Empire: The Devil Quotes Scripture

Posted on January 22, 2015

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We made a reductive crack last week about how this show is “like something Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy come up with on their 3rd bottle of wine.” And while that probably doesn’t quite give Empire creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong their due, we’re finding that the comparison becomes more apt with each passing episode. There’s a very Shonda-like sense of plotting, as events and incidents stack up, only to turn on a dime and make you rethink everything you’ve just seen, like Andre’s apparently unusual marriage, for instance. And certainly there’s that Rhimesian dialogue, which alternates between being rapid-fire like an automatic weapon, or surgically precise in its cutting. But it was the last ten minutes or so of this episode that made us think of Ryan Murphy – in a good light.

Much is made of Murphy’s tendency to fizzle out on his shows, but when the man is on, he’s really on, and he has the ability to offer his audiences something unique and hard to quantify. Early-season Glee and American Horror Story were shows like nothing else on television and no one’s really been able to duplicate them. What Murphy always excelled at was the way he could build up to these old-school moments of triumph and pain (in his patented and unique drag-kabuki kind of dramatic style) and catch the audience member totally off guard, allowing them to sit there in wonder at the lump that unexpectedly formed in their throat or the laughter that erupted from them in the middle of a deadly serious scene. At his best, Murphy can make you wonder how he made you feel that way.

From the moment Jamal started singing “Up All Night,” a typical (in many ways) night time soap opera transcended itself and became something … different. Something about masculinity and power; about families and disappointment; about fathers and sons; about being gay in a straight world. We were both transfixed and transported by the moment. And it brilliantly set up that final line, transforming Jamal from a slightly wimpy underachiever to someone you could believe has the will and even the right to destroy his own father.

Having said that, the central conflict between Lucious and Jamal is threatening to overtake this show. It’s sucking all the air out of the room and it doesn’t actually make a ton of emotional sense when you really look at it. Fathers who are as angry, hateful or resentful over the sons’ homosexuality as Lucious is depicted don’t generally sit down for dinner with their son’s boyfriend or follow them home just so he can yell “I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU” to them. They cut them out of their lives or they beat them down, but they don’t tend to buy them apartments and include them in on their plans for the family business. And sure, we can buy that Lucious may be conflicted about Jamal and is struggling to find some way to accept him because he loves him. But that’s not really the Lucious we’re seeing. The Lucious we’re seeing – the one the creators have chosen to show us – is an appallingly abusive father who says outrageously hurtful and offensive things to him constantly, at the drop of a hat. The show isn’t really attempting to render Lucious in shades of gray; he’s a straight-up villain in the J.R. Ewing mode (except more hands-on in his criminal behavior). But it doesn’t seem quite ready to commit to the idea that his homophobia is part of him because he’s a morally awful human being, not because he’s struggling to understand his son. That just doesn’t fly once you see him stuff him in a trashcan.

Random thoughts:

Why did Puma give Cookie that song if he sold it to Lucious 20 years before? Why didn’t he tell her?

Church hats and Gladys Knight. We are here for it all, darlings, but there wasn’t enough of either.

Boo Boo Kitty? Girl, you might be able to construct a decent zinger, but you can’t deliver it for shit. Cookie owns you in every scene without even opening her mouth. Or did you think referencing your pearls while threatening someone who just got out of prison made you sound tough? Cause that’s just sad.

It’s always fun when Naomi Campbell slums it as an actress. Not because she has any talent, but because when you put her in a scene with mere mortals, all you can focus on is her otherworldly looks and how they tend to immediately set her apart in any scene. She doesn’t quite look human.

Now that Andre and Jamal are fully committed to going to war over control of the company, it’s Hakeem’s turn to step up, which we presume is happening soon. That’s going to be a tough sell, because they haven’t exactly portrayed him as a great thinker and schemer. Then again, if this show continues to follow the Lion in Winter template, he really won’t have to do much of anything except wait for his father to die.

 

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