Wednesday, April 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'Empire' - Lucious Explores His Past While Hakeem Gets More Serious with Laura in 'The Tameness of a Wolf'

FOX's Empire - Episode 2.13 "The Tameness of a Wolf"

Tensions between Lucious and his sons continue to rise. Lucious aims to direct his most emotional and honest music video yet and recreates a traumatic interaction with his mother for the new single. On tour, Tiana and Laura begin viciously fighting over the spotlight, forcing Hakeem to mediate between the two divas.

Empire definitively ended Mimi and Camilla's takeover of Empire last week - only three episodes into that particular story arc. That has been very indicative of the erratic nature of Empire's main stories. No matter what happens in each episode, it always feels like it will be easily undone within the span of the next two episodes - if even that. It's why the show has struggled finding consistency this season. These new episodes have produced some good moments. But it's become increasingly difficult to understand all of the characters' motivations. There are a number of really interesting things that happen in "The Tameness of a Wolf." And yet, the hollowness that has invaded the narrative keeps any moment from fully landing because it just feels like the show is repeating emotions without highlighting how the characters have changed.

After a couple of minor weeks, Lucious finally feels like an active character in his own story again. But none of that is really all that enticing. He's revealing details about his traumatic past to his family for the first time. And yet, the show has really overdone those memories that have hindered his creative spirit this season. It's gotten to the point where it's no longer interesting to see Lucious stare off into space because he is still traumatized by what his mother did to him all those years ago. Now, he's shooting a music video that promises to show his true authentic self to the entire world for the first time. But it's not all that exciting or emotionally rewarding. Lucious is taking this weight off of his chest and expose his vulnerabilities in a really raw way. And yet, it's a point the show has really driven home this season. The audience already understands everything about Lucious' dynamic with his mother. It should be pivotal that the family is let in on the truth. But it's not. It instead only leads to more tension within the family which largely serves as a plot point for several characters to try their best to run away from this unhealthy situation.

Once again, Lucious finds himself estranged from all three of his sons. It's a plot point the show has used many times over the course of its two seasons. In fact, it's gotten to the point where it's surprising that anyone actually loves him. And yet, that's exactly what's happening with Cookie right now. Once again, she finds herself falling in love with him. She is the only one who is moved by the story of his past. That's because he's the one actually telling it to her. That's a very raw moment that does work. But this reveal of the health problems Lucious' mother suffered from only creates more tension with the family. That's disappointing because it disrupts Cookie's desire for a happy birthday party surrounded by her loving family. But it's more problematic because it's the show just recycling plot. It should be important that Lucious kept this information from his family even after Andre was diagnosed with the same condition. Instead, the show takes the easy way out and has Andre declare that he's done with his father before storming off.

That also sets up even further disarray in the family for the future. But again, not all of that is completely genuine. Cookie showed the family the video in order to get them to accept Lucious' truth about his past. Ultimately, it only made Andre angry and put a schism in his marriage. Rhonda choosing to run off with Anika in order to get away from all of this family drama just feels like a plot point to incorporate Anika into the main story again. It's a really forced and rushed dynamic that comes in the end of this episode. Rhonda has always been very supportive of Andre as he handles his disease and his family. But now, she's apparently reached her breaking point with this family. Even though she has just gotten a serious promotion at work, she wants to run away from all of it to figure out her life. But the strings pulling this story are present at all times. This moment only happens to put her back in Anika's orbit. That way it's more surprising when she learns that Anika is pregnant and likely the person who pushed her down the stairs.

Meanwhile, Lucious also disappoints and betrays Freda just like he has with his sons. That parallel is drawn in really broad ways in this episode too. The two of them have had a bond that has been genuine. She helped him embrace his authentic self in their song together. That's what led to his ASA nomination. And now, that bond is completely destroyed because no one figured to tell her that Lucious has changed the concept for their music video while cutting her out of it completely. That's such a laughable moment. It shows that Lucious will always be the devil to everyone - not just his family. But it should also be a criticism of Cookie as well because she's the head of A&R and didn't figure to tell her artist that she was out of the video - which she is a prominent vocalist on. All of it happens to push Jamal and Freda into collaborating with each other. It's a really forced dynamic that happens so that Cookie finally learns that Frank Gathers is Freda's father. It sets up even further devastation for the future because Freda still wants to know what happened to her father in prison. But it's just not that exciting.

And finally, Hakeem serving as a mediator between Tiana and Laura is a story with some very problematic moments but also has a sweet and genuine core to it. Hakeem and Laura's relationship has been very genuine. It has allowed him to mature in some great ways. It's not even laughable when he decides to propose to her in the hopes of creating a family that is more like hers than his. That's sweet. He runs away after the fight that breaks out at Cookie's birthday party. He wants to escape to Laura as she has become his comfort. With her, he could actually build a life that he would be happy about. And yet, so much of this story is also centered around the tension between the two female performers. It's just so annoying to have two female characters being catty and bitchy to one another. Most of it fails because the show has done absolutely nothing with Tiana as a character in a long time. Her feud is also with Laura and not all of Mirage a Trois. That's weird. Literally everyone treats that group as a solo act. What are the other two girls even doing there? It makes no sense whatsoever. Hakeem and Tiana had a relationship last season. But that hasn't been important in a long time. They work better as friends. And yet, the show is presenting Tiana as being jealous of Hakeem and Laura's happiness. And that just makes no sense whatsoever.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Tameness of a Wolf" was written by Attica Locke & Joshua Allen and directed by Paris Barclay.
  • Andre needed to come to the conclusion that his grandmother was bipolar and that's where his disease comes from. And yet, how in the world did he get that based on the rough cut of the video that Cookie showed the whole family? She could have just been abusive and not mentally ill. 
  • The show really goes the motions of holding a memorial for Camilla - but suspiciously not Mimi. It's just too weird. It thinks it has to do it because Camilla was a memorable villain who appeared in both seasons. But it was not warranted at all. No one at the company even liked her.
  • Hakeem feeling guilty over Camilla and Mimi's deaths is also a really rushed moment at the top of the episode that then never becomes important again.
  • Jamal has always been a very fine singer. And yet, so many of his songs are so damn repetitive. It's gotten really annoying - especially when he goes to the bad part of town to talk to Freda and ends up free-styling his new song.
  • All of the manipulation regarding who would show up at Cookie's birthday party was very unnecessary and took away from developing some genuine character motivations. Seriously, who was surprised that the entire family came to the party despite their hatred towards Lucious?
  • Tiana and Laura's tour also looked really unimpressive. It didn't have the scope to make it look and feel like an event that people would enjoy going to and being entertained for a couple of hours.