Wednesday, January 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Cookie Fights Lucious to Get Jamal to Perform Alongside Hakeem in 'The Outspoken King'

FOX's Empire - Episode 1.02 "The Outspoken King"

Lucious must defend Empire's IPO launch after controversies arise around one of his artists being involved in a shooting, and Cookie proves to be invaluable by helping Lucious turn a crisis into a triumph. Competition between Lucious and Cookie heats up when she hears of his plan to stage a huge performance for Hakeem - but not Jamal.

Empire had one very entertaining pilot. It was ridiculous and over-the-top but also deeply grounded in this world behind-the-scenes of a music empire. The world seemed intimate with already fleshed out characters. Cookie is just so much fun. And yet, the question still presented itself on how the show will be able to maintain that delicate storytelling balance on a weekly basis. "The Outspoken King" is a step down from the first episode with more scattered ideas. However, it is still on the right path for the show. All the pieces that worked in the premiere still work in this episode. Now, they are just trying to expand the world a little bit more.

The core part of the show that's working more than anything else is the family dynamic between Lucious, Cookie and Jamal. That's the emotional story of the show right now. It is very effective. Lucious and Cookie both have big plans for their children. Lucious is doing everything in his power to give Hakeem a big showcase while Cookie is fighting for Jamal to be given just as good a chance to shine. The parents are feuding. They both want to have relationships with all of their children. And yet, it is just so easy for Cookie to be protective of Jamal and Lucious to be empowering of Hakeem. The fight for control of the company is also in the way of this family finding a way to come together.

The only time that the family comes together is after they learn that Bunkie has been killed. Now, Bunkie didn't have a huge presence in the premiere. He interacted with Lucious and he interacted with Cookie. Their reactions are the only ways that are actually rooted in something that the audience saw on screen. Lucious has to act like he is heartbroken over this. I figure a small part of that is true. Bunkie was a friend. But Lucious killed him and he believed he had a reason to do so. The mourning period isn't really substantial for him but he has to make it appear that it is. Cookie and Hakeem actually take it hard. And yet, their reactions to the news aren't that compelling simply because we don't have anything from their relationships to Bunkie that would make us understand their reactions. We are being told stuff which isn't the best way to mine grief.

That act brings the family together but they go their separate ways soon after that. Lucious is trying to manipulate his kids into doing what he wants. He dangles the promise of the company in front of Andre to get him to work tirelessly to get the IPO launch back on track following a gun controversy with one of the company's artists. Lucious may not like Hakeem's actions but he has no problem using them to help propel his stardom with a bad boy image. And yet, he still sees his youngest son as a kid who makes mistakes. He is considered an adult now whose opinions have weight and consequences but Lucious is still willing to rescue him. But the most drastic thing that Lucious does is threaten to take away all of his financial support from Jamal if he comes out on the same day as Hakeem's performance. He's not trying to listen to Jamal. He's just trying to better himself and Hakeem's career. That is devastating especially when he pleads in his interview that he's the one not listening to his children. That's exactly what Jamal would want to hear. And yet, it's probably just a stunt for him to seem vulnerable on television.

Meanwhile, Cookie is trying to better her relationship with her family. And yet, she's coming back into a world that she no longer recognizes. Nothing showcases that better than when she first sees the house that Lucious is living in. That's far from the lifestyle the two of them had before she was locked up. It's a good thing that her kids have better lives and opportunities than she did. However, she's almost too focused on making Jamal a star. She's fighting hard on his behalf - to give him the same opportunities as Hakeem and for the world to embrace him as his true self. And yet, it's a ton of pressure on Jamal. He's still unsure of the things he'll have to do in order to hit super stardom - especially if it means the loss of his father's money.

And yet, Jamal does perform in the end. It's not because of Lucious or Cookie. It's because Hakeem wants him up on the stage too. The two brothers don't want to be pitted against each other. They have a strong relationship. Hakeem is always at his most interesting and likable when he's interacting with Jamal. They perform on the stage together and it's great. It's a confidence boost for both of them. Yes, it may have upset Lucious because he doesn't want Hakeem sharing the spotlight with Jamal. But he can't deny that the two brothers have a relationship that won't be easily destroyed because of the feud going on between the parents.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Outspoken King" was written by Danny Strong & Ilene Chaiken and directed by Lee Daniels.
  • In an attempt to make him more interesting and/or complicated, Andre is revealed to be bipolar. That reveal was just too irksome for me. His change in personality was just too drastic and obvious. It lacked nuance and I just don't care about him or his wife. Bipolar disease has also become a tired trope on dramas right now. I just don't think any show can do a new spin on it that feels fresh and exciting.
  • Hakeem's story was all over the place. The only actual plot beat for him is his lack of struggle in this world. He can literally interrupt rehearsals and relieve himself in public and still manage to get the girl and more popularity in the end. It was all very awkward.
  • I just don't understand who Anika is as a character. She seems to only exist to spare with Cookie about being the person who Lucious loves right now.
  • Cookie threw her shoe at Lucious. The episode could have just ended there and it would have been great.
  • Cookie telling Lucious that she liked him better when he was a thug concerns me because we all know that he still is that thug. When he becomes that thug again, it is very dangerous.
  • What is Rhonda's job at Empire? She went to business school and now she's making sure a group of hot guys look good for something. I need a bit more clarity.
  • It's very understandable that Lucious would be pals with President Obama. But that phone call was just straight up pandering. 
  • Gabourey Sidibe was actually given something to do! Granted, it was just a minute of something. But Becky learning that Lucious is dying is a very big thing.
  • Everyone commenting that Cookie was let out of prison early basically guaranteed that a future reveal would be of her making some sort of deal that got her early release. And now, she's scared that that deal could actually get her killed.