble down the line, but would also likely cost Cookie something vital in the soul department. Not to mention how that would set Empire on a different and unlikely path for season two.

So despite the cliffhanger of the first hour, there’s little reason to believe Lucious would actually be killed, and he’s fine and dandy in “Who I Am”, gathering his sons for a family meeting. He presents them with ostentatious tokens of his affection. Professional and personal control for Hakeem, a foundation to run for Andre, and Empire for Jamal.  This of course has everyone with their stank faces on, while Jamal (now fully loyal to his father) is struck by the gesture, which obviously means Lucious “really loves” them. I’m not sure that line was supposed to be as eyebrow raising as it was, but it was. Jamal’s been the one facing Lucious’ consistent cruelty so seeing him at his side now is both infuriating and tragic, especially after Jamal finds out Lucious killed Bunkie and responds to that information with the equivalent of a shrug. While his and Cookie’s relationship begins to crack when he learns she tried to kill Lucious.

Jamal’s been isolated from Lucious for so long that his alliance with him only leads to a gulf appearing between him and his brothers. Cookie tries to cling to him even as she joins in plans for a hostile takeover, but there’s simply no way to do that when they’re trying to oust Lucious and steal the company from him. How season two will handle this new arrangement of alliances, which even includes Cookie and Anika after working out their aggression in a fight, remains to be seen but is an interesting element for the show to play with. And with Lucious behind bars for Bunkie’s murder, it removes him from the immediate playing field while still keeping him around, swearing a vengeful return on those who wronged him.

Stray Observations

  • Becky: “You use your inside voice when you talk to Becky.”
  • Porsha on Hakeem: “Oh my God, he always doing somethin’.”
  • Kind of irritated that no one fit in a joke about Snoop Dogg once going by Snoop Lion.
  • No one’s going to comment on the irony of Lucious having a hit song called “Whatever Makes You Happy”, which specifically references letting people love who they love, when he’s been a proud and unapologetic homophobe for the entire season? Okay.
  • I suppose the show had to work in somebody not being pleased about Jamal being next in line at Empire but the whole interlude with Black Rambo was corny. Their musical battle was just as lame as expected despite Jussie Smollett getting to do some nice stuff vocally.
  • So Vernon’s dead after Rhonda smacked him upside the head. Rhonda and Andre are lowkey one of my favorite parts of the show, and now that they’re united in murder and have a baby on the way, maybe season two will do more to develop them as the Macbeth-wannabes they are.
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