Last week’s cliffhanger ended with Andre, who was doing nothing wrong, roughed up by cops. It’s the same old song: living while black. Since Andre didn’t end up riddled with bullets, the plot didn’t pack as much punch as it could have.
When have we ever seen Andre don a hoodie? He really can’t pull that look off. Luke Cage, the new Netflix series about the titular black superhero, does it better: He’s bulletproof, so the hoodie makes a statement. In any case, Andre is accused of trumped-up charges. Later on we see Tariq, the federal agent, and Lucious’ half-brother, lurking about. He’s smug and implies that he had a little something to do with Andre’s troubles, or at least took advantage of them, in hopes that Andre would flip on his dad.
Rhonda also probably helped somehow; her apparition is still browbeating her husband. My girl doesn’t let death interfere with her style. She’s changed her outfit since last week and even has an umbrella.
Hakeem, as you know, is in “love” with Tiana again and gets jealous when she performs onstage with Gram. What’s that you say? You didn’t know Hakeem is now madly in love with Tiana? They’ve had so many scenes together.
Lucious’ advice is to woo her with a battle rap. Hakeem needs a female voice, so he tries to enlist Nessa, who declines because Hakeem’s lyrics are insulting to Tiana. Nessa’s brother, Shyne, whom we saw get violent with a guy just for checking her out last week, thinks his sister should do as she’s told and roughs her up. Hakeem tells Lucious, who has some sage advice. It goes like this:
Hakeem: Shyne abuses women; that’s wrong.
Lucious: Oh, boo-hoo. Mind your business and sing your song. What happened to the boy who tried to kill me and take over the business? That’s when I was most proud of you.
Lucious isn’t done. He criticizes Andre’s response to the brush with the law because Andre hired a white lawyer friend to deal with it. Lucious wanted his shady lawyer Thirsty (remember him?) to handle it. Andre forgot that he’s black or something. It’s Lucious logic; don’t try to figure it out.
Lucious drives his sons to the old neighborhood where they grew up (except Hakeem, who was just a baby and doesn’t remember it). The point is, Lucious grew up in Donald Trump’s version of black America, and the “biggest mistake” he ever made was letting his kids grow up soft and under the delusion that they’re not black. Jamal should have mentioned that his father’s biggest mistake was throwing him in the trash when he was a little boy for being gay, but Jamal and Andre roll their eyes and make a point of getting out of the limo and walking to their inevitable deaths. They survive, so when Lucious left, they probably just called Uber.
Lucious still isn’t done. He treats Jamal’s trauma as weakness.
Jamal: I have PTSD.
Lucious: What’s that?
Jamal: Post-traumatic stress disorder. It developed after I got shot by Freda Gatz when I was taking a bullet for you.
Lucious: Poppycock! Walk it off.
Cookie thinks that bringing in Kitty—a diva played by Mariah Carey, who might as well be playing herself—to record with Jamal and take him on tour will fix his PTSD problem. Jamal rejects the offer, but after visiting Freda Gatz in prison to inform her that the shooting traumatized him, Jamal goes back to the studio, pops a handful of pills and sings with Kitty. This popping of painkillers is becoming a problem for Jamal. But the most important thing to know about Kitty is that she wears a unitard in the studio. I guess she admires Queen Bey’s stage outfits and thinks she should wear them in her everyday life.
Lucious looks around and realizes that he hasn’t caused enough trouble, so he arranges to screw with Jamal’s Black and White album, which he co-produced with Cookie. He edits out her contribution, so now it’s just The Black album. Why does he want a war again? Long story short: He’s mad about her flirting with Taye Diggs’ character, Councilman Angelo Dubois, because she hurt his feelings. Stay gangsta, Lucious.
The best parts of the show were the laughable moments:
Boo Boo Kitty walks into Lucious’ office, which now features Times Square-size monitors, and notices him acting strangely. She thinks he's having a heart attack until a woman emerges from under the desk. It’s an old gag, but it did give me an LOL.
Later on, Boo Boo returns the favor when she receives a UPS package. She calls Lucious, and when he walks in, the delivery man pops up from under the desk. Now we know what they mean when they say, “See what brown can do for you.”
The episode also featured some great lines:
Porsha, hoping that she has fans and offering to take selfies: “So nobody knows who I am? Nobody knows Porsha? That's cool. That’s cool.”
Boo Boo Kitty to Lucious’ mom, Leah: “Aren’t you supposed to be sedated or dead?”
Leah: “My mama used to stick pins in a voodoo doll that looked just like you."
At the end of the day, Empire needs to give up the well-meaning but half-assed Black Lives Matter storyline and focus on the humor and music, which is what we fell in love with.
Elaine G. Flores is a New York writer, editor and bon vivant. She’s a hard-core shipper and excommunicated soap opera reviewer. Her fictional dinner-party guests include Omar Little, Buffy Summers, Abigail Mills and Ichabod Crane. You can visit her site, TV Recappers Delight.