EMPIRE 2X02 Debriefing: Takeover Interruptus

Empire Cast Season 2

It’s getting all Shakespearean up in here! Empire has wasted no time in its second season in upping the ante in family drama. With Lucious behind bars, Jamal is the new Heir Apparent, and nobody is happy about it. We’ve got brothers against brothers, mothers against sons, wives against husbands — no rest for the wicked, to be sure.

So what do we have to look forward to? Tons, if the first two episodes are any indication.

Fresh off the explosive double-crossing by would-be investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), Cookie and her merry band of misfit sons race to come up with plan B. Since their planned hostile takeover of Empire is definitively scuttled, she comes up with the next best thing: starting her own label. After all, she was the brains behind Lucious’ original enterprise, so why shouldn’t she try her hand at taking the helms herself? (Only on TV can a record label go from 0 to legit in the space of a commercial break.)

Make no mistake about it, though: Cookie might put a sweeter face on things, but she is just as ruthless as her ex-husband. She genuinely loves her sons, of course, but she also manipulates them into doing what’s best for Cookie. For instance, take her stance on Jamal: sure, being kicked out of his house last week must have stung, but she seems to have written him off as another Lucious in the aftermath, and with that, he’s now her competition. She shows up to his penthouse, crashing his latest interview (which she set up before the split), but in spite of her claims of being there to support him, what she’s really doing is dropping the bomb that she’s got her own venture in the works, and she’s taking Hakeem and Andre with her. Talk about a mic drop.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

However, seeing Cookie rally the troops allows us to witness her in her element; it’s obvious why she was so instrumental to Lucious’ success before she took the fall for him, and why she won’t be content to sit idly by while he continues to amass credit for it. Where Andre and Hakeem see a dump, Cookie sees their future; the studio space they rent out (in about a nanosecond) might not be the Upper East Side, but as she reminds them, it’s a hell of a lot more than she and Lucious had when they started out. More to the point, it’s inspiration; scrabbling to put things together, she thinks, will make them feel more invested in their work, literally building their company from the ground up.  While cleaning out the warehouse, she comes across the former tenants’ leftover supplies, and it’s there she gets the name for her own dream: Dynasty. Because if anyone could last in the annals of time, it’d be Cookie Lyon. With a little grunt work from Hakeem to spruce the place up (probably the first time he’s ever had to work in his life), she can’t help but be proud of their startup, with the son she came close to losing over her incarceration.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Andre is struggling with his new-found freedom. He’s so used to the wheeling-dealing pace of Empire, that rebuilding something from the ground up is a beyond his business school training. He  half-hardheartedly attempts to get behind Cookie’s action plan, but he’s clearly not used to being the small fish in a large pond. Eventually, he realizes he can’t do it; he devoted his entire life to Empire, and starting over isn’t what he planned for. He apologetically leaves Cookie, and begs  his father to return to the company he just tried to take over. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t go well: from prison, Lucious spits that he should ask his God for forgiveness, because his father sure as hell isn’t giving it to him. It’s a chilling moment; Trai Byers delivers Andre’s pleading speech to his father with such conviction that it feels more like  a monologue straight out of the bard’s tragedies rather than a prime-time soap.  Unbeknownst to him, though, wife Rhonda begs Jamal to take Andre back, because he didn’t know what he was doing when he went along with Cookie, and he belongs at Empire for his well-being. There’s no question that this will eventually haunt her; it may be the same end-result her husband wants, but the fact that she went behind his back to his brother won’t sit well.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Meanwhile, this week, Hakeem has a project of his own. Not content to merely be a rapper, he wants to become a mogul, just like his father (and brother). So he decides that his first act at Dynasty should be to create a girl group. It’s a smart idea, and gets his mind off the fact that Jamal is now shelving the album he worked so hard on, but it also demonstrates how green he is. He auditions performers for the band (because again, only on TV can you create an entire label in 24 hours, complete with new acts to review), but he finds himself in a bit of a pickle. There are three women he liked — a great start — but they’re all Latina, and this goes against his vision of a multiracial group. He was hoping to find someone Latina, African-American and White to round out “Rainbow Sensation,” which promptly makes everyone roll their eyes, and wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into. (“Did your daddy drop you on your head?!” Fires back Cookie, which might be cruel, but also hilarious thanks to Henson’s delivery.) Andre softens the blow, though: he remarks that Latinas are the fastest-growing demographic in the music business, and an all-Latina band might actually score huge for them if they found the right talent. Hakeem is still set on his rainbow delight, and even approaches Tiana (Serayah Brown) to join the group, but she rebuffs him, and even threatens to leave Dynasty, if the label is going to relegate her to the back burner instead of promoting her as a solo act. Not a great first day as a mogul, Keem.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

On top of the professional setback, he’s also being courted back to Empire by Jamal, on Lucious’ orders (and much to Cookie’s dismay). The boys are clearly hurting from being separated like this; in a touching moment, they get back to what they really love, music. They’re jamming in Mal’s penthouse, something neither of them have had time to do since Lucious’ arrest and Jamal’s succession. The cracks in Jamal’s armor begin to appear; he might act the CEO in public, but there’s no doubt he’d much rather be writing songs and singing his heart out instead of worrying about quarter results and corporate branding. But lest he be swayed by the forbidden fruit of Empire finally releasing his album, Hakeem takes a pre-emptive strike: he releases it himself online. Not only does he lose out on the revenue, but he opens himself and Dynasty up to lawsuits, which could devastate them. But he doesn’t care; it’s not just that he’s thumbing his nose at everything his father stands for, but he’s asserting his independence and discovering who he is, too.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Jamal, on the other hand, is trying to be the man his father always wanted him to be, without losing himself. He can posture all we wants, but his inherent sweetness can’t be completely masked by his hardened resolve. On one hand, he’s the caring brother who sings with Hakeem, or hears Rhonda out when she asks him to take Andre back and reveals her pregnancy, and is overjoyed. On the other, he’s also the man who kicks Hakeem out when he admits he isn’t coming back to Empire, and continues to freeze Cookie out, taking Lucious’ side and seeming to forget all the horrific acts his father has committed. He’s Lucious’ strongest ally, in and out of prison, which makes you wonder what’s going to happen when the felon inevitably is released and wants to reclaim his throne.  (Spoiler alert — which won’t be long.)

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Our jailbird isn’t content to waste his days away becoming the Big Cheese in the clink. (Though he totally is.) He’s restless, and he wants to record an album in prison, knowing it’ll be a smash hit, but not surprisingly, the Department of Corrections isn’t exactly amenable to that. Besides, as if the turf war between himself and Frank Gathers (Chris Rock) wasn’t stressful enough last week, he’s facing a conflict of another kind now, this time with the prison guards. Officer McKnight (guest star Ludacris) has an axe to grind about respecting his authority, and is determined to make Lucious’ life hell behind bars. First order of business? “Accidentally” losing his medical authorization form, which means doctors can’t give him the meds for his illness, and he starts to downslide. Officer Jabbar (Lamar Barnes) takes pity on him (because he’s a fan? I’m not sure), and makes the meds reappear, along with rudimentary recording equipment in a supply closet. He manages to lay down a track just in time for McKnight to find out and raid his makeshift studio, temporarily squashing his endeavor.  But thanks to new attorney Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo), who seems to have gone to the same law school as Saul Goodman, not only does he arrange to have the computer “retrieved” from McKnight (via a couple of goons and some, er, reinforcement), but he gets track dropped on radio and blackmails the judge at his hearing into granting him bail. Talk about bang for your buck!

So the wheels are set in motion: Lucious is back (for now), and there’s no telling what revenge he’ll extract on his family for their betrayal. With all the damage he’s been able to inflict while incarcerated, the possibilities of his retribution while free are sure to bring the drama in the next few weeks.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

I have to admit, I’ve loved these last two episodes. Like I said earlier this year when the pilot aired, I love how unabashedly the show embraces its dramatic format. It’s like Hamlet with a sick beat. I can’t wait for Lucious to cause chaos, but also (hopefully) one day get his comeuppance. I’m heartbroken to see Jamal turn into his father, but it’s also a fascinating process to see his struggle. I cheer for Cookie to play puppet master, proving she needs no man to land on her feet, and I love that Hakeem is slowly shedding his superficial facade and trying to find his place in the world. I fear for how Andre will deal with losing his anchor in the world, and I’m intrigued by the consequences he and Rhonda will face over their little manslaughter oopsies last season. No matter what, it’s sure to be a wild ride.

Other odds and ends:

  • I’m not a fan of pitting women against each other in entertainment, but Cookie and Anika’s barbs are too delicious to ignore. I think the fact that they’re both painted as intelligent women with valid insights to contribute to the company helps.
  • Valentina Galindo (Becky G) is a force to be reckoned with; Does Hakeem really understand what he’s getting himself into with her? Trying to turn her into a girl group superstar when she clearly wants to be a solo act is going to be difficult to say the least.
  • Again, I have to say: I’d love for anything I do to get done as quickly as these guys build companies and release albums!
  • Lucious’ flashback to his mom, when Andre asks him if he really hates him this much, seems to imply she shared mental illness with her grandson. Did we know that already?
Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: