This week’s episode of Empire was a clear nod to Shakespearean high drama, from the episode’s title (“Poor Yorick”, of course, being an allusion to Hamlet), to the ongoing war between the Lyon brothers for control of the family name. Thankfully, last week’s less-than-impressive episode seems to have been an anomaly, as “Poor Yorick” avoids the kinds of ham-fisted plot twists that had so many of the show’s fans concerned. This isn’t to say that this week’s episode was uneventful — far from it. But the double-crosses and “gotcha” moments seemed better blended into the narrative, making them both more believable and less predictable. Those elements of the season’s plot that were wearing thin seem to have been dispatched, leaving open the question of where Lee Daniels intends for the show to go in the many episodes we have left to go in this season.
This episode revolved around two major issues: the sibling rivalry between Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Lucious’ (Terrence Howard) ongoing legal troubles. Without her key witness, D.A. Roxanne Ford (Tyra Ferrell) is scrambling for something she can use as leverage in her crusade to prosecute Lucious for the murder of Bunkie (Antoine McKay) in Season 1. Both Empire and Lyon Dynasty get ransacked by teams of FBI agents with warrants, but Ford’s machinations get even more extreme when she attempts to blackmail Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) into turning on Lucious. For a while it seems as though Cookie has been backed into a corner, as threats against her sons are interspersed with painful flashbacks to her time in prison. Wiping away tears, Cookie makes a deal with Ford that proves, once again, that Cookie Lyon is far and away the best hustler in Empire’s game. Not only does she get out of the hot seat without truly incriminating Lucious, but she also manages to get his monopoly on urban radio blocked, thereby freeing up the airwaves for Lyon Dynasty talent.
While Cookie was removing the one major obstacle in Lyon Dynasty’s path, Hakeem was throwing himself a pity party as he nurses his ego, previously wounded by Jamal’s Rolling Stone cover. With the kind of good luck that only a Lyon has, Hakeem winds up discovering a young Latina woman who seems poised to replace Valentina (Becky G.) as the lead singer in Hakeem’s girl group. Given Cookie’s success in getting radio back, I expect that Mirage a Trois is going to be a significant part of the rise of Lyon Dynasty.
Last week, I bemoaned the show’s treatment of both Andre (Trai Byers) and Anika (Grace Gealey), arguing that the show was grinding two formidable characters into pitiful bit players. Half of my concerns were addressed this week, as Andre seems to have found a way back into his father’s graces and, by extension, the family business. It’s difficult to be excited about his return to Empire Entertainment, however, as it seems to be happening on the back of an impending psychotic break. “God is speaking to me,” he somberly tells Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) as her eyes fill with tears. Clearly she is aware of Andre’s precarious mental state, but given her recent pregnancy (and her involvement in Vernon’s [Malik Yoba] murder in Season 1) there seems to be little she can do to control his increasingly erratic behavior. Needless to say, it’s a powder keg that is primed to blow.
Overall, it looks like Lucious’ legal troubles are over, which means that we can expect more inter-family drama and fewer uncomfortable power struggles between D.A. Ford and Lucious. Empire isn’t shy about staging excruciating social situations, but that particular dynamic was especially hateful and unpleasant to watch. Speaking of unlikeable characters, millionare lesbian Mimi (Marisa Tomei) returned this episode for a healthy dose of “hood pass” antics and repartee. Cookie calling her “KD Lang” was a highlight. It’s satisfying that this episode really gets into the show’s ability to make one root for both justice and evasions of justice with equal heart, and I hope it maintains that balance going forward. And maybe — just as a personal favor — Daniels and company could give Anika a break.