Empire Season 2 Premiere “The Devils Are Back” (Season 2 Episode 1)


Hooray, Empire is back! Game time, b!tches!
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Or is it game over?
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I suppose it depends on who you ask. When we last saw the patriarch of the Lyon family, he was locked up for the murder of Cookie’s cousin Bunkie and unknown to him, there was a plot underway to remove him from his empire. Although there is still much we have to learn about Lucious, one thing is clear – he is the type of character who might be down, but can never be counted out. That became evident in the Season 2 premiere, as he managed to quash the hostile takeover from behind bars.

Empire‘s Parade of Stars

Empire‘s Season 2 premiere had everything that I love and loathe about the show. The brilliance of Empire, is that even the things that are wrong add to the show’s charm. During the off season, most of the Empire-related news was about a very long list of celebrity cameos lined up for the second season. The first 10-15 minutes of the episode was a parade of celebrity cameos, including Swizz Beats, Andre Leon Talley, Al Sharpton, Don Lemon and Petey Pablo. Thankfully, those cameos went by pretty quickly and it included a nice little dig at Don Lemon and some of his more questionable journalistic moments. Honorable mention goes to the Bill Clinton reference, which was a hilarious as the idea of Lucious being on the phone with President Obama in Season 1.

The two most notable high profile additions to the show in the season premiere were Chris Rock as Frank Gathers and the introduction of Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman. As an aside, I really need Empire to do better with these character names!

Gathers was the dangerous drug dealer that Cookie testified against in order to get released from prison early. In season 1, Cookie mistakenly confused a rose from Lucious as one of Gathers’s signature roses and asked her cousin to take care of one of his main hit men. The deed was done before Cookie realized her mistake and viewers were left to wonder if the error would have consequences for Cookie or her family. One of the things I love about Empire and its soapy goodness is that the show has been pretty good at introducing events and issues that will ultimately come full circle. One of my biggest pet peeves about the Shonda shows, which are comparable to Empire when it comes to soap opera-like story lines, is that far too many loose ends carry over from season to season without any resolution.

Although I knew Rock would appear on Empire this season, I had no idea that he would be playing Frank Gathers. I’m actually glad that I did not know because it made his appearance a very hilarious surprise. Although comedy is his day job, Rock is no stranger to acting. I’m not sure how convincing he was as the menacing, cannibalistic, drug-dealing Gathers, but he certainly did entertain. The subplot with Gathers and Lucious led to a few moments where it was mandatory for me to take a few large leaps in logic, like the idea that the posh prison where Lucious was incarcerated had very nice flat screen televisions. Although the idea of corrupt prison guards lending a hand to paying prisoners is nothing new, I really struggled with Gathers finding a way to have a severed head personally delivered to Cookie. I’m glad that the Gathers storyline was wrapped up pretty quickly and many thanks to the powers that be at Fox for toning down the cannibalism storyline. What I liked most about the storyline is that, despite all of their differences, Lucious was willing to protect Cookie and his family. I’m not quite ready to proclaim Lucious a good guy, but it is good to know that there are still remnants of his soul left.

Does The Family That “Preys” Together, Stay Together?

The members of the Lyon family not currently locked up spent a great deal of the episode working towards crossed purposes. The last three months at the helm of the Empire have clearly taken its toll on Jamal, both artistically and personally. He is barely finding time to spend in the studio to make new music and he is not fully leveraging the success of his album by touring. He reunited with Michael, but the time between the couple lacked the love and affection we saw in Season 1. More on this pair later in my Season 2 wish list.

While Jamal juggled the demands of leadership, the rest of his family continued in pursuit of their “prey” or in this case, their desire to take controlling interest of Empire Records and to remove Lucious from the company. Enter my favorite new addition to this season, Mimi Whiteman, portrayed by Marisa Tomei. Tomei did not disappoint. She brings the proper balance of camp and drama to Mimi and proved to be a perfect fit for the show.

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Mimi is a very rich, driven business woman who wants to play around with a record company. Don’t let the questionable fashion taste fool you, Mimi is very savvy and her instincts led her to dupe Team Cookie and put her weight behind Team Lucious. The context in which all of this jockeying for power was classic Empire. Team Cookie (Andre, Rhonda, Anika/Anita and Hakeem) tried to entice Mimi by appealing to her love of women with conversations full of sexual innuendo, a party with women looking to have fun with a rich business woman like Mimi and a night in the sack with Boo Boo Kitty. There was also this:

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Oh Anika. I want good things for Boo Boo Kitty.

Jamal and Lucious were smart enough to realize that Mimi was more than her sexuality. They saw past that and made their appeal to the accomplished, successful business woman who agreed that without Lucious, there is no Empire. Game, set, match – Team Ja!Lucious.

Empire Is Gonna Empire

Part of the fun of Empire is that it gives you the jaw dropping drama and moments that just make you scratch your head because they are over the top ridiculous. That moment in this week’s season premiere had to be the #FreeLucious concert that opened the episode. For the most part, the scenes were fun as we immediately got back into the swing of things with Cookie, Hakeem and Jamal. Generally, I appreciate that Empire, much like Scandal, embraces current events. Last season, Patti Labelle made a reference to the Black Lives Matter campaign. The show writers used the concert for Lucious to highlight very serious issues regarding the rapidly growing incarceration system in the United States. I was all on board with the reference until Cookie descended upon the crowd inside of a cage while wearing a gorilla costume. WHAT. WAS. THAT?!?!?!?!?! After several rewatches, I have still yet to fully take in Cookie’s speech, which was powerfully delivered by Taraji P. Henson, because the gorilla costume is so distracting and such an odd choice.

The Empire Strikes Back!

In addition to the drama and WTF moments, Empire is always good for giving for one-liners that are brilliantly delivered by the cast. Some of my favorites from this episode included:

– Cookie to Hakeem: Your father’s a tampon.

– Becky to Jamal: You’re rude, he’s crude, and both of y’all are socially unacceptable.

– Lucious to Cookie: Why you lookin’ like Mr. T?

Season 2 Wish List

1. Cookie and Andre: We spent much of Season 1 exploring the close bond between Cookie and Jamal. By the season’s end, Cookie managed to break through with Hakeem and the two are in a much better place this season. In a perfect world, I would love to see Cookie enjoying a close, healthy relationship with all of her sons, but that would be no fun on a show driven by the love and conflict in the Lyon family. What we have not seen yet, is the relationship between Cookie and Andre. Of all the characters on the show, I find Andre the hardest to read. I don’t think it has anything to do with his bipolar diagnosis. Rather, the character just does not get quite as much to do on the show. Everyone cannot be outspoken like Cookie, Lucious or Becky and there is definitely entertainment value in a quite, brooding character who is strong willed and ruthless. Based on what we’ve seen, Andre has all the reason in the world to resent his father; however, I do not feel any real sense of love or loyalty from Andre to Cookie either. It is pretty telling that Andre was the eldest son, which he means he spent more time with his mother before she went to jail, yet Jamal was the son who had the closest relationship with her. We’ve seen that despite Lucious’s brutal tough love, Andre still clearly has a need for his father’s love, respect and acceptance. As it relates to his mother, we saw Andre look at Cookie as more of a pawn in his pursuit of power, instead of a beloved maternal figure. Hakeem’s distance was very transparent and clear. When it comes to Andre, I have no sense of what he feels for Cookie and would love to have a better handle on that this season.

2. Jamal’s Vision: Nope, I’m not talking about Jamal’s vision for Empire Records. I’m curious in exploring Jamal’s vision for himself as a high profile entertainer and business leader who very publicly told the world he was gay. To many, this would suggest that Jamal might envision himself as a public voice for the LGBTQ community. The context in which Jamal came out suggested that there were a lot of underlying reasons why Jamal decided to come out at the white party, including a very understandable frustration with his father’s homophobia. Jussie Smollet’s acting choices as Jamal enters his office to find Ms. Lawrence (from the Real Housewives of Atlanta) singing Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel” left me with a lot of questions about Jamal’s vision for himself as a leader or role model beyond the walls of the empire. Although Jamal is very comfortable in his skin, I sensed a hesitation towards Michael’s efforts to get him more involved in the LGBTQ community. Granted, Jamal’s reaction could have been just sheer frustration at the prospect of yet another obstacle getting in the way of him and the studio. I suspect, however, there is more to it and that we may see Michael and others push Jamal to consider what role, if any, he wants to play in the LGBTQ community.

3. Boo Boo Kitty – The Wildcard: Anika has clearly invested a lot of time and energy in the empire, so I understand why she is unwilling to just walk away from the company, regardless of her strained relationship with Lucious and the occasional jabs from Cookie. As we saw last season, however, Anika is smart enough to listen to reason and a good deal. That makes her a bit of a wildcard and as we’ve seen from the season preview, it looks like Lucious may try to appeal to Anika’s ambition and separate her from Team Cookie. It took me awhile to warm up to Anika and I found her much more likable and interesting as a character when she was working against Lucious. I’m less intrigued by the prospect of her continuing to be a wildcard and would like to see her develop a relationship with someone in the Lyon family to whom she can be steadfastly loyal. I would like to see that loyalty returned to her as well. Despite her ongoing romantic relationship with Hakeem, he is not the one I want to see Anika form a partnership with. I would really love for her and Cookie to move from frenemies to a solid pair of women who are focused and unstoppable. Of course, the ladies will always trade the occasional barb, but I think those two could be formidable opponents to just about anyone, including Lucious.

4. Family Ties: I appreciate that Empire is a family driven drama; however, there is a sappy part of me that strongly prefers the moments when the family is united, even if it begrudgingly so. I suspect that the family will spend most of this season switching alliances and working against each other in a contest for control of the empire and for bragging rights. I would love for some big bad to enter the scene by the season’s end and present a threat that is stronger than any differences between the Lyon family. Besides, I really cannot stand the idea of Cookie and Jamal not being close. As we saw in that final, heartbreaking scene between the mother and son, she might be the only one who can keep him from completely going over to the dark side.

5. A Nice Family Photo for Lucious: Did anyone else notice those dated family photos in his jail cell. Get this man an updated family photo!

Until Next Time!

Overall, I really enjoyed the season 2 premiere of Empire, although I am going to try to forget that the gorilla scene ever happened. The writers did a great job at wrapping up loose ends with the Gathers plot and the hostile takeover. There are way more cameo appearances to come and I hope they will be as brief as the cameos in this week’s episode. I want less cameos and more of the core cast with nice dose of Marisa Tomei’s Mimi. Mimi was really fun, but I hope the writers will work on developing the character and take care not to make her a caricature. It’s only a matter of time before the family learns what happened to Vernon and who was involved. I wonder if Andre and Rhonda’s tag team takedown of Vernon will earn them a spot at Luscious’s table? I cannot wait to watch that secret unfold.

What did you think of the Season 2 premiere of Empire? Will you be on board for the Lyon family shenanigans this season? Who are you rooting for and do you think that everyone will make it out of this season alive? Sound off below! In a few weeks, I will check in to see how things are going this season. Until then . . .

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