Welcome to the first ever Howl & Echoes TV wrap: for the next 13 weeks, we will be bringing you a weekly wrap-up of our favourite sensational hip hop TV drama, Empire!
Fox’s unexpected hit Empire wowed fans earlier this year with a very distinct brand of highly produced melodrama that is the stuff guilty pleasures are made from. Tracing the narrative of a major record label and its founding family, it’s like Glee for adults, providing a little bit of popcorn television for the lulls between major shows like Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black.
Or at least that’s how it starts out. You put on the first episode of season one with the intention to be lightly entertained, then all of a sudden you’re five episodes in, its 3am, and you’re scrolling through your Facebook friends to see who is the best candidate to debrief with at this ungodly hour, because there is no way you can possibly go to sleep without discussing the tour de force that is Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). In short, it’s fucking addictive. With too many twists and turns to rehash the first 12 episodes, we recommend you check it out before coming along for the ride as we recap season two week to week.
Following much anticipation after the season one finale in March, the second season kicks off with an appropriately sized bang – a rally to #freelucious. Crowds flock wearing sloganned t-shirts, as Empire artists push messages about the mass incarceration of African American men, in an effort to clear the name of label mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is now behind bars. A fan in the crowd holds up a sign that reads “officer don’t shoot”, and the show tries to create the illusion that it is firmly rooted in the real world. Then, Cookie appears in a giant gorilla suit, banging her chest like Tarzan, and all illusions are abruptly shattered. This is not our world. It is a world where anything goes, and the plot sets off at a rapid bolt from there.
The season two mandate picks up where we left off. Jamahl (Jussie Smollett) has been left in charge of the company while Lucious serves time for the murder of Marcus “Bunkie” Williams, and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), Cookie, Andre (Trai Byers) and Anika (Grace Gealey) are plotting a hostile take over (If you want to play a fun drinking game, do a shot every time you hear the words hostile take over. Hint: You will be drunk). But as they say, the best-laid plans are often destroyed by megalomaniacal patriarchs, and Lucious as usual comes out one step ahead.
The episode features some stellar guest appearances, including Marisa Tomei as power lesbian Mimi Whiteman, and, oh my god, Chris Rock as fellow inmate and criminal overlord Frank Gathers. We are also introduced to Betty Gathers, a young gay rapper who sources report will be a pivotal character as the season progresses. With a distinctly Dej Loaf vibe, her first performance can’t come quickly enough.
The hardest pill to swallow in the season opener is the distinct transformation of Jamahl’s character. Fans who rooted for him to be crowned successor of the company are left feeling a little dirty as he turns into a young tyrant with a penchant for nastiness. The Lucious Lyon douchebag legacy lives on and strong, most apparent with his heartbreaking slap across Cookie’s face accompanied by the words “Are you done lady?” We are left longing for our sweet, closeted, crooner always yearning for his father’s approval and reminded that this isn’t a show about nice guys. Those who show a hint of vulnerability are bound to finish last, and every character is on an exhausting mission to the top.
With every episode the writers throw all of their chess pieces in a bag and reset them at random, so that those who were once the pawns become the power players and kings are knocked down without warning. It’s fatiguing at times to try and predict the trajectory a story arc might take, and as the season lays wide open before us, something tells me there are going to be plenty of surprises.
The worst part is having to wait until next week for more.
- Hakeem casually rolling across the Empire floor on a hover board.
- Lucious’ high powered prison TV that seems to be able to zoom in at will on selected scenes at the rally
- Cookie re: Bill Clinton’s attendance at the rally: “He needs to be here if he wants to get his wife elected”
- Cookie to Anika: “You can’t even dyke right!”
- Lucious to Cookie: “It’s crazy how I can love your ass and hate you at the same moment”