This week’s episode was full of the kinds of antics expected in the Empire universe; however, Lee Daniels and company showed with this week’s episode that there are any number of relationship dynamics still left to be explored.
EmpireAirtime: Wednesdays, 8pm
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Terrance Howard, Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 5 - "Be True"
Air date: 2015-10-21
Most of this episode focused on Andre’s (Trai Byers) efforts to become baptized into his church. While he came to religion in season one, there has always been a question of whether or not his religious conversion was genuine. This episode seems to suggest that it is. Back at Empire Entertainment, Andre has been tasked with heading up the new “hood” label Gutter Life Records, whose premiere artist is (inexplicably) Freda Gatz (Bre-z). To celebrate the launch of the new project, Lucious (Terrence Howard) brings in a number of exotic dancers to entertain a less-than-amused Andre. His discomfort with the tone of the nascent label doesn’t bode well for future episodes, as one can assume that more debauchery and excess is on the way as young Freda becomes more successful.
Speaking of Freda -- where did she come from? Last we saw, she chose the street over Lucious’ offer of a different life, but now we jump straight to her recording in the studio under Lucious’ watchful eye. (These sorts of plot holes suggest that the show is not, in fact, taking things slower this season as promised, which has been a continued complaint of mine.) This scene is more than a little perverse, with Freda tapping into her issues with her father’s in order to bring life to her track and Lucious -- the man responsible for her father’s murder -- dispensing sage and fatherly advice. In my opinion, no other scene in this fairly contemptible episode shows as clearly Cookie’s (Taraji P. Henson) assertion that Lucious no longer has any morals.
Under the instruction of his pastor, Andre attempts to clear all the skeletons out of his closet before his baptism, which requires coming clean about all of his season one machinations. Given that this family’s dynamic since season one, episode one has been about who knows what about whom, seeing so many past manipulations laid bare and forgiven was genuinely cathartic. Whatever the pleasures audiences take in Empire’s familial warfare, I think people also genuinely want to see the Lyons repair their relationships, and it seems as though Andre is laying the groundwork for such a thing to happen. (None too soon either, given the show’s cliffhanger ending.)
One of the things this episode makes clear is how difficult it is to tell whether the Lyon family’s biggest threats come from inside or out, as two acts of violence against Lyon Dynasty seem to be attributable to any number of characters. Waiting for her car, Tiana (Serayah) is assaulted by two women posing as fans who later leave a threatening video on YouTube, and that evening Cookie and new security hire Laz (Adam Rodriguez) confront two burglars in the midst of stealing all the label’s masters. When pressed by an insistent and armed Cookie, one of the burglars gives up the name of their boss -- Thirsty (Andre Royo), the lawyer turned left-hand-man working for Lucious.
Cookie’s assumption -- and one that I think we are encouraged to make as well -- is that the attacks are coming down on Lucious’ orders, but considering Andre’s tense exchange with Thirsty in the Empire headquarters, I’m not so sure. It hasn’t been clear that Thirsty is acting with Lucious’ consent or instruction, and it isn’t unthinkable that someone as slippery as he is would have ulterior, self-serving motivations for creating a divide within the Lyon family. Hakeem’s (Bryshere Y. Gray) abduction (in broad daylight, no less) seems to put even this plot into question, though, as it’s difficult to imagine that anyone connected with the family would make a move like that on Lucious’ son. We’ve seen before how fiercely he is willing to protect his own. Then again… nothing is certain in the universe of Empire.
Unfortunately, it looks as though we’re going to be hanging from this cliff for a couple weeks, as the show’s Wikipedia page currently lists a November 4th airdate for the next episode. I’ll be waiting over here making diagrams, trying to figure out the kidnapper’s identity, and hoping to see Anika (Grace Gealey) again soon.