Empire, Season 2, Episode 3: Clearing the table
Outstanding performances aside, this episode exacerbated a problem with this season of Empire that everyone should be worried about by now. There have been no surprises.
Lee Daniels has built his castle on well-defined characters, baring their souls and motivations so clearly that their responses to each narrative point have become as predictable as sitcom setups.
Take this episode for instance, prison was a setback for Lucious, but his release on bail only solidified his idea that he was untouchable. Nothing that has happened to him in the course of the show has been able to humble him. He was given a death sentence with the ALS diagnosis, betrayed by Bunky, betrayed by Anika, abandoned by his ride or die Cookie, challenged by his favorite child Hakeem, embarassed by Jamal's public coming out, betrayed by Vernon and arrested for murder.
One of those life changing events should have taught Lucious to appreciate his life and family, to strive for kindness wherever possible or at least to not get out of jail and immediately threaten war with everyone. But everything we know about Lucious, from his hustle to the top to his ruthless business acumen, tells us exactly what he's going to do in every episode. It would be boring if not for the utterly glee with which Terrence Howard plays the heel.
So in honor of Empire's predictability, today's recap will be a multiple choice quiz, kids. Get out your No. 2 pencils and see how well you know The Lyons.
1. Lucious gets released on bail because his lawyer Thirsty Rawlings slipped the judge his own S&M photos during the hearing. The first order of business outside the big house is:
a. To question how he ended up in this situation and consider how his actions have hurt his family.
b. To immediately start referring to himself as a god and speechify on the front steps of Empire as if he were Julius Caesar returning triumphantly from Gaul.
c. To visit his probation officer and try to comprehend the terms of his pretrial release.
d. To stop at his favorite restaurant and grab the meal he's been missing for months.
2. Lucious calls everyone to dinner to offer them places back at Empire if they give up on Lyon Dynasty and submit to his rule. Of course, Andre's ready to kneel. Hakeem is less so. But what is faithful scenery chewer Cookie Lyon's response to the idea?
a. Cookie cries and calls Lucious an animal for tearing apart her family in the name of advancing his company.
b. Cookie tells Lucious, "I'm always gon' eat, just not with you." And then grabs the table runner, dumping the entire feast on the floor as she saunters out of the dining room.
c. Cookie threatens to finish the job with the pillow the next time.
d. Cookie stares blankly, laughs and then declares Lucious is crazy.
3. With war declared, Lucious starts calling in troops and the first to get contacted in Anika (Boo Boo Kitty). The man who cheated on her and made her father into a possible criminal asks her to come back into his fold and bring all of Cookie's music as Lyon Dynasty with her. Anika, who once slept with Lucious' son Hakeem to get back at him, responds by:
a. Taking the offer and trying to get back into Cookie's good graces so she can pull off the heist.
b. Going straight to Cookie and telling her Lucious' plan, so she the duo can concoct a different plan to hurt Lucious.
c. Calling Lucious the devil, dousing him with holy water and running screaming the other way.
d. Laughing in Lucious's face and telling him Hakeem was better.
4. Jamal performs his new track featuring Pitbull at Lucious' welcome back from jail party at Leviticus. It's going great until:
a. Pitbull starts rapping.
b. Cookie kills the music, declares war and Hakeem and Timbaland come up to perform a sick diss track that includes references to his father's inability to satisfy his former fiance.
c. A technical issue causes the mics to feedback.
d. Jamal misses like all the dance cues and looks less coordinated than 2015 Bobby Brown.
5. Hakeem slept with Valentina (Becky G), lead singer of his girl group, Mirage a Trois. Cookie encourages Valentina to move past this and really train herself to be prepared for an upcoming performance on the radio show, Sway in the Morning. Valentina responds by:
a. Working harder to pay back the chance given to her by Lyon Dynasty to find her dream.
b. Works hard to train and then at the 11th hour signs a deal with Empire to double cross Cookie and Hakeem and reinforce that Lucious won't let Lyon Dynasty have even mediocre things.
c. Works hard, hones her skill and impresses on Sway in the Morning.
d. Gets angry at Cookie's demands and storms out to go sing in the shower.
6. Andre comes to Lucious with a proposal to buy a struggling company that owns 200 urban radio stations across the country in the hopes of getting back into his good graces. Lucious, wary of his son's mental illness because of his mother's mental illness, decides the best way to deal with his eldest son's hard work and pleas for a place at the company are to:
a. Listen to him earnestly and tell him he'll consider it.
b. Use his idea to gain advantage over Cookie, still deny him a place at the company and further alienate Andre -- even after finding out he's going to to be a grandfather.
c. Tell Andre about his mother and how that experience made him feel and then agreed to go to counseling to try and push past it.
d. Politely declined the offer since taking on more financial liability after recently going public and having the stocks drop when you were imprisoned is not the soundest of financial advice.
7. Lucious killed Frank Gathers, but is unwilling to miss out on the opportunity to sign his hardcore rapper daughter, Freda. He tasks Jamal with signing the gangster in training, but when his son fails, Lucious
a. Calls Freda and sets an appointment to talk business with her lawyer present.
b. Visits Freda at a rap battle in the hood and barely manages to stop he from shooting a fellow rapper who made fun of her dead father.
c. Considers the possible ramifications of signing Freda and then having her find out he is her father's killer.
d. sits at home sipping wine thinking of ways to revive the Gutterlife label that don't involve hiring a gun toting, mentally unstable daughter of a fallen drug king pin.
8. Jamal is frustrated by Lucious' prioritizing signing Freda over his own music -- even though he's sent a bus load of A-List producers to work with. Becky advises him to return to Cookie, who loves him ad has an ear for what works. Just as he's about to enter Lyon Dynasty, Lucious pulls up in a dark car and offer him what?
a. Support for his decision to return to working with his mother.
b. To produce the album himself, since no mere mortal can help Jamal, only a god like Lucious Lyon.
c. A new list of producers who understand Jamal's sound and work style.
d. Some unconditional love and no strings attached affection instead of manipulation and constant cowing.
All the answers are B for basic, but you knew that already. Now that a significant amount of the setup is out of the way, here's to hoping for some twists and turns and character growth before the season closes. You'd better do it, Lee. Don't make me pull this table runner on you.