Give Him A Minute, And Lucious Will Screw You
No wonder this Empire episode is called "Sins of the Father"!
Welcome to The Faces Of Empire, where I select the shameless mugs that best express the weekly spirit of America's favorite hip-hop soap opera.
Okay, remember last week when there was a big label war happening, and the entire family was obsessed with signing artists because the fate of their entire world seemed to hang on it? Well, just like Cookie's trouble with federal agents, Jamal and Hakeem's feud, and Jamal's decision not to live in his father's world, that's all been forgotten for now. It literally doesn't come up, despite being the fulcrum of last week's episode.
But at least that makes room for tons of personal drama, all provoked by Lucious. His evil ass hurts everybody this week.
First up, there's Lucious and the IPO, which I've barely written about this season because legal contracts do not make compelling TV. This time, though, the damn thing actually does lead to juiciness, since the entire family gathers to sign over their stock options in order to take the company public. Rhonda is there as Andre's proxy (he's still in a mental institution after last week's collapse), and she notices that Andre's stock shares have been drastically reduced, as have Hakeem and Jamal's. This is literally the first moment we learn that Rhonda has the brains to spot such a thing, which is awfully convenient, but it does make Lucious reveal that he took those stocks to give them to Cookie. (Cookie looks conflicted about it.)
Daddy's not through dropping bombs, though. Because this scene also marks the return of Olivia, who is escorted by her boyfriend Reggie.
Now...Reggie is some kind of psycho, and he's convinced he has to kill Lola's real daddy in order to make Olivia and Lola his property forever. (He must be great on Valentine's Day!) After a coke-addled Vernon escorts Reggie into the IPO signing party, Reggie makes his move and threatens to shoot Jamal dead, which makes Lucious reveal...
...that HE is actually Lola's daddy! OH SHIT. Apparently, sleeping with him and marrying Jamal was part of Olivia's deal for becoming a label star. Which means that, once again, we see Lucious treating his family like bargaining chips instead of people.
The timing of this revelation is especially potent because Jamal has just decided he wants to raise Lola, even though it scares off Ryan (who's not ready for kids just yet.)
In true Empire form, though, this may all be moot by next week. Because after Deveaux shoots Reggie dead, Olivia takes the girl back with her, leaving Jamal (and Lucious) without a kid to look after.
The larger point, though, is that the crisis has prompted Lucious to blurt out this huge confession, which marries with the stock revelation and his crappy treatment of Andre to get his entire family turned against him. Even Cookie has had enough, and when Lucious invites her to move in with him, she basically tells him he can die alone, then goes off to sleep with Deveaux.
Frankly, you could accuse the show of moving characters like chess pieces in exactly the same way as Lucious. As soon as they've served the larger game plan, they get booted. But that's okay with me! Because there's something satisfyingly grandiose about all this. We leave this episode with a much clearer picture of who the remaining characters are in relationship to the tyrannical patriarch, and we see that everyone has a motive to hate him. That sets the stage for such satisfying fireworks!
Plus, Lucious's behavior actually enhances my perception of some of the bit players. Not only does Rhonda get to look smart, for instance, but Camilla also gets to look noble, refusing to accept a bribe from Lucious to move away from his son. I mean...she DOES fly away at his request (probably because Naomi Campbell had a photo shoot), but she tears up his check, tells him he should die a terrible death, and promises to be back for Hakeem the second Lucious is in the ground. Which suggests she actually loves Hakeem and has a few ethical standards. Who knew?!
That leaves us with Andre, who as I mentioned is in the mental hospital. He refuses to come sign for the IPO because his father refuses to come visit him, prompting an AMAZING flashback sequence of Andre's first mental break. In the past, he shows up unannounced from college, wielding both Rhonda and several bags of expensive gifts. Randomly, there's a doctor around who tells Lucious his son has problems, and Lucious loudly insists that nobody in his family has ever had a mental disease. The doctor looks hilariously flummoxed, perhaps because he doesn't know why he's even there.
More important, though, are Jamal's baby Afro wig and Olivia's Fifth Element hair experiment. And then there's the fact that Mary J. Blige is hanging around for some reason, just watching the family go apeshit. I don't need to understand the details. I just want to take this moment in.
The other thing I want to remember forever is when the family (minus Lucious) meets Andre's music therapist at the mental hospital. Cookie says bipolar disorder and music therapy are only for white people, which I'm sure is meant to open a dialogue about mental-health issues in the African-American community. But since the music therapist is played by Jennifer Hudson, Cookie's racial profiling is hilariously suspect. However, Hudson's character is named "Michelle White," so maybe Cookie means "White people problems." Capital W.
The real White-person problem, though, is in Michelle's next scene, when she (1) seems to think music therapy just means playing the piano and belting while Andre sits beside her and (2) insists that therapy and medication are less valuable than prayer. Which...I'm not saying prayer has no place in recovery. But maybe a licensed therapist would know that bipolar disorder needs a more robust regimen?
Maybe this will blow up in next week's finale. Or maybe it'll never be mentioned again. We'll find out soon!