Wednesday, February 4, 2015

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Jamal Shapes the Sound of His Music While Cookie's Life Gets Crazier in 'Dangerous Bonds'

FOX's Empire - Episode 1.05 "Dangerous Bonds"

Cookie receives an anonymous gift from an admirer that she believes might be a veiled threat from a person from her prison past. Meanwhile, Lucious takes charge of Hakeem's first video shoot.

The relationship between brothers Jamal and Hakeem Lyon has always been strong. In the pilot, they promised each other not to let their feuding parents turn them against each other. They are both set to break out in the music industry. Despite their busy schedules of recording in the studio and shooting music videos, the brothers still cared about each other. They are on different paths now. Hakeem is still living in the world of wealth. Lucious is still happy to finance everything for him to become a super star. Hakeem is cocky about it too, name dropping hip hop icons that will have nothing on what he's about to do in the industry. He's confident but incredibly naive. He doesn't have the emotion or actions to back up his words. And yet, he can still produce this lavish music video. Jamal has opted to turn away his father's money and support. He wants to be his own man and that means struggling to get by in life. Lucious and Cookie keep talking about how growing up how they did made them who they are today. That experience gave them something to relate to and sing about. Jamal is far away from what his father has become. And yet, he's getting back in touch with those roots. He's living in the ghetto now. He's barely making it work. But he's extremely passionate about his music.

Showing these parallel journeys against each other makes up the backbone of "Dangerous Bonds." Yes, Cookie and Lucious are off doing ridiculous and crazy things in order to protect themselves and their legacies. But the brothers' stories are just as important because they represent the future. Their lives are still ahead of them. They are trying to make something for themselves. They don't want to live in Lucious Lyon's shadow for the rest of their lives. But now, they are also somewhat playing into their parents' hands because they're turning against each other. Up until now, it has been friendly competition. The other's presence was used to inspire the other and get them to release music as quickly as possible. Andre is the son without any musical talent but he's getting in the middle of things yet again. He provoked Hakeem's friends into going down to Jamal's studio to try and steal money and jewelry. Jamal recognizes them right away and figures that Hakeem was behind it all. A tactic to keep him from recording. That's not true and Andre now has to deal with the fact that someone got shot during the whole confrontation. But that fight lights a new inner fire within both Jamal and Hakeem. Now, they are angry at the other. Jamal for believing Hakeem ruined his studio time and Hakeem for Jamal's physical reaction to it.

Both characters have a lot of growing up to do. Hakeem has these big ideas for his music video shoot. Ones that completely go over budget but Lucious doesn't care about that. And then, Hakeem walks off the set because he can't deal with his girlfriend, Tianna, having a girlfriend. He's upset that she's cheating on him even though she is fine with his relationship with Camilla. It's a very immature reaction. She is willing to show up and keep working even after her scandalous video is posted online. Hakeem has to be dragged back and convinced by his father that the shoot needs to happen and that this development is actually a good thing. Lucious' reaction to all of this is very interesting. He has a big problem with Jamal being gay. But when another one of his artists is revealed to be as well he sees it as a blessing for Hakeem because now he can have two girls. That's a double standard but is largely telling of his own personal inability to accept one of his own sons being gay.

Meanwhile, Jamal's world has been in chaos even since he cut himself off from Lucious' money. He is forced to work in this "less-than-ideal" studio. Cookie can't seem to be there for him in a way that he needs. Plus, he gets the big interruption of Hakeem's friends barging in. And yet, all of this is reality. It's a struggle that will help fuel Jamal's creative process. The song that he is recording throughout this episode is about turning away from Lucious' control and money. It's empowering. Plus, it provides great insight into the journey that songs go on and how they change from the initial beat to the end product. Jamal had to work extra hard in order to get this song produced. But the end product is worth it. He is happy with it and it feels much more rewarding to see him succeed in the end. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dangerous Bonds" was written by Malcolm Spellman and directed by John Singleton.
  • Whereas I enjoyed the journey Jamal's song went on throughout the episode, Hakeem's song became very annoying by the end. The hook just wasn't good.
  • Cookie's world is only getting crazier as she testifies to a grand jury and then hires a hit on a man she believes is threatening her but really isn't. Crazy Cookie is a fantastic character and this promises to be an exciting direction for her to go on in the next few episodes. Plus, she now wants to be on the label's board of directors.
  • Lucious proposes to Anika and she says yes. The only people who know that though are her parents who don't exactly like Lucious but he's willing to use his disease and their daughter in order to get exactly what he wants - a doctor's signature that he has a clean bill of health.
  • Jamal heard Cookie say that hit men were after her. I wonder if he'll press her for more information on that soon. Instead of just praising her for her musical genius.
  • Porsha really loves that phone of hers.
  • That opening interview with Hakeem and Tianna was a little too on-the-nose about Hakeem standing in his father's shadow. But also showed how immature he is. Tianna's the one who handles the situation the best. Not Hakeem. His reality check must be coming soon, right?