“Empire” Ain’t What It Used to Be


From the time the very first episode aired, I have been hooked on “Empire.”  The first season was so mesmerizing.  A crooked music mogul, an ex-wife looking for her fair share of the dynasty she helped create, all kinds of family and business drama going on within the home as well as the company—what was not to love?  One of the things I really enjoyed about “Empire” is that it was so reminiscent of The Lion in Winter.

In The Lion in Winter, King Henry II has an empire to protect, and is tasked with passing it on to one of his three sons once he leaves this mortal coil, just like Lucious Lyon.  His youngest son, John, was the favorite, but he was extremely spoiled and undisciplined, and was in no way fit to run the kingdom.  We all know that description fits Hakeem.  His oldest son, Richard the Lionheart, was clearly the best man for the job.  However, Henry disliked him because Richard was not only close to his mother Eleanor (more on her later), but he was also a homosexual.  The only difference between Richard and Jamal is that Jamal is not the oldest child in the TV series.  Then, there was the middle son, Geoffrey.  Geoffrey was smart as a whip and cunning…and his dad barely noticed him.  That of course, is Andre.  Last but not least, is Eleanor, Henry’s estranged wife.  Eleanor spent the last few years locked away in a dungeon and has come back to raise hell and let her presence be known…and to say she does it effectively would be an understatement.  Eleanor plots against Henry constantly, but it’s clear she’s still in love with him, just as he is with her.  She hates his new mistress, and although she’s not crazy about how her sons have turned out, she lets it be known that she loves them and wants the best for them as well.  If I have tell you who represents Eleanor on the show, you’re clearly not a fan.

It was so cool to see a medieval story converted to a contemporary drama.  More so than that, as an African-American woman, it was even better to see a series with black people that was so compelling and smartly written.  To top it all off, the music was slammin’!  I have so many songs from the series on my IPod, it’s not even funny.  Then, something happened.  “Empire” seemed to lose its way.

It started around last year’s season finale, and ever since then, “Empire” hasn’t quite found its groove again.  Lately, I find myself getting more psyched to see “Underground” on Wednesdays than “Empire” (if y’all haven’t seen “Underground” yet, I highly recommend you watch it.  Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM EST on WGN, baby).  Why, you ask?  Well, let me break it down a bit for you.

The Villains Aren’t Real Threats

When the second season first started, the first villain we were introduced to was Chris Rock’s character, Frank Gathers.  Frank was supposed to be the Voldemort of street crime, so I really intrigued to see how Chris would play this out.  Sadly, the brother barely lasted two episodes before Lucious took him out.  Next, Ludacris came on the scene as a dirty correctional officer taking orders from the equally dirty DA, Roxanne Ford (played by Tyra Ferrell, aka Ricky and Doughboy’s mama.  I love Boyz ‘N the Hood!).  When Lucious learned he was a threat, Luda didn’t last one episode.  Once again, I wanted to see what would unfold between these two, and I was cheated (although interestingly enough, this is the third time Ludacris has gone toe-to-toe with Terrance Howard and lost; see Crash and Hustle and Flow).  It’s been happening with all the antagonists this season.  Before we really have a chance to see these villains shine, they’re taken off the show.  On the last episode (SPOILER ALERT!!), Camilla (Naomi Campbell) killed her lovely wife Mimi (Marisa Tomei), and Lucious miraculously managed to record the murder.  After letting her know that he would bring his evidence to the police, he gave Camilla the option to kill herself…and she took it.  Camilla just took over Empire, and once again, we didn’t have the chance to see her play the game of cat and mouse with the Lyon family as we hoped.

Missed Opportunities

Earlier this season, Hakeem was kidnapped, and the previews led me to believe that the following episode would show Lucious and Cookie release their rage on everyone in the city to find him.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the next week to come!  Instead, Hakeem was locked away for the first 5-7 minutes of the show, released, had unprotected sex with Anika (big mistake), and went through an extremely brief period of PTSD because when he was taken, “he didn’t do anything.”  Yeah.  That could’ve been handled better.  Another example is the show’s treatment of the Roxanne Ford situation.  When she found Vernon’s rotten corpse in her car, that was end of her campaign to bring Lucious down (which goes back to my first point).  I don’t know why it wasn’t further explored that Vernon was killed by a blow to the back of the head.  She could’ve easily had Lucious brought up on murder charges (although Rhonda is the guilty one).  That would’ve been really interesting to watch.  Another great plot point would be Freda Gatz finally learning that her mentor (Lucious) was the one that killed her father (Frank Gathers).  I’m hoping that opportunity doesn’t slip by.

Some Storylines Are Just…Unbelievable

Hakeem is a stud and not one, not two, but three women are in love with him!?  Then, two out of the three aren’t even his age!  Don’t get me wrong, Hakeem is cute and all, and I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but I seriously doubt a 19 year old would have a 40-something and a 30-something’s nose that wide open, especially a 19 year old that’s as immature as Hakeem.  True, he’s improved since the first season, but he still has a long way to go.  And I’m sorry, I’ll probably be bashed for this, but I didn’t buy Jamal’s hookup with Skye (Alicia Keys).  Yes, they made a cute couple and I get the whole “sexuality is fluid” argument, but Jamal had no interest in women before!  His forced marriage to Raven Symoné’s character ended in complete disaster.  Yeah, he was intimate with her once, but I’m sure that was to placate Lucious, who we all know is the poster child of homophobia.  Now, out of the blue, he’s drawn to Skye and sleeps with her?  Nah.  Lastly, there’s Rhonda’s attack.  I know that the writers are trying to keep us all in suspense as to who actually pushed her down the stairs (my money’s still on Anika), but no matter who the actual culprit is, who the hell would commit assault wearing Louboutins?  Wouldn’t sneakers be a bit more appropriate?  It’s hard to run in dress shoes, and that includes flats (I don’t know about y’all, but flats kill my feet)!

Rapid Fire Drama

Lucious is in jail, then he’s not.  Jamal is CEO, then he steps down.  Lucious takes over, but he loses the company to Hakeem.  Now Lyon Dynasty (originally Cookie and Hakeem’s company) has merged with Empire.  Then, if that’s not enough, the gays feel betrayed by Jamal, Andre is relapsing into another mental break, Anika’s pregnant (and scheming), Hakeem is betraying Camilla while bedding Laura (and planning on bedding some other hootchie mamas later, apparently), and now a war’s starting to erupt between Lucious and Jamal thanks to Big Daddy runnin’ his mouth about what happened with Skye.  Great day, that’s a lot.  Y’all, the concept of having too much of a good thing actually does exist.  When too much happens too quickly and it’s not really fluid and just thrown at you, it just feels like excess.  Think of it like this:  if you sit down to have one bowl of ice cream, that’s a great treat.  But if you eat the entire quart or gallon of ice cream in one sitting, you’re going to have some messy results.

Despite all these points I’ve made, “Empire” still remains among one of my favorite shows.  It’s still entertaining, but now that the initial storyline has been all but forgotten, it’s not the edge-of-your-seat show it once was.  I’m not the only person that’s noticed.  According to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the series hit a ratings low in November of last year.  So is “Empire” a one trick pony?  My answer is no.  It was brilliant once, and I’m certain it can be brilliant again.  Hey, even the late great David Bowie had to put his nose back to the grind and re-calibrate his focus once or twice.

—-Written by Nadiya

So what do y’all think about “Empire”?  Do you think it’s lost something or do you believe it’s still the same great show it always was?  Did you agree with anything in my long winded post (sorry, y’all.  I’m wordy)?  Please discuss and let me know!  I welcome all comments!  Thanks!


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