Empire is back with its midseason premier, and has delivered on the drama and glamour it promises as usual. The standout performances for me this episode were Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrence Howard), but before I discuss that, let me address the elephant in the room.
There will be spoilers below.
This is the first episode back since the Jussie Smollett hoax came to light. Although they filmed it before all of that, so Jamal is still going about business as usual – although he isn’t having an easy time this episode. It will be interesting to see what happens to Jamal after this as Fox have announced that he won’t be in the final two episodes this season.
This episode follows a few smaller arcs relating to Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Jamal, although in my opinion Hakeem’s storylines are getting a bit tired. The song he performs this episode is nothing we haven’t heard – he raps about his “heavy crown” and being a Lyon. He seems to be developing a chemistry with Maya (Rhyon Nicole Brown), which I’m sure we’ll see explode soon. Tiana (Sereyah) certainly didn’t look too happy. However, his womanizing ways are also something that we’ve already seen again and again, so I hope they put some new twist on it this time.
Jamal is faced with the choice between his family and Kai (Toby Onwumere) in this episode. He ultimately chooses his family, and Kai leaves, but this storyline doesn’t offer anything new either. Jamal has had a series of failed relationships, and this is just another to add to that list. With the Jussie Smollett situation how it is, I doubt it his luck is about to get any better.
“I don’t know if you’ve been reading the blogs, but it’s been kind of a tough week”
The irony of this line delivered by Jamal while standing onstage in front of his old high school screaming his name is not lost on the viewer. He is referring to the fact that their half-brother has publicly tried to destroy their family. It is weirdly in parallel with Smollett’s personal life as of right now, and it certainly lines up a tragic end of season for Jamal.
The main arc in this episode is dealing with Kingsley (A.Z. Kelsey) – Lucious with the threat Kingsley poses to the Empire, and Cookie on a more personal level. Lucious uses tactics which include dangling someone out a window with Andre (Trai Byers) and Kai to get ahead of Kingsley. Andre has stated early in the episode that he wants to “treat him [Kingsley] like family” and destroy him. Andre seems like a different person than in the early seasons – he has definitely taken on Lucious’ hustling ways.
However, nothing seems to work until Kingsley summons Lucious to meet him in the studio. After almost losing his entire catalogue of master files, Lucious and Kingsley finally have a somewhat touching father-and-son discussion. This finally brings them to confront the issues that have been building for a while now.
Kingsley has been raised on the fact that Lucious was a bad person, who abandoned his mother and him. Can we really blame him for the hate he has bottled up inside him? However, Lucious reveals that he would have treated him like a son, with tears pouring down his face. It’s difficult to gauge whether this is true or not. However, it certainly shows that by going in guns blazing, Kingsley never gave him a chance to treat him like a son.
After discussing the matter with her sisters, Cookie pays a visit to “White Tracy”(Amanda Detmer), which ultimately fills her with guilt and remorse about the past. She sees the damage done by Lucious, and by extension by Cookie herself. She has realised that she is very uncomfortable with their past, the skeletons in the closet that they built their entire relationship on – and the damage it did to Tracy.
“Empire was built on drugs”
This is a statement which has come to haunt Cookie. Lucious, in contrast, seems to be proud of this fact. He shows little remorse for what they have done, justifies that they were “surviving”. This justification for causing people pain doesn’t seem to be enough for Cookie any more, and Lucious can’t read that. I can’t wait to see where they bring this – Lucious and Cookie have by far the best relationship on the show. It’s even better when they’re at each throats. However, it seems that this time it will take a different turn as Cookie is feeling more empathy and pain rather than anger at Lucious. I can’t wait to see where this brings them and if they make it through it. Taraji P.Henson’s performance here is definitely the best of the episode.
Andre’s nosebleed/car crash is the episode’s other cliffhanger. Other than Cookie and Lucious, Andre has had some of the best storylines. I really like his relationship with Teri (Meta Golding), and that it’s been going so well after he’s been through much. That’s clearly going to change, however, after the crash. In the earlier half of season 5 they were teasing that someone dies. Even now I don’t think this is Andre, I think that’s a ploy to mislead us. It will also be interesting to see if they use this coffin/funeral arc as an opportunity to kill off Jamal. I guess that depends on how much they already had filmed!
Overall, while nothing too dramatic happened this episode it also opened up a lot to explore over the second half of season 5. This is particularly in relation to the Cookie and Lucious’ relationship. That conversation was definitely not over! Andre’s crash will obviously play a big part in upcoming episodes. It will be interesting to see how it all gets explored and resolved.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.