Wednesday, March 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Lucious Struggles with Losing His Company While Hakeem Takes Over in 'Death Will Have His Day'

FOX's Empire - Episode 2.11 "Death Will Have His Day"

After losing the company he built, Lucious announces he will stop at nothing to regain his power, but Cookie has her own way of handling things. Rhonda, Andre and the rest of the Lyon family come to terms with a horrific, life-changing tragedy that changes their lives as they know it.

A lot of big moments happened in the last episode of Empire. Camilla returned in order to take Empire away from Lucious with the help of Mimi and Hakeem, Jamal and Lucious were both nominated for the same music award, and a pregnant Rhonda was pushed down her extravagant staircase. It was a jam-packed episode of twists. And yet, the show has struggled this season with finding consistency. It overly enjoys changing up its formula. It has been hard to keep track of who is aligned with whom because it changes in every single episode. Story arcs have had very awkward starts and stops. And surprising moments happened solely to create surprising audience reactions. Nothing has really tracked well with the core characters in a long time. So, it's been a very frustrating season for the show. Unfortunately, "Death Will Have His Day" continues this trend.

The show is committed to the story arc of Lucious losing his company because one of his sons has finally had enough of his manipulative and terrorizing ways. It wasn't at all surprising that Hakeem voted to oust his father from the company. And yet, the way it was presented was very aggravating. It's a story once again being framed around this great love that Hakeem and Camilla allegedly have. Their story wasn't that great last season and it's even more dull now. Camilla's return was played as this big shocking moment. But it largely served as a remainder that she was on the show in Season 1. The creative team likes the character. But she makes no sense whatsoever. Part of that is because Mimi just disappears altogether. Camilla was only able to make her surprising return because of Mimi and now that's no longer relevant. What is relevant is Camilla wanting to make Hakeem CEO of the company and give him everything she had previously promised him. But it's just so odd and awkward seeing the show try to pick up on the two of them as a romantic couple again. It has no purpose.

Again, the idea of Hakeem being in charge of Empire for a little while is a promising story development. All of the brothers were fighting so hard for that position in the first season. Jamal ultimately won the prize but wasn't able to enjoy it. Jamal has plenty of problematic moments in this episode. But him trying to reason with Hakeem by saying how much he didn't enjoy his time running the company was an earned moment. Of course, that was only a minor story point in the first half of the season. It was largely defined by Jamal welcoming Lucious back into his life which didn't really have enough justification. Jamal is an artist and it's thrilling to see him perform - even though his song in this episode is horrendous as is his own minor story about sexual fluidity. The same is also true of Hakeem. And yet, he spends this episode making a power play simply because Camilla is whispering in his ear. It's not the start of a healthy relationship. So that does ultimately hurt the story a little bit.

But the Lucious losing the company story also struggles because the show hasn't spent a whole lot of time telling the audience why the rest of the family should want Lucious in charge. He has been a horrible man who has run this business like a gang. It's horrifying to see the actions he sanctions in this episode. But none of that is all that interesting. It's formulaic and cliche to see Lucious playing piano while his henchman do the dirty work of intimidating the board members of Empire. It's just not interesting. None of the gang stuff has been for a long time. And yet, the show keeps presenting it as a core foundation of the narrative. None of that should be true. Everyone in the family should be aspiring for more than that. Everyone except Lucious finds a way back into a position of power at Empire by the end of this episode. Cookie finally gets what she has always wanted and is now the head of A&R. Hakeem betrayed the family by voting against Lucious. But it's still a good idea for Empire to still be managed as a family business. Hakeem wants to work alongside his family. He just doesn't want to do it with his father. That's understandable. Everyone else standing beside Lucious and plotting a way to get Camilla out just doesn't feel genuine. Why are they working so hard to get him back into power? Is it just because they know how dangerous he'll be without it? If so, that didn't come across very well in this first episode back.

Plus, what does all of this mean for Lucious? It should be devastating for him to lose the company that he made for himself. He has a couple of moments of pure anger towards the people ripping this away from him. And yet, that's just a very minor part of the episode. But again, he really hasn't fallen that far. The rest of the family still supports him and wants him back. Some more isolation would have been great for this story. The pressure would have increased if everyone else decided it was best for the company and their family should Lucious no longer be a prominent voice. But that would almost be too big of a moment for the show to try to do right now. It hasn't really earned Lucious destroying every single relationship he has with his family. But that leaves the show in a really awkward place at the moment where it can't really commit to a story arc for a prolonged period of time.

All of this happens on top of the aftermath of Rhonda being pushed down the stairs. And yet, that's another really frustrating story. Rhonda really hasn't done anything this season except be pregnant. That status is the only thing that has defined her as a character this season. So, it was really hard to care about what happened to her and her baby throughout the hiatus. The resolution to the story is also pretty laughable. It's genuinely chilling and tense when she is laying on the floor calling out desperately for help. She is able to save herself. But everything that happens after that is just egregious. Her fall down the stairs was this very elaborate and over-the-top sequence in the previous episode. And yet, her only serious injury is losing her baby. That's it. She does have a cast on her leg. But that doesn't really prevent her from moving at all. She's back home in the span of this hour. That's just such a cheat. The show put her life in jeopardy only to have her be fine and moving on to the next plot point in a couple of minutes. It's a disservice to the importance the baby had on the narrative. Again, it wasn't the best storyline earlier this season. But it's just worse now that it's been reduced to nothing more than a plot point that gets Rhonda to question her own belief in God. Plus, it continues to prop up the big mystery regarding who pushed her in the first place. The answer is so clearly Anika. But the show is prolonging this mystery for no reason whatsoever. And that only further hinders the show from actually producing good and genuine moments with its characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Death Will Have His Day" was written by Danny Strong and directed by Danny Strong.
  • There's so much emotion packed into Cookie once again beating on Hakeem - this time with her purse. They have come so far this season. And yet, all of that quickly goes away because he betrayed Lucious. It's a great moment that is later undercut by the two of them wanting to work together.
  • The show continues to dig itself into a hole when it comes to Jamal's sexuality. His kiss with Skye came out of nowhere and made no sense whatsoever. And now, the show is doubling down on it. Jamal's gay benefactor is upset because he no longer represents the gay agenda. Honestly, the show's whole approach to bisexuality is very upsetting. And it's doing so for no purpose whatsoever. It will only continue to be prominent too. Jamal's new song basically ensures that.
  • Andre's religion really hasn't been a story that's been handled well. But the growing tension between his and Rhonda's ideologies could be interesting. She cried out for God to save the baby and not her. And now, she fully believes that there is no God. Meanwhile, Andre requires his faith in order to handle the brutality of this event.
  • Lyon Dynasty is quickly acquired by Empire in order to get the family back together despite this massive change at the top. So, it only further showcases the pointlessness of the main story during the first half of the season.
  • But it's not as if Lyon Dynasty had a huge roster of artists. They had Hakeem and Tiana. They can easily move back to Empire. Plus, they formed Menage a Trois - which quickly disbands here because of all the drama happening between Laura and Hakeem. It's pretty laughable actually.
  • Yeah, it's going to be really bad that Laura lost her virginity to Hakeem. He may honestly love her. But there are one too many bombs about to drop in his life - Anika being pregnant, Camilla wanting to get back together, etc. - that could destroy this relationship.
  • And yet, Laura was always a much better character and performer when she was signing by herself. So at least, it's a good thing that the show seems to be embracing her as a solo artist at Empire going forward.
  • Lucious taking Hakeem to the spot where he killed Bunkie was a surprisingly hollow moment. It does show that Hakeem wants to run things differently than his father. He doesn't want to embrace those same gangster qualities anymore. But it also showcases that Lucious is still going to be a manipulative monster ruining every relationship he has in his life moving forward.