The season 2 Empire finale was an episode packed with surprises. We learned that Lucious isn’t the devil’s spawn. His father was Joe, a cop, whom Lucious saw gunned down when he was a child. Empire has played fast and loose with flashbacks, so don’t be shocked if Joe rises from the grave just like Lucious’ mom, Leah. We learned that Lucious has a half-brother, Tariq, the federal agent who has been sniffing around. Lucious and Boo Boo Kitty got married so the feds couldn’t force her to testify about Lucious. And the biggest cliffhanger: Rhonda figured out that her miscarriage was caused by Boo Boo Kitty; the women had an epic catfight and one of the them fell to her death.
Fare thee well, Rhonda.
Empire has been taking on racial issues since last season’s #BlackLivesMatter rally. The message got lost because Cookie delivered her rousing speech in a gorilla outfit, but the show is still trying. Empire committed to realism for the aftermath of Rhonda’s death: The cops swarmed the scene, Nancy Grace howled about another #BlondeGirlsMatter moment on TV and America held candlelight vigils.
Wait, what? The story didn’t dominate the news? Ludicrous. Boo Boo Kitty isn’t even being blamed for Rhonda’s death. A woman falls to a death and people just move on to the next thing like nothing happened. In fairness, Cookie showed up at the hospital to deliver “Rhonda’s things.” What things? The woman just fell to her death. Unless she’s talking about the late Rhonda’s blood-soaked clothes, what the hell is in that box? Well, Cookie has her mind on other things. She’s salty about Lucious and Boo Boo’s wedding and spends her spare time cutting his face from photos.
Shyne, who had dirty dealings with Lucious and can tell the authorities about one of the Lyons’ past sins, makes a deal to keep quiet if Lucious helps Shyne’s protege, Nessa, who is a singer. She is booked to perform at Leviticus with Jamal.
Jamal, who is as disgusted with the world as the rest of us, raps a song referencing Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Good luck with all that, Jamal. And try not to get shot on the way to the car. The rap turns into a “Free Freda” anthem. Freda’s my girl and all, but she tried to gun down Lucious at a red-carpet event but missed and hit Jamal. Everyone saw it, so maybe Freda isn’t the best choice for a hashtag. On the night of the show, however, Jamal flashes back to Freda shooting him and has a panic attack. Nessa performs beautifully, of course, and steals the show.
Time for the weekly awkward family dinner! Lucious invites Tariq to prove that his marriage to Boo Boo Kitty isn’t a sham and that they’re all one big happy family. I believe the fact that he eats asparagus with his fingers is meant to suggest that he was raised by wolves. Not to get all Miss Manners, but etiquette books allow that, so don’t get all judgy. Poor Andre. As usual, nobody is paying him any attention, even though his wife just died (and what happened to her funeral?!). Jamal reminds us again that Lucious once put him in a trash can. This is turning into a drinking game—swig!
Andre ends up sobbing alone and referring to himself in the third person. Ghost Rhonda shows up to say she loves him and that they will be together in heaven, or something like that. Kidding! Andre has an apparition of Rhonda browbeating him and taunting him about his bipolar disorder. It’s time for Ghost Rhonda to have a seat in the white light.
As a season premiere, the episode felt a bit flat and didn’t give plot points enough attention. Yes, it is par for the course, but Andre’s tragedy barely got any attention. Since Empire keeps trying to make a point about race issues, cops should have handcuffed Boo Boo Kitty to the bed while she was in labor. Nessa can sing, but we covered that ground last season with Freda, another talented artist related to one of Lucious’ many enemies, and she’ll probably end up competing with one of the Lyons, like the Hakeem-Freda war.
Lucious’ presumed-dead mother is back, but her mental illness is relegated to a scene or two of her acting weird, which is a waste of Leslie Uggams’ legendary talents. She’s given as much attention as the crazy aunt at Thanksgiving. Boo Boo Kitty is a Lyon, which was her dream. Why is she just sitting around and not throwing her new position in Cookie’s face—or plotting to knock Lucious off his high horse? Empire had a terrific first season, a meh second season, and now let’s hope the third time's a charm.
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.