Friday mornings for the next 11 weeks are going to be tough. Firstly, because all the plot threads of the previous nights episode of Empire are still tangled up like headphones shoved to the bottom of a handbag, waiting to be picked apart and assembled into some sort of linear narrative. Secondly, because it means staring out into that six day long abyss until the next episode. Remember how last week I said that this season would be full of surprises and pawns would become kings? Well, Episode 2, Without a Country, is case in fucking point.
Not that you could ever call Cookie a pawn, but after the failed attempt at a takeover, her status in the Empire universe seemed uncertain. Alas, our favorite battling diva doesn’t ever admit defeat, and from the opening montage it is clear her next move will be a game changer. If she can’t have Empire, she will just have to destroy it. And so begins rival label Dynasty: the best plot twist a mega fan could ask for. If you thought it was fun watching the Lyon family go at each other while they were fighting for the same cause, imagine what is to come now that battle lines have been drawn. On one side there is the king, on the other the queen, and in between a mad scramble for allies. Except for Anika, no one wants poor Anika.
It is clear that the title of King still rests with Lucious, but Jamahl continues his rise to succession. Sitting behind his keyboard and plucking out a new track for a television interview, it’s as though his soul has been sucked out and replaced by an auto-tuned monster. Even his songs, which were once a highlight, are artificial and tired. The only redeeming point of this sad transformation is that at some point he will no doubt have to go head to head with Luscious for the throne, and by then he will be so hardened he just might stand a chance. Might. This episode sees Lucious reach new tyrannical heights as he turns his back on Andre in a heart-breaking scene, and I am not quite sure anyone could stare into those black eyes and come out unscathed.
The guest appearance game remains strong with Ludacris swaggering around as an uptight prison guard and hearts of The Wire fans skip a beat when the out of focus face of Andre Royo aka Bubbles appears in the background of the jail visiting room. I literally applauded when it became apparent he would be a recurring character by the name of Thirsty Rawlings; a community college educated lawyer in a purple discount suit. Employing his services, Thirsty becomes Lucious’s get out of jail free card, bribing a judge to get him bail (but not before ensuring he records a kick ass new track from inside the prison walls, because, you know, legit). The track titled Snitch Bitch follows an unmistakably similar pattern to last seasons ridiculously catchy Drip Drop, and surprise, surprise, becomes an instant hit.
The track blares from a radio as Hakeem and Cookie sweep the ghetto space of their new headquarters and you can almost hear the words hanging in the air: “You’re move Cookie, you’re move.”
– Hakeem attempting to start a girl group called “Rainbow Sensation” featuring one black, one hispanic and one white artist.
– Classic soap opera moments like Cookie telling Jamahl about the new company as the elevator door closes, and Jamahl rolling down a black limousine window telling Hakeem to “get in”
– Cookie to Hakeem: “Hitting on girls is how Jay Z and your father built their careers”
– Cookie to Anika: “If it weren’t for women like me, bitches like you would spend a lifetime on your knees”
– Thirsty rushing in late to the bail hearing: “The court still validates right?”