Thursday, February 26, 2015

TV Review: Empire Episode 8: The Lyon's Roar

What came first, the Character or the Story? I know it seems like a very writerly riddle, but I do think it's a perfectly valid question. If I have the most amazing story ever told, does it matter if the characters within it are a little bland and two-dimensional? Conversely, if I have the most fascinating characters, can I get away with a story that's a little less interesting? I think the best stories strike a balance between those two forces; placing interesting characters in interesting situations and having them do interesting things as a result is always the best way to go. But in a show's first season, typically, I think we might be more likely to have to choose one or the other. I don't think this is anyone's fault; it's simply down to the logistics of storytelling. How well rounded and flushed out can a character be within an ensemble after only seven hours? So if the character work is improbable after such a (relatively) small amount of time, then the story should swoop in and pick up the slack, right? But if I were to ask you what the central story of any given Empire episode was, could you tell me?

I was bored at work not too long ago and I asked a few friends of mine to name Buffy episodes for me to watch. A couple people responded by telling me that they don't remember the names of individual episodes, so they couldn't really help me. To this I responded, "Simply tell me the story of the episode in question, and I'll tell you the title of the episode." I'm capable of doing this partially because I've watched through Buffy more times than I can count, but mostly because Buffy is a show in which almost every episode is centered around a specific and memorable storyline. This is where I'm starting to think that Empire is facing the biggest problem. Any given week with this show is less about a central storyline and more about a string of things that happen. This week, there's a party, Cookie and Lucious hook up again with Lucious promising to dump Anika, Jamal comes out, and Andre and Vernon work together to try and get Andre on the books as the Interim CEO in case Lucious is incapacitated at any given time, but those are plot points within a story, not a story in and of themselves. So what is this episode centrally about? What is any episode of this show about when you get right down to it?

It's not that Empire hasn't been facing these problems all along. In spite of my praise of the show, these cracks have always been there. It's just that the ride was so much fun before now that it simply didn't matter. "The Lyon's Roar" just isn't fun. Nor is it particularly enlightening outside of a couple small moments. Ultimately, what we're left with is an episode that doesn't really get its characters or its story right, and it's all left feeling messy.

On the character front, I think we need to talk about Andre. This is one of the few Andre focused episodes of this first season, and I think everything suffered because of it. Empire has big and important things to say about art and artists, but as such, it doesn't seem to know what to say about the only non-artistic Lyon in the group. Andre's initial position within the show seemed to be about mental illness, and living with bipolar disorder, but that seems to have taken a backseat as of late.  So all that's left for him is his status as a good business man. But is he even that in this episode? The idea to be the interim CEO comes from Vernon, not from Andre. That seems like a simple enough idea that someone with all the learning Andre's amassed should have been able to come up with much sooner. His next big calculation in an attempt to get the votes he needs to make this happen is to pimp his wife out to one of the board members. This seems like the kind of thing that can work, until the plan goes wrong, Rhonda sees who she's supposed to be seducing, and decides she doesn't want to play anymore. And the closest thing a backup plan that Andre has seems to be calling another board member and simply asking him for his vote, which works out just fine. So why were we put through that painful dinner scene in the first place?

It all boils down to Empire not really knowing who its characters are. And how could they when the characters seem to change at the drop of a hat. One week Andre is a seeming business genius, the next he can't even figure out a way to make sure he can get the votes needed to be named interim CEO to the company he's worked at all his adult life. One week the Lyons are all banding together in the face of the knowledge of Lucious' illness, the next week Lucious is laying bare the long list of problems he has with Andre's wife. The sad thing about this moment is that it's actually a great storyline for Empire to tackle, but it comes so fast out of nowhere that you're only left with a vague feeling of WTF instead of a serious idea of what it all means. Empire continues to be a show with a lot to say, but with very little understanding of the best way to go about saying it.

That is, on just about every topic except for Art and Jamal's sexuality. At this point, I'm left wondering why the entire series isn't just a string of scenes about Jamal being gay and arguing with Lucious and other characters about the importance of Art and Music. The entire sequence of Jamal's coming out is about as perfect as we've seen from the show. From he and Lucious' discussion about why they do what they do (for the music of course, which will live on long after both of them are dead), to the overwhelming support coming from everyone in the audience except Lucious when they hear how Jamal's given a queer edit to the song. The entire audience cheers, the camera lingers on every one of the major characters in attendance, all of them give nods and salutes of approval, and Lucious simply stands there stone faced. It's the culmination of what the show, and Cookie, have been saying all along, and Cookie isn't shy about saying it again: no one but Lucious cares about Jamal's sexual orientation. He came out, he's been a huge story on the 24 hour news cycle, and the world keeps spinning.

But when all is said and done, will "The Lyon's Roar" be remembered as Jamal's coming out episode? Is that the core story of the hour? It's true that the issue of Jamal coming out is brought up early in the hour in the scene between him and Hakeem at the church, and then culminates in the act itself, but I don't know that I feel like there's enough there for it to even be the B-plot of the episode. Especially in the face of the story being teased out over the course of all eight of these first episodes. It feels more like the culmination of a season long story than anything self-contained within this hour. This episode left me feeling like Empire's actual longevity might be in question. The meteoric rise in viewership over this first season will probably be more than enough to keep it on the air through two, maybe even three seasons, but ask yourself this: What will Empire look like upon rewatch, or more specifically on binge watch. When people sit down to either relive this first season, or to introduce their skeptical friends to it during the upcoming hiatus, will they be as impressed and excited as we were through those first five or six hours, or will they struggle to latch onto any of the flat characters or find any of the non-existent episode to episode storylines?

Random Thoughts:

--I'm also really just pissed off at the show's treatment of Tiana. Given the fact that we haven't seen her again since her own big coming out episode, it feels like everything about her only served to further Hakeem's storyline, and I'm sick of seeing interesting female characters sidelined or used as props in a male character's story.

--Unless I'm mistaken, this is the first episode that's both written and directed by Danny Strong. Danny's had some serious writing success lately, and as a Buffy Alum I wish him all of the best, but this was not a very good showcase for his talents. All of the characters basically just say what they're thinking, and there wasn't any kind of special flare to the directing that I could see. I think he should stick to writing, but I also think he can show himself as being a stronger writer than this episode presented him as.

--The White Party at the center of the episode must be a different White Party than the one I'm thinking of.

--I can't express enough how disappointed I am that this is the first we're hearing about Lucious' feelings towards Andre marrying a white woman. I think Andre's self-consciousness about his lack of musical ability has been an undercurrent to the show and the character all along, so that doesn't surprise me, but the thought that he married a white woman and went to school in order to be accepted within white culture is new. As well as Lucious' feelings towards same, and the idea that no matter how hard Andre works for that acceptance, it's not possible. There are so many threads that the show could tease out here, and yet it does a disservice to all of them by speeding through them in that one scene.

--Something else that felt rushed, or at least unearned by the show was Hakeem's statement that he's always felt like Cookie loved Jamal more than she loved him. On the one hand, I want to say that that's a fair and succinct way to bottle up all of Hakeem's anger and frustration towards her, but on the other hand I don't get it. Cookie was in prison for 17 years, all of Hakeem's life basically, but he says she always paid more attention to Jamal than to him. For all those years, was she sending Jamal birthday and Christmas gifts from the slammer and not sending any to Hakeem? She wasn't really in a place, I assume, from which she was capable of reaching out, so what specifically happened to make Hakeem feel that way? Also, why then is all of his anger over that placed on her and none of it towards Jamal? It makes more sense that that feeling of neglect would sour his and Jamal's relationship as well, and yet it doesn't seem to have done so.

--Point to fact, Jamal and Hakeem seem to be great at a number of points in this episode. The scene at the end with Hakeem telling his big brother just how proud he is of him and just how brave he is was the single best moment of the night. That relationship continues to pay dividends.

--What does Jamal having a daughter add to the character or the overall plot and story of the show? So far I continue to say nothing, but it's possible I'm just missing something. It all seems like a horrible waste to me though.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TV Review: Empire Episode 7: Our Dancing Days

I think that sometimes it can be easy to forget that at its core Empire is about family. Or at least it ostensibly wants to be about family; on a week to week basis, Empire is about a million different things. But the show is rooted in family and I think most of its best moments stem from that root. If the chaos of the last couple episodes caused anyone to forget this important point, then here comes "Our Dancing Days" to help us remember.

But before the episode can be all family all the time, there's some fallout from last week they need to take care of. Namely, Michael's leaving Jamal. After he refused to come out during his interview last week, Michael has decided that it's a better idea to end things now before it gets worse. I've spoken before about Empire's refusal to slow its storytelling down and how that works both for and against the show at times, this is an example of the latter. How are we supposed to feel about Michael's decision? For that matter, how are we supposed to feel about Michael? Is he the first casualty of Jamal's meteoric rise to fame, or is he just a selfish nearsighted weakling who doesn't have the guts to stick it out. If I'm being honest, I'm inclined to take option number two, and I kind of think the show feels that way as well. Over the course of the last two episodes both Cookie and Lucious have mentioned that Michael isn't the one for Jamal because he doesn't understand how hard it is to love an artist. And in the end, they're right. I don't know that it necessarily is harder to love an artist than it is to love anyone else, but I do know that given the way the story has gone, Michael doesn't seem to have been cut out for it. It's not that Michael's desire to be acknowledged publicly (as well as privately) isn't valid, of course it is, but if he's unable to understand that at least for the moment he's got to be ok with being second to Jamal's young career, then he really isn't worth Jamal's time. In a situation where Michael has been number one for the duration of time that they've been dating, I don't think Jamal was asking too much expecting him to take a backseat briefly while his music took off.

Therefore, lines like Michael's "No I love you, you love music," don't feel earned. Every so often, Empire is going to fall into the trap of playing up it's soapy elements a bit more than it probably should, but something like the Michael--Jamal dilemma simply doesn't work. By rushing through the plot and forcing the story to take place over the course of two episodes, it leaves the entire thing feeling hollow. It also says something very negative about a character I had grown to like. It's really not that the storyline is a bad one for the show to run with, it's just that it doesn't make sense for it to happen in the 7th episode of a 12 episode season. Especially when the seeds for it were only planted one episode ago. For what I'm sure won't be the last time, I have to tell Empire to slow the hell down!

While the relationship drama fell flat this week, the family drama was perfect. Everything from Lucious falling sick at the beginning of the hour and being forced to pick Anika over Cookie to accompany him to the hospital, to the ongoing feud between Jamal and Hakeem, to the scene where Lucious finally comes clean about his ALS worked wonders. In life, things change, and of course in Empire things change rapidly, but family is the one constant. That's accentuated in this episode in the scene between Lucious and Jamal, and of course in the scene where Lucious tells his family about his illness. The Lucious--Jamal scene is the latest of many, but I think it might also be the best one yet. For what seems like the first time, they aren't yelling or insulting one another, they aren't at each other's throats, they're simply being there for one another. Jamal, in a moment that I do think reeks of the show's particular penchant for throwing consistency out the window, goes to his father for solace over Michael leaving and over the mess he finds himself in with his new found daughter. Lucious, to his credit, actually offers kind words of wisdom and some serious help on both fronts. He even expresses his hope that one day Jamal will meet a person who can love him the way he deserves. He says person! It's not as much of a victory as it would have been if he had said man, but it's no where near as dismissive as it would have been if he had said woman, so that's some serious progress for Lucious Lyons.

The capper to tonight's episode is of course the scene where Cookie and Lucious finally find themselves in bed together after 7 episodes of sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. The entire thing is soapy and a bit contrived, but the fact that it's been building for the entire season at least allows it to make a certain kind of sense. Is it hackneyed that Cookie and Lucious sleep together after he shows himself to be vulnerable and tells her about his ALS? Of course it is. Is it horribly played out that Anika just so happens to come home and catch them sleeping together? You know it! But it's the payoff to 7 long hours of the two of them flirting around the issue, and of Henson and Howard lighting the screen on fire with their chemistry, so we'll take it.

Cookie and Lucious is actually the closest thing to a slow burn that the show has had thus far. While the two of them haven't come a long way from where they were in that pilot episode, the seeds for this development have certainly been germinating long enough for it to work. It was obvious and predictable is so many ways, but it was something the writers took their time getting to and allowed to develop organically. The best case scenario moving forward would be that they found the patience to treat more of their storylines this way and fewer of them the way they treated Jamal and Michael. I don't expect that to be the case, but I certainly hope that it is.

Random Thoughts:

--Even though I've felt that the Hakeem and Jamal rivalry of the last few episodes has been a bit forced, their truce in this episode, however brief it might turn out to be, was highly moving. Some part of this is because I like the show a lot more when the two of them are on the same side. But I also find reconciliation storylines to be cathartic in general.

--This marks another week without Tiana. Even though she's mentioned in passing between Hakeem and Camilla, she doesn't actually show up. I find the possibility that she wouldn't be at the huge event at the center of tonight's episode to be laughable at best and her continued absence is problematic. I think I'll give them one more week and then I'll start yelling for them to bring her back. It's a horrible waste of a fascinating character and a great storyline if they don't use her again. And with the extreme lack of fascinating female characters on TV (esp queer female characters) this would be unforgivable.

--Forgive me while I digress a little here, but the moment when it became clear that Glee wasn't going to be worth anyone's time anymore was when the show started to introduce interesting and important story developments only to then forget them the very next week. I bring this up because I feel like I'm starting to see a lot of that same tendency in Empire. Both shows come from Fox, both are musicals, and both are soapy to an extreme. But I think we have to continue to hope that Empire is capable of reaching far higher than Glee ever did. These comparisons might come more frequently in the future, but for now I think it's important to remember that Glee was equally as promising through its first 13 episodes as Empire has been through its first 7.

--From the Hot Mess Pile: Camilla continues to be hot mess fodder. It feels like she's falling prey to the show's inherent lack of consistency. This week, she's sick of just being Hakeem's secret side piece and wants more. Where did this come from? She didn't seem to have a problem with it before. Just go with it I guess.

--So I guess we're to assume that Jamal really is that girl's father? Does this add anything at all to the show, the character, or the story in general? I was initially excited for the manic injection of life I thought Raven-Seymone would bring to the series, but if we've lost her and are just keeping the kid, then I'm going to say that this is stupid and pointless.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

TV Review: Empire Episode 6: Out, Damned Spot

I've been sitting with my thoughts on this episode for the last couple days and I still don't fully know what to say. I think this week's Empire is the weakest the show has been thus far, but I don't think it was a boring or a bad episode. If we start with the good, I've got to say I like the focus on Jamal and Michael's relationship. They've always been cute and a high point of the series for me, but their scenes until now have mostly been the two of them being adorable with one another and not much more. I think a cute lovey relationship is great, but without some kind of complication it won't be believable. They get complicated, and it makes them seem more real than they were before, but I'm not sure how I feel about the tone of the storyline thus far. More on that in a bit.

Also in the good category is the introduction of a couple new guest stars. While I don't know that I like Elle (played by Courtney Love) or Olivia (played by a fired up Raven-Symone) just yet, I do maintain that the show's ability to draw in stars of this caliber bodes well down the line. Which isn't to say that either Love or Symone are a-listers or anything, but still, it was nice to see their faces.

Sadly I think that that's about where my compliments end this week. "Out, Damned Spot" was a bit of a mess in a lot of ways, but more importantly it was evidence that Empire hasn't got a very strong grasp on its serialized storylines thus far. Where was the fallout from Cookie having an innocent man murdered last week? The show going away from Tiana for an episode isn't a problem, but why has the Titan storyline, a story I thought should be a cornerstone for the show thematically going forward, not been brought up again since its introduction. Partially my frustration with this is rooted in my own opinion that that shouldn't have been a one time throw away episodic plot point. But the other part of my annoyance has to do with the fact that the other aspect of that story (Lucious' dealings with the nation of Islam) seemed to be seeds that could and should have germinated into full bloom by now. Or at least the buds should be opening. Instead the show's simply forgotten that it dropped that juicy tidbit for us at all and is on to other things.

The big stories are still progressing. Lucious' ALS takes another large step forward and he starts a highly unsafe (and really stupid) experimental drug trial which isn't even legal in the States. In the stand out moment of the episode, Cookie finds out that Lucious and Anika are getting married and blows up at them both. The entire episode was well worth it to see Taraji Henson in that sexy lingerie though. And Hakeem continues to spiral in the wake of his discovery about Tiana cheating on him. But while those stories are all touched on here, nothing really moves decidedly forward. There are more beginnings in this episode than there are middles or endings, and that just leaves it feeling kind of aimless.

And some of the beginnings in questions might leave a bit to be desired. As I stated before, I enjoyed the fact that Jamal and Michael were getting complicated in this episode, but the idea that Michael was worried he'd get left behind in favor of fame and fortune and the only way to combat that is for Jamal to agree that they go away for a weekend felt a bit hackneyed. I don't think that those concerns are invalid in any way, but I do think that we've seen that story a million times before and played out in many different ways, so do we really need to see it here. I don't think that Michael's pain at being dismissed by Jamal's statement that there isn't anyone important in his life right now is the wrong way for the story to go. I think the show's insistence on showcasing the homophobia in the black community has to include the ways in which that homophobia can be internalized. Cookie is seen off stage while Jamal is giving his interview, and her reaction shots to the questions are left open to interpretation. Is she warning him not to do it, or is she commiserating with him that this moment was inevitable and she knows it's tough but he has to make his own decision? I'm inclined to think the latter given her previous interest in throwing lavish coming out press conferences for him, but the truth is that I'm not sure. The scene between Cookie and Michael, and a later scene between her and Jamal suggest that she might have some reservations after all. If she's not concerned that her son is dating another man, then she's at least not happy about the man he's chosen.

Which brings me to another problematic aspect of the episode: Cookie doesn't think Michael is right for Jamal because he wants to be a chef? Don't get me wrong, I understand that Cookie would value ambition over what she might see as settling for a regular job, but I think the show should steer clear of the suggestion that finding something other than music or art that you enjoy and are good at and pursuing it as a career is somehow an unworthy goal. And in any event who's to say that Michael doesn't have ambitions of opening his own restaurant some day? I don't think Cookie's position should be that Jamal find someone in the same line of work or with the exact same drive and passion as himself.

All of that combines to make up what I thought was the weak link in an otherwise strong chain of six episodes. I don't think the series has stumble so hard that it can't recover, but it needs a return to stories that feel fresh, and to remember the stories that made it more than just a simple nighttime soap. I think primetime soap is a fine thing to be if that's all you're striving for, but I think Empire wants to be more and it's shown itself as capable of being more, but in order for it to accomplish that it needs to not peter out at the midway point of its first season.

Random Thoughts:

--Really Michael? You want to go to Fire Island? Do gay men in New York really still go to Fire Island? I haven't been, so I speak from no point of authority on this, but that line felt like it was written by a straight man who has only read about what gay men do in books.

--Also in the really Michael? category: expecting Jamal to just drop everything and go away for the weekend. I mean in his defense, if Jamal agrees to do something, I think he could try a little harder to keep his promise, but I think we all know it was an unreasonable request to begin with. No one with a new job can just drop everything at the drop of a hat and go away for a stretch of time, so expecting Jamal to be able to do so when he's embarking on something way bigger than just a regular nine to five is a bit silly.

--I think we'll skip the hot mess pile this week since the entire episode was a bit of a hot mess.

--Andre: “You ever put your hands on me again, I’ll slit your throat.” Was it just me or was that the single funniest line of the episode. And the extent of just how earnest he was when he said it just made it all the funnier. He's cute when he gets angry and thinks he actually has some level of power. If he really thinks Uncle Vernon couldn't break him without even breaking a sweat then he's even dumber than he looks.

--This episode was a fairly nice showcase for Malik Yoba who I've thought has been under utilized thus far. Hope we get to see more of him.

--Also hope we get to see more of Derek Luke's Malcolm the security specialist in the weeks to come. I'm already shipping him and Cookie like there's no tomorrow. Plus Derek Luke is a ridiculously talented and exceptionally good looking guy, so the more of him the better it will be for everyone.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

TV Review: Empire Episode 5: Dangerous Bonds

I swear I don't know where to start with this episode. My notes aren't even that in depth because I think we might have just watched the best episode of Empire's first season. There's a reason I love the current run of soapy TV; it has the ability to cram more story elements into one hour than a typical drama does, and it can be as melodramatic as it wants and no one can say anything against it. This episode moves with a breakneck speed, it pushes a number of stories drastically forward, and it never once feels forced or out of place. At its best, with everyone clicking on all cylinders, this is what Empire is most capable of achieving. I hope this show sticks around for a long long time to come.

I made a crack last week about Tiana's seeming disinterest in Hakeem's relationship with Camilla and how it didn't ring true that so many people of color on this show seemed to be heading into open relationship territory. Well it's time for me to eat my words because we just found out that Tiana's disinterest is actually due to the fact that she has a girlfriend of her own on the side. My how the plot thickens on this one. Empire set itself up to be an important show about queer sexuality within the black community back in the first episode when they had Jamal talking candidly about his homosexuality, but now with Tiana, it seems poised to blow the roof off of this subject. Is Tiana a lesbian? Is she maybe bisexual? Or is she just a woman well in charge of her own sexuality with no hang ups on labels and what other people think is appropriate? Any of those options are equally possible, but whatever the reasons, one thing is clear, Tiana is one of the only lady loving ladies of color on TV today and I couldn't be more excited.

Some part of my excitement for this story development comes from how the show handles it. Hakeem seems, at least to me, genuinely upset that Tiana is seeing someone else, not upset that that person is another woman. That's not to say that there isn't a clear level of sexism inherent to his reaction;  clearly he thinks it's fine for him to have a chick on the side, but when he's the one being cheated on it's all different, but there doesn't seem to be any homophobia at play in his reaction. At least not to me, which continues to make Hakeem as fascinating figure. He's clearly bought in to certain aspects of Hip Hop culture, but there just doesn't appear to be a homophobic bone in his body. He loves his brother, one of the guys in his entourage (who I'm very very interested in by the way) seems to be gay or at least in keeping with a nontraditional gender expression, and now he doesn't seem to go to an automatic homophobic or even heteronormative place when he finds out his girlfriend is into girls. It's Lucious who makes the suggestion that Hakeem having two girlfriends could be a good thing. More and more as this show goes on I'm starting to think that a major part of its thesis is that the aspects of Hip Hop which are rooted in homophobia are just a lingering symptom of a dying breed. If Lucious represents the old school and everyone else is the future, then Empire is saying that the future of Hip Hop is one that will be totally free of homophobia.

This ideology isn't new. Indeed, it's the way we've been looking at the world at large for some time now. It's no secret that the younger generation doesn't feel the same way towards homosexuality as the older generation does. As such, we've long believed that all that we need to fully effect that shift was for the older generation to die out. Hip Hop (much like all industries dominated by ideals of masculinity) just seemed to be one place where that shift was taking a bit longer than others. But given how quickly the show is progressing Lucious' illness, it seems like the writers and producers behind Empire have different views on how quickly homophobia will be the exception and not the rule within this culture.

I think this also shines through in Jamal's story for the episode. As he finds himself in the seedier part of town renting out a studio space to record his new song which he thinks will be the single to launch him into the stratosphere. The cutting of the music scenes this week were all about the pending Hakeem / Jamal music battle. We see Hakeem going with all the glitz and glam that his father's money can buy as he creates the music video that would put him on top. But the song behind the video is lackluster at best. I can't help but to think that that was purposeful on the show's part because they've been pretty great with the music thus far. But lyrics like “She make that thing go drip drop”  make me think Hakeem’s talking about an STD instead of something sexy and appealing, so he might want to rethink that. Conversely, Jamal's working all day trying to get the music right and lacks all the flash that Hakeem's got. We've got two different approaches; one that places the art and the music first, and the other that seems to place the artifice and the glamor first. I'm not sure yet if Empire wants us to make value judgements on which option is better, but I'm casting my lot with Jamal on this one.

And it's that skill, hard work, and dedication that gains Jamal the respect of the men he's working with. These are lower class, inner city, Hip Hop loving and performing men. So for them to say things like "I know you've got that gay thing going on and all, but this is on point," you know Jamal's on to something. It's refreshing that that's the path that this storyline takes because as Jamal and Cookie were walking up to the recording space at the beginning of the episode, I was worried the show was going to end up placing Jamal in a situation where he'd be seen as basically just slumming for awhile before he needed to head back to his lavish lifestyle and appropriate what he needed from his little field trip. But instead the show seems to be saying that this is where real music, where real struggle comes from, and anyone with the skill and the ability to put in the work is capable of making it in this crowd.

Meanwhile, Cookie's storyline is about as breathless as they come. In the span of an hour she testifies in front of a grand jury, receives what she thinks is a death threat, jumps in a cab to drive over to Philly and see her sister, arranges to have a man killed in an attempt to protect herself from him, and then realizes that what she thought was a death threat was actually just an anniversary gift from Lucious and she's had a man killed for nothing. That's not to mention the multiple phone calls handling Jamal and Tiana's respective drama. In short, Cookie is a fucking beast! It would be easy to say that the show needs to slow some of this down, that some of these story elements come at too fast of a clip to really resonate, but I don't think that that's the case here. Everything progresses logically, it's easy to follow, and the overall effect is to make us as breathless as Cookie feels herself. It's all done to tremendous affect and I wouldn't change a thing.

But more than just her capability of handling herself in a crisis what I love about Cookie is her exceptional musical ability. I don't know if she can sing, or play music herself, but she has an ear for melody and the ability to make a good song great. Twice she listens to Jamal's new track and both times she makes the perfect call on how to edit it and make it better. In Empire's world, there's a use for everyone. Take for example Andre in this episode. He's mostly there to stir shit up between Hakeem and Jamal, but he's also got quite a head for business. While the Shakespearean power struggle between the three sons bothers me on a logistical level, it's been fascinating to see what they each bring to the table. Andre is the business sense, Jamal the pure artistic talent, and Hakeem is the raw untapped potential which when directed can be devastating. If the three of them don't end up applying their respective skills towards running the company together, then I think the show will have missed out on the best course of action.

Either way, all things considered, I think we were left with the best episode of the season thus far. There was betrayal, deceit, suspense, drama, great music, and fluffy over the top antics. If this show can keep this up for any span of time, I think we'll all be having heart attacks before the end. Excuse me, I need to go lay down now.

Random Thoughts:

--In case you didn't hear, Denzel Washington wants in on Empire. I've already been speculating on who he should play, and to be honest, all options are equally appetizing. If they haven't already finished filming the first season, then someone needs to make this happen before the wrap for the year.

--From the Hot Mess Pile: I thought this episode was honestly stellar all the way around so there's not much Hot Mess within it. But I will say that I don't remember ever seeing Tianna's girlfriend before. It's highly possible that I just wasn't paying close enough attention before, but if this is indeed her first time showing up, then I think the show's continuing its streak of messy character introductions. I don't think it's a problem that this is the first we're seeing of her, but I think knowing who she is would have made more sense when we saw her at Rhonda's job. Otherwise it just all seems a bit too convenient.

--Cookie's sister tells her "Oh please your kid’s ain’t real, they rich." The class issues within this show are starting to come forward more and more in these last couple episodes. While Titan doesn't show up this week (which is really annoying since I think dropping that story would be a huge mistake), the question of what Hip Hop and what the inner city deems as "real" is brought up once more.

--The final scene between Jamal and Hakeem just broke my heart. Partially because of the dramatic irony or it all and partially just because I hate seeming them fight. I was hoping they'd stay united for just a bit longer.