After what seems like an interminable wait, Empire is back guys! And it wastes no time in easing us back into the affairs of the Lyons. Oh no, we are thrust straight into the thick of things at Empire Records where Lucious is still locked up (deservedly) on murder charges, Jamal is now running the company, Andre is covering up murders with his bib-wearing pregnant wife, Hakeem is drip-dropping on a hoverboard, and Cookie is ostensibly working on getting her ex-husband out of jail while really plotting a hostile takeover of the company. Just another week in the life of the Lyons clan!
We start off at a “Free Lucious” concert where we are assaulted with cameos upon cameos. We get Swizz Beatz, Al, Sharpton, Andre Leon Talley, and Don Lemon (ugh) all within the first 2 minutes. The concert is a thinly veiled substitute for a “Black Lives Matter” rally and Cookie inexplicably gives a rallying speech dressed up as a gorilla in a cage but this is not the first (nor I’m sure the last) inexplicable moment we’ll get from the folks at Empire. Cookie is trying to get investor Mimi Whiteman (a little too on the nose there Lee Daniels?), played by Marisa Tomei, on board for her hostile takeover and this concert is really about impressing her.
Meanwhile, we finally see Lucious, in what must be the most lax maximum-security prison, watching his own “Free Lucious” concert. He’s told by Cookie’s cousin Jermel (DeRay Davis) that the man behind Cookie being locked up for 17 years, Frank Gathers is being transferred to their prison. Now I’m not entirely sure why we are immediately supposed to know who Gathers is and why we should be terrified of him but the hilariously dramatic music lets us know that this is the “big bad” of the season. The hilarity is compounded when we see that Frank Gathers is played by Chris Rock. Now Chris Rock is many things- a bitingly witty comedian, a savvy businessman, a capable writer, etc. However, “gifted actor” is one thing I do not think whenever I see Chris Rock. Thus the fact that I was supposed to buy Chris Rock in a dramatic, villainous role was a bridge too far for me. And gathering from my twitter feed during the show, I was not the only one who felt this way.
However, apparently Lucious and Cookie used to move product for Gathers back in the day and Cookie’s testimony against Gathers is part of the reason she was eventually released and the reason Gathers is locked up now. Gathers wastes no time in reminding Cookie’s cousin, Jermel that he has a long memory and hasn’t forgotten that Jermel killed a member of his crew. To cut a long story short, after being tortured, Jermel gives Cookie up to Gathers, his head ends up in a box tied in a pretty bow for Cookie and Cookie is left in no doubt that she’s in mortal danger.
Jamal seems to be doing a not particularly fantastic job of running Empire in Lucious’ absence and I don’t think I’ve been eager for a hostile takeover to succeed more. Part of Cookie’s attempt to get Mimi Whiteman on her side is throwing a party (and Anika) for the investor in order to secure her financing. This all fails miserably as Lucious has managed to find out from prison what Cookie’s plans are and convinces Mimi to side with him instead. Anika’s failure to sleep her way into Mimi’s good graces gives us the line of the night with Cookie’s admonishment that she “can’t even dyke right.”
However, the shock of receiving her cousin’s head in a box finally propels Cookie to visit Lucious in prison and once Lucious realizes the danger his family is in, he takes steps to get rid of Gathers for good. Thus Chris Rock’s tenure as the “big bad” of the season only lasts for one episode and Jamal is happily there to take his place.
This wasn’t as strong a return as I expected from Empire but I enjoyed the soapiness nonetheless. There are some questions I have that need answering though:
- What kind of prison are these men in that can FedEx human heads, set up live satellite feeds, and provide gourmet meals for inmates?
- Why is Jamal clearly being set up as the villain this season? His actions make absolutely no sense and his scenes are ones I could happily skip.
- Did they really hire Max Beesley to deliver once line as an anonymous member of Gathers’ crew?
- Why has nobody asked where Vernon is?
- Why is Boo Boo Kitty still here?
- When will Cookie finally pick a fashion decade?
Let’s see if any of these are answered next week on Empire….
Written by @Altius_Tendo