Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Well damn...so much for the Empire renaissance

Illustration for article titled Well damn...so much for the Empire renaissance

If it holds true that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t remember “A Rose by Any Other Name” by the Friends-style alternate title “The One With The Shady Gay Flash Mob.” Because that scene, arguably the all-time most ridiculous in a show teeming with ridiculous scenes, is my main takeaway from the episode. It’s so jarring and nonsensical, weird and fanciful, a scene totally unmoored from reality, as is most of the episode. If it seemed based on last week’s episode that Empire was turning a corner, “Rose” makes clear that it was actually peeking its head around the corner, only to scurry back to its safe space. I’ve said it a hundred times before, and I’ll apparently have to say it a hundred times more: This show doesn’t make any sense.

Usually, when Empire doesn’t make sense, it’s as a result of trying to compress too many crazy ideas into a small space with too little attention paid to the connective tissue between them. That’s certainly the case with “Rose,” but the difference here is that tweaking the pace wouldn’t help all that much. The storytelling is so flawed that it wouldn’t be any better if it was rolled out more deliberately, and flitting from idea to idea too quickly for the audience to think about any of it isn’t working either because the ideas are so dumb. I don’t know how any sober television viewer could watch the shady gay flash mob sequence and not ask “What in the name of Christ is happening right now?” The appeal of this show is becoming harder and harder to discern.

Keep in mind that this is episode 12, and it was in episode 10 that Camilla and Mimi pulled off their coup and ousted Lucious in favor of Hakeem. Last week, Cookie managed to weasel her way back into the company, armed with a plan to take Camilla down “from the inside.” That should have been enough story to power the final eight episodes of season two. Instead, in classic Empire fashion, it’s one episode later and Mimi is dead, with Camilla presumably not far behind her. So this means what now, that Lucious reclaims the Empire throne? I pity whoever is in charge of enforcing visual consistency for the Empire brand, because Hakeem’s reimagined Empire logo doesn’t appear to be long for this world. In the span of just two episodes, the shocking story arc Empire spent the first 10 episodes building up to has been scrapped entirely.

Obviously, seeing as the producers used a body double for an absent Marisa Tomei, some of this was out of their hands. I’m not sure of what exactly happened to bring Tomei’s run to such an abrupt end, but it’s so abrupt even for this show that I have to assume it wasn’t a creative choice. But it seems like it could be a creative choice because the show burns through a promising story direction in the blink of an eye just as it’s done so many times before. It’s Hakeem’s kidnapping all over again, or the Lyon Dynasty feud, or Lucious’ incarceration, there’s no story interesting enough for Empire to spend more than 10 minutes telling it. And the worst thing here is that, honestly, I just don’t really even know what happened in the final scene of the episode. I watched it several times, along with the few minutes preceding it because I was so convinced I’d missed like eight scenes.

If I’m to understand this correctly, Hakeem bends to family pressure and colluded to push Mimi and Camilla out by exposing his affair with Camilla. Hakeem then secretly films a tryst with Camilla, along with some hurtful comments about Mimi, and sends it to Mimi. After that, I’m honestly open to any interpretation anyone has to offer, because I can’t call it. Lucious suddenly just shows up at Mimi’s place—maybe Mimi gave him an “in case of threesomes” emergency key?—and confronts Camilla, who apparently has just poisoned Mimi to hasten her death. I mean…I think that’s what happened. Then, using the thinnest argument imaginable, Lucious convinces Camilla to drink the same poison she’s just given to Mimi so the police will think it was some kind of Juliet-and-Juliet suicide pact. I suppose Ilene Chaiken, who wrote the episode, thought the conclusion would be more shocking if there was absolutely no run-up to it. But the final scene isn’t shocking as much as it is bewildering.

What’s especially frustrating is that there’s a LOT of music in the episode. There are a total of four performances, not including the “Flip Flop” flash mob, which run a total of nearly eight minutes. Eight minutes of a 44-minute episode. It’s tough to begrudge a musical series for doing musical scenes, but there’s no excuse for it when the most basic components of the story are getting short shrift. Meanwhile, we get a scene of Tiana performing atop another one of Timbaland’s Loose outtakes and recycling Beyonce choreography that’s no less than two years old. Tiana barely qualifies as a character these days, so even if Cookie’s revelation that she should tour with Mirage A Trois was vitally important, why put it at the end of a performance that serves no purpose other than to eat up time and sell iTunes downloads? Almost none of the performances do anything to push the story forward.


The exception is Jamal’s new Lucious diss track, which reveals the shocking bombshell that Lucious Lyon is an alias. What I don’t understand is why the show treats the idea of an entertainer taking on a professional alias like there’s no precedent for it. How many rappers perform under their given names? Was I supposed to think there’s a birth certificate somewhere with the name “Kidd Fo-Fo Watkins” written on it? Why, at this stage of his career, would no journalist have done a comprehensive profile of Lucious including details about his early years? It’s just baffling any way you look at it. And Jamal’s new song, which isn’t a good fit for him, is written after Jamal finds out the shady gay flash mob came about after Lucious tipped off Jameson to Jamal’s fling with Skye.

So apparently, in the funhouse mirror that is Empire, having a fling with a woman equates to abandoning the gay community at a crucial moment, which undermines his chances for an American Sound Award. It was weird enough to learn Jameson holds this narrow-minded, sex-negative viewpoint. But that viewpoint is shared by enough gay men that two dozen of them got together, choreographed a dance performance, purchased fluorescent flip-flops to wave at Jamal during said performance, then littered the street with those flip-flops when the performance was complete. And to make matters worse, director Michael Engler covers the insane sequence as if it’s a Busby Berkeley number. I can’t even with this show. Something tells me my alternate title for the season finale will be “The One Where I Stopped Watching This Nonsense.”


Stray observations

  • I do like the direction the show is headed with Andre, who is behaving erratically following Rhonda’s miscarriage and may or may not be succumbing to a manic flight.
  • A note for Andre: You don’t dictate to your wife how to deal with the aftermath of losing a child. If she doesn’t want to go to counseling with you, she doesn’t have to go to counseling with you.
  • That said, Rhonda pretending to look around the room upon being alerted to God’s presence was the highlight of the episode.
  • Carol and Porsha still exist in this universe, in case there was any confusion.
  • “Boom Boom Boom Boom” hit number one on the charts. So…
  • There’s more facile meditation on the corrupting influence of power, with Hakeem barking orders at people just because he can. Same thing happened to Jamal. That office chair is possessed.