If last week’s episode was all about streamlining the various plot strands of Empire for stronger dramatic purposes, tonight was a poorly conceived attempt to heap fuel on an already blazing campfire.
Where to begin… the lesbian subplot that threatens the market share that Tiana and Hakeem have cornered? Maybe, but as Cookie says, “You’s a freak. And we can sell that.” That might as well be the producers speaking directly to the network.
Or we could talk about Luscious asking Anika to marry him, complete with a gigantic ring and Anthony Hamilton singing ballads in the living room. That was at least interesting, in that it brought together Luscious with his future in-laws: a well-to-do interracial couple that looks upon the marriage of their daughter as suspect. Rightfully so, too.
There’s also the trouble that Cookie might be in after testifying to a grand jury, in hopes of keeping an old drug dealer behind bars. There’s no way to take the potential threats to her safety as credible. Cookie, or Taraji P. Henson, is the spine of the show. Without her, the whole thing collapses.
What I’m most interested in is the gaming being done by Andre to pit his younger brothers against each other. He (and his wife) got the video of Tiana and her lady friend leaked to Perez Hilton, and then sent part of Hakeem’s entourage to the studio where Jamal is recording his big new single in hopes of a big score of stolen jewelry. It’s fitting to blow up in a big way—and all it took to set it off was Jamal giving his little brother a gut punch.
Shame then, that Empire spent so much time reveling in Jamal recording his “nuclear bomb” of a single (an “I hate you dad!” tribute to his independence) and showing Hakeem making his big music video, replete with scantily clad ladies and shitty CGI.
I know they have iTunes downloads to sell as their big promotional tie-in, and they have a dozen or more episodes yet to unleash on us, but Empire is dragging its feet. And not even the big closing drive-by that tries to assure us that Cookie is in danger is going to help prove otherwise. Lee Daniels and company could learn a thing or three from the dramas that originate on cable and through British production companies. Screw the foreplay, just hit us hard and quick, and leave us breathless.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.