Tonight’s episode of Empire begs the question: Do people really change? Can we really run away from our dark pasts? Does true maturity come with age, or with a change of mind and heart? Is Lucious as evil as we thought? Alright, those are several questions, but at least I can answer that last one: Of course he is! Don’t ever catch yourself slipping. #staywoke.
In less than an hour, the characters we love and loathe decide their destinies in one of three ways: complying with their true nature, taking an alternate but momentary route, or genuinely changing. And in less than an hour, I realized once again that this show is 1. discombobulated as fuck, 2. tries to show and tell too much in too little time, and 3. is extremely ridiculous. But alas, I will continue watching because 1. I am partially committed to these characters, 2. there are some great one liners, and 3. I have nothing better to do on a Wednesday night, and analyzing fictional friends and foes is such a great mental exercise.
Let’s begin. Hakeem is turning 21 (Jesus, he makes me feel old) and wants the whole world to know it. He pesters his parents about a new car, whines about nobody caring enough to throw him a surprise party, and is determined to broadcast his celebration on Empire Xtreme. His friends/entourage happily entertain his antics. Cookie is unfazed.
Meanwhile, Jamal wakes up from a sexy night with Philip, the handsome man who’s been helping Jamal with his PTSD. Jamal learns that DMajor, his former producer and love interest, is on his way to his house to confess his love to him and come out. This is all through some kind of Snapchat-Facebook Live-Insta Story platform. Another point this episode tries to make: Are we relying on social media too much? This wouldn’t be the first time Empire uses social media in the story line, and it won't be the last, but I’m unsure if this device is done to make the show more relevant and believable, or to critique our culture.
DMajor bursts into Jamal’s fly-ass loft to find him on the couch with another man. See, D thought that Jamal didn’t want to be with him because he isn’t out yet, so he believed that coming out on social media and filming himself on his way to Jamal’s crib would be a romantic solution to their problems. But it wasn’t, and Jamal has moved on. It seems like now, DMajor’s trying to change, but maybe for the wrong reasons. Later, when he and Jamal get the chance to talk, and he admits he came out to get Jamal back, Jamal hits him with a great quote: “You don’t come out for someone else, you come out for yourself.” This rejection doesn’t sit well with D, and later he instigates a fight with Philip. Do people change?
Jamal has. He seems to be recovering well from rehab, is trying to avoid drama and toxic situations and just wants to focus on music and his new love interest. Sometimes I see flickers of the Jamal I fell in love with in the first season, before fame, drugs and family drama corrupted his spirit. I’m rooting for him.
Andre is trying to do business with Giuliana, and he isn’t afraid to use old tactics to get what he wants. Remember when he and Rhonda used sex to build relationships with and manipulate business partners? Well Andre is ready to do this again, but I doubt Nessa is on board with it. As she performs a song about her loyalty to Andre, she periodically glances into the crowd, watching him flirt with Giuliana. Do people change?
Later, Andre and Giuliana meet again, and he is all to ready to go back to her place and seal their business deal. But Giuliana doesn’t budge — she wants to meet Lucious first. Did I mention I really like Giuliana? She’s as saucy, witty, and sexy as Cookie, but with a dark side. She’s also played by Nia Long — if you can’t name at least five movies or shows Ms.Long has been in, then your priorities aren’t straight. #90sbaby
Speaking of Cookie — Angelo finds a gun in her home, a gold one gifted to her by Lucious. In a flashback sequence, we learn that Cookie has shot someone before: When she was a teen, living with Lucious, a boy came by their place and tried to make a move on her. When he refused to leave, she tries intimidating him with a gun, and winds up shooting him in the leg. Angelo asks if she’s ever shot someone before. She lies: “No.” Do people change?
Anika comes back home — last week she fled, leaving Hakeem with the baby, after Tariq presses her — and strikes a deal with Cookie and Lucious. If she, as Lucious’ wife, can get romantically involved with Tariq, it will invalidate his whole case against Lucious. They give her a week to put this plan into motion. A week? If Anika can pull this off, she had mad skills. I personally would need at least a month — to let my powers of seduction really sink in.
Hakeem has the birthday party he’s been hounding people about all episode, complete with surprise performances by his bae Tiana and brother Jamal. When some men try to press him about money he owes for the drinks and services, Hakeem denies it, says it wasn’t part of the deal, and continues partying. Later, one of the guys assaults one of Tiana’s friends on the dance floor: When she rejects him, he punches her in the face. I gasped! This episode was rife with men trying to hurt or take advantage of women. Okay, it happened twice, but that's two times too many.
The assault causes fights to break out, and when it’s over, Hakeem gets a good scolding from older brother Andre. “You’re 21 now,” Andre says. “You’re a man now.”
Yes, technically he is a man, and should be acting like one. But you gotta remember that this is the baby of the family, a spoiled brat who only knows life as a rich kid, unlike Jamal and Andre who remember life before Empire rose and Cookie went to jail. Hakeem hasn’t grown up because he hasn’t needed to, hasn’t felt the gravity of struggle and hardship that his brothers have. And even with the mistakes he’s made, he hasn’t truly embraced the consequences. That is, until he decides to go to Lucious’ house and spend the last hours of his birthday with his baby daughter, Bella. People do change.
Lucious gives Hakeem a quite moving illustration of Hakeem’s birth: through metaphors, and thankfully no flashbacks, we learn that Lucious delivered Hakeem because he was “in such a rush to enter the world.” Cookie and Lucious didn’t make it to the hospital, thanks to Chinese food and thundering skies. I actually really enjoyed this anecdote, it’s probably Lucious’ most genuine moment. As he hands Bella to Hakeem, Lucious tells him how proud he is that Hakeem is finally maturing, stepping up as a man, and not rushing life. It was really...nice.
I still don’t trust Lucious though.
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