Wednesday, February 11, 2015

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Jamal Deals with His Rising Stardom While Cookie Helps a Fallen Music Icon in 'Out, Damned Spot'

FOX's Empire - Episode 1.06 "Out, Damned Spot"

Lucious asks Cookie to Elle Dallas, Empire's first label star, who hasn't produced an album in years. Vernon is caught in the middle of a very sticky situation. As Jamal rises to stardom, his newfound drive and ambition stirs up trouble in his relationships. A mystery woman from the family's past shows up with a huge surprise. Lucious hires Malcolm to be the new head of security at Empire Entertainment.

When Empire first started, Jamal didn't strive for all the fame and attention because he didn't want it to change him and the important relationships in his life. Back then, he was still living under Lucious' protection. He found new drive when he stood up to his father, willing to figure things out on his own. So now, he's on the outs with both his father and Hakeem. But he's starting to get some genuine success in the music industry. He's so focused on the music now. That's how he's going to make a name for himself. He has his sights on taking over his father's empire. But at what cost? Michael hasn't been a well-defined character but his relationship with Jamal is important. So far, he's just been the token boyfriend who's always around to remind us that Jamal has finally started accepted himself for who he truly is.

The only problem is that Jamal accepts himself privately but still struggles with it publicly. He may hate his father for all the pain he has caused his whole life. And yet, he still has that nagging thought in the back of his head that his father is right about all of this. When he gets his first serious interview, he basically says that Michael means nothing to him. That is devastating. Jamal is forcing pain on both himself and his relationship. The only reason he does that is because of his father and the fears he has. He has no idea how people will react once he reveals himself to be gay. He's trying to break into the music industry. That reveal offers uncertainty over his career. He's afraid if he came out that this would be the most success he would ever see. He's no longer standing in his father's shadow. But he's not completely his own man yet.

At least Jamal is paying his dues and making that climb towards success. Lucious is handing everything to Hakeem. The youngest son already views himself as this massive star. Sure, he's able to bring it musically when he's asked to - except that also means a lot of rap-yelling. And yet, he shouldn't have to be provoked in order to give a good performance. His motivation is off because he's hung up on childish and immature things. He's still sulking around after learning Tiana has a girlfriend. Camilla won't return his calls. He's all alone except for the success his father is willing to just give him. The pain of that experience helps him craft a great song that Lucious and Anika want to get out as soon as possible. And yet, he's still not rising to a more humble adult. He continues to be reckless and that's a quality that could quickly upset the balance of this family and business.

Lucious has the same reckless quality. He killed Bunkie simply because he tried extorting $3 million from him. In his own mind, he was completely justified in killing him. He may have been his friend but he threatened to destroy Lucious' precious empire. If we've learned anything from these first few episodes, Lucious loves his company more than anything else. He feels comfortable sharing the truth with Vernon. But that only puts Vernon in a tighter spot. This company is theirs. They worked on building it together. Now, Lucious' ego has grown too large. He killed their friend and doesn't want to deal with any of the consequences. Of course, Vernon will still protect Lucious. And yet, he's still primarily focused on making sure that Andre ends up with the company. That's the only thing that is keeping him around. He has faith that Andre will be a much more efficient businessman than Lucious ever was.

And let's not forget Cookie. She continued to have a stellar episode of hijinks and solid emotional moments. Sure, she's walking around with no concern of receiving retribution for ordering someone's murder last week. Instead, she's solely focused on Lucious' increasing flirtation meaning the two will get back together soon. Little does she know, he has just proposed to Anika. That leads to an awkward encounter with the whole family. Fortunately, she is able to rise above that dinner in order to take the reigns of music icon Elle Dallas. Elle is an artist who hit success and is now on the decline. She hasn't produced an album in years and she would rather do drugs in a random motel than admit that she has fallen as much as she has. Cookie is a great person to produce her new music. She is good for Elle. Elle was good for Cookie when she was in prison. Now, Cookie gets to return the favor. She brings out a great performance from Elle. If Cookie keeps up this amount of success, the business will have to start taking her more seriously.

Some more thoughts
  • "Out, Damned Spot" was written by Eric Haywood and directed by Michael Engler.
  • The episode ends with Olivia - played by Raven-Symon√©! - showing up at the company claiming Jamal is the father of her daughter. Of course, the first thing the family will do is get a paternity test. She's only re-entering their lives because of Jamal's rising stardom. However, if it's true, it could be used to highlight a time in Jamal's life when he tried being something he's not just to appease Lucious.
  • Cookie is totally going to try sleeping with Malcolm, the new head of security, soon. I'm guessing next week.
  • So, Vernon knows that Andre is bipolar. But does anyone else in the family know?
  • Hakeem doesn't want to do any non-expletive cuts on his new songs. Yeah, I'm sure that will help in getting radio plays. He's not on top. He needs to get his music out there and then he can have demands like that.
  • So the Russians have an experimental drug that may cure ALS. Of course, they do! This was the plot I was expecting the minute we discovered Lucious was slowly dying.
  • Cookie to Anika: "This is an ass!"