Wednesday, January 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Lucious Celebrates Hakeem's New Romance & Cookie Gets a Song for Jamal in 'The Devil Quotes Scripture'

FOX's Empire - Episode 1.03 "The Devil Quotes Scripture"

The Lyons head to Philadelphia and get a taste of what their lives could have been if Lucious hadn't made it big. Lucious promotes Hakeem's new relationship with hip-hop star Tianna, but tensions rise when another woman tries to catch Hakeem's eye.

Empire identifies itself as a family soap opera. That means the show has to find reasons for the whole family to come together and clash with one another. For the first time since Cookie was released from prison, the whole family sits down for a dinner in Lucious' mansion. He's trying to build up Hakeem's new relationship with Tianna. They literally just hooked up. However, Lucious sees it as a marketing ploy to help better establish Hakeem in the industry. That mindset continues over into his personal life. He does this whole meal with the family to support his favorite son and his new girl. It's not that serious but Lucious is making it feel more important than it is.

The family dinner isn't even about Hakeem or Tianna. It's about Cookie. She's the person who demands focus at all time. This is her family. She believes she sits at the head of the table opposite Lucious. They are the heads of this family. She wants to be seen as import to the structure of this family. Saying grace pulls focus her way even when she is throwing shade at Anika for hiring a private investigator to follow her around. She is the center of attention even during Jamal's performance later in the evening. Jamal is reluctant to perform the song and only does so because Cookie wants him to. Cookie just wants to throw it into Lucious' face and prove to him that Jamal is an artist just like him and Hakeem. She does all of it out of love. She's trying to win back the support of her family. The majority of them have been distant or icy towards her ever since she was released. But she's also trying to manipulate their emotions which isn't the best way to win over their trust and respect again.

The evening really isn't about Jamal until his confrontation with Lucious later. Lucious really does love Jamal. He wouldn't show up at his loft following the dinner if he didn't. He knows that Jamal could be a great artist. His reaction to the performance showed that - even after he quickly pulled the song out from underneath Jamal. He just doesn't understand this one thing about Jamal. To Jamal though, that one thing is his whole identity. Jamal is gay and Lucious has no way of comprehending that. It's brutal because every attempt that Lucious makes only turns more disastrous. He wants to support Jamal but he doesn't want to support this lifestyle if it's going to be in the public eye. Jamal doesn't see things that way though. He sees his father as a man always kicking him down solely because of his sexual identity. Lucious is a man who has never tried to understand. At a certain point, there's only so much of that that Jamal can take. Now, he's gonna try and step out on his own. He doesn't think he needs Lucious' help in order to succeed in life. He's angry and willing to take over the company now. It's just coming at such a low point in his life.

But Jamal is stepping out as his own man. He's not continuing to live in the lifestyle that his father views for him. Andre and Hakeem still live in that world because they fulfill their roles more successfully. Andre will run any errand his father wants him to do. He doesn't question any orders. He heads down to the D.A.'s office to get information just because Lucious told him to do so. He cheats on his own wife just to please his father. And yet, Rhonda is aware of what her husband does which in some ways makes their love seem stronger than it previously was.

But the person hurting the most by being in Lucious' shadow is Hakeem. Everyone knows that he will inherit the empire because he is identical to the man and artist Lucious used to be. Lucious will do anything to promote Hakeem. He doesn't have that same kind of drive with his other two sons. But that has also made Hakeem entitled. He had one solid performance and now he believes he's the best artist out there. He's too big for his own shoes. Lucious sees some of that. But Hakeem has some major problems too. Everything he has is because of his father. Everyone sees that. He claims to be doing things by himself as his own man but he's really not. And then, his absentee mother has ruined his basic understanding of women. Sure, Naomi Campbell popping up as his older lover who wants to be his "mommy" was a little too on-the-nose. But he feels that he deserves success even though he hasn't deserved it with hard work - which will be so devastating when he later realizes it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Devil Quotes Scripture" was written by Ilene Chaiken & Joshua Allen and directed by Sanaa Hamri.
  • Lucious beating up the manager/uncle of one of his artists happened solely to remind us that he is still a gangster. It didn't really need to happen.
  • When Lucious was getting a muscle cramp, he was talking out loud just so the audience could get that information. He had no other reason to be saying that "the doctor said this shouldn't be happening yet."
  • Of course, Lucious wears all-white to a funeral. He loves the attention of standing out. But couldn't they have let Gladys Knight sing by herself without the cuts to Lucious' eulogy?
  • The casting of Cuba Gooding Jr. basically guarantees that this won't be the last of Puma or his pining after Cookie we see this season.
  • Lucious gets a whiff of Cookie working with the Feds on something, but they are able to shut it down quickly by having Agent Carter pose as her parole officer.
  • The detective investigating Bunky's murder makes significant progress by getting a drunk and incoherent eye witness share that he saw Lucious there.