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EMPIRE, Episode 2 Review – “The Outspoken King”

Empire continues to bring the drama this week as Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P Henson) fight to promote their sons Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) over each other.

Lucious has a lot on his plate when the police find Bunkie’s (Antoine McKay) body, vowing to find the killer and putting on a great act of grief, when we all know that he’s the one whodunit. In the meantime, he has to deal with the controversy of a shooting where the shooter states that he was inspired by the lyrics of one of Empire’s artists, Kidd Fo-Fo (Kristopher Lofton). Lucious goes on FOX News to not only defend the lyrics, but all of hip hop in a very interesting speech about artists writing their truth, and how it’s better that they take out their rage in a studio then on the street with a loaded gun.

Lucious also has to defend Hakeem, who, in an attempt to impress another Empire artist, Tiana (Serayah), acts out in a nice restaurant, including urinating on the floor and calling Barack Obama a sellout, and all of it on video. Hakeem drives me crazy, because he’s that entitled kid who has no sense of how the real world works, because he’s never had to struggle for anything. Throughout the entire episode he acts the fool, but ironically starts selling more tickets to his debut performance after his video goes viral.

Jamal, on the other hand, is struggling with the decision to come out, as Cookie keeps pushing him to do. It would be great publicity, and would steal the spotlight from his brother, so she arranges a whole press conference. Lucious undercuts her plans however, by threatening to cut Jamal off financially if he comes out. Instead of showing up for the press conference, he sings a beautiful and heartbreaking song about being in the closet (“Tell the Truth”). Jamal is definitely my favorite character, and I can’t wait until he comes into his own, freeing himself of his father’s oppression and his mother’s manipulation to stand strong as a star.

Empire

While Cookie and Lucious battle each other, using Jamal and Hakeem as pawns, third brother Andre (Trai Byers) is dealing with his own problems, having gone off his meds. Turns out he’s bipolar, which I think is an unnecessary plot point, since he already has enough going on, but it could turn into something interesting if he self destructs, ruining his own plans.

Empire still has a lot of ridiculous moments leading up to Jamal and Hakeem playing with each other at Hakeem’s debut (“No Apologies”). Andre’s wife, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) actually puts on a bib before getting on her knees to fellate her husband. In a show of territorialism, Lucious’ girlfriend Anika (Grace Gealey) walks out in her underwear, knowing full well that Cookie is there, and all of her lines are so bitchy you’d think she was in Mean Girls.  And of course, pretty much every time Cookie shows up, she stomps through the scenes leaving everyone behind her. She even throws a shoe at one point.

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Henson is the strongest person in the cast, however. We got to see the many faces of Cookie in the pilot, but this time we get to see the woman who was in love with Lucious and had her heart broken by him. During an elevator ride, Kidd Fo-Fo insults Cookie, and Lucious backs him up. She stares at Lucious, disbelieving, then says “What did I ever do to you to make you treat me this way?” There is real emotion in her eyes and voice as the elevator opens and she leaves. Seconds later, Lucious drops Kid Fo-Fo from Empire. It seems Cookie still has an effect.

The music also continues to be incredible. Tiana’s song “Adios” is a great female hip hop hit that could play on any radio station, and Hakeem is a bona fide rap star, while Jamal kills on piano and vocals every time he sits down at a keyboard. Even if Empire was awful, I’d probably still be downloading these songs every week.

At the end of the episode, we get a new plot line: Cookie gets pulled into an unmarked car where she reunites with a federal agent, interestingly named Agent Carter (Nealla Gordon). Not sure if this is a dig at the Marvel/ABC show, but I definitely barked out a laugh when Cookie said the name. As it turns out, Cookie’s release was contingent on a deal, but the terms of the deal have changed, and Carter needs Cookie to testify before a grand jury, a prospect that as Cookie scared for her life.

Normally, I’d be annoyed by yet another storyline being introduced when there’s already a lot going on (hello, Revenge), but if it involves Cookie, I’ll watch pretty much anything.

Are you loving or hating Empire?

The Author

Mike Bowers

Mike Bowers

Mike is a TV-obsessed actor and writer living in Los Angeles, California.

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