Thursday, 31 March 2016
‘Empire’ Season 2, Episode 11: Hakeem Rises
Season 2, Episode 11: ‘Death Will Have His Day’
It’s been a long recess, but “Empire” is finally back to gather the pieces of all the lives that the dramatic midseason finale shattered. Rather than making us wait for a resolution to the murder attempt against Andre Lyon’s wife, Rhonda, Episode 11 immediately reveals that she survived but her baby didn’t.
Rhonda’s suffering would be the central tragedy of any other series, but for “Empire,” a whirl of high stakes and desperate measures, it’s just one of many subplots. In the main plot, Lucious Lyon has been ousted as chief executive of the company he created by an impulsive, traitorous vote from his own son Hakeem.
We quickly find out that Hakeem doesn’t have a plan beyond simple revenge against his father for meddling in his work and love lives. It’s possible he’s made more enemies than he can handle. Cookie camps out inside his home just to beat him with a broomstick — in an echo of the show’s pilot. Lucious takes him to the spot where Bunkie died to reveal himself as his best friend’s killer and offer Hakeem a clean shot at his head before he sets about plotting to murder his own offspring.
The most endearing trait of the Lyon family, even in darkness, has been how closely everyone huddles together when a threat to the livelihood of the family business presents itself. But now that the threat is from within, we see that the lust for power runs deeper than blood.
A series of dizzying plot negotiations land Cookie’s rogue start-up, Lyon Dynasty, back under the Empire umbrella, with the matriarch as head of A&R and Hakeem as chief executive of Empire proper. It’s not yet clear how this will net everyone what they want, but if it means more juicy scenes between Taraji P. Henson and Naomi Campbell as Hakeem’s cunning ex Camilla — like the one where Cookie walks out of Camilla’s office with a handful of gumballs from the candy dish, scattering them pettily across the floor at every step — then I’ll consider it a win. Camilla’s motives are still foggy: She once took a payout from Lucious to walk out of Hakeem’s life forever, but has since resurfaced as the angel investor Mimi’s girlfriend, and now she wants to steal Hakeem from his R&B protégé and girlfriend Laura. That said, Camilla’s warning about bringing Cookie back into the fold was this episode’s sole bit of sound business advice.
The fact that Hakeem finally finds love only to suffer for it privately and professionally is a cruel twist he’s had coming for ages. We’ve watched him bulldoze a few women’s lives without many consequences, so there’s very little sympathy for the stress he feels in choosing between Camilla and Laura. Let’s hope Hakeem choosing Laura won’t turn Camilla into the one-dimensional agent of vengeance Anika became throughout the first half of the season.
Speaking of Anika, did she push Rhonda down the stairs? If she did, she is very cold for showing up at the hospital afterward to ask about the baby. Whatever the case, Anika is now the mother of the child of Empire’s CEO, and that fact is bound to have some unforeseen consequences. Is Hakeem sharp enough to keep the power he just snatched or will his reign be bright and brief like Joffrey from “Game of Thrones?”
Here are four jarring musical moments from Episode 11
• Jamal singing “Heavy” as background music for the scene in which Rhonda loses her baby was extreme even for this show. That said, Rhonda and Andre haven’t been likable at all this season and if there’s anything rewarding to be gleaned from this random tragedy, it’ll be the warmth of their bond. Here’s hoping the strain doesn’t push Andre back over the edge.
• It was a devilish touch to pair Lucious’s somber piano ballad with a montage of exploding cars, murdered pets and broken ribs. Theatrical revenge is Empire’s not so secret strong suit.
• Jamal’s song about the freedom to sleep with whomever he likes proves “Empire” can be sharp on sexuality when it wants. It’s hard to think of the last time a television show cared enough to explain the finer points of sexual fluidity to a national audience.
• Laura’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert was hilarious because the idea of the NPR video series is for the artist to perform acoustically, but here was the singer — sans her group, who are long overdue for a breakup — belting out a tune to an busy, invisible backing track. This is not the first time that music has magically manifested itself when Laura started to sing. It’s fine, even necessary, for “Empire” to be a little goofy, but a show about music — especially one with clever, knowing real life music industry flourishes like Hakeem hopping up on the Empire board room desk like the ill-fated rapper Bobby Shmurda did at his signing — could stand to be more sensitive to the finer points of the actual business