‘Empire’ Season 2, Episode 7: ‘True Love Never’

12 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Empire’ Recap: Number One With a Bullet.

We have a weeping woman who may or may not be a lesbian, Lucious playing with guns (someone call 911), Andre on a mission from God himself, a failed revolt in Mirage a Trois, Hakeem making deals with his devils, Jamal finally finding his voice, Cookie sex-binging and a drug-induced merger thanks to a T.K.O. Cookie and Laz hole up in bed for a couple of days getting familiar with each other as new couples do: lovemaking, chatting, plotting and dreaming power moves for their respective enterprises.

No one is free from the consequences of their choices, whether it’s deciding to ruminate on the past or look to the future; deciding to invest in your own needs or the needs of your loved ones; or deciding whether you’re willing to sleep with the deputy mayor in order to have a gang injunction charge dropped on a budding female rapper whose father your father murdered in prison. Seriously, if you had doubts “Empire” is a soap opera, this week should toss those doubts out the car window, back up over them, run over them, back up again and spin-out on top of them at 95 m.p.h. The character plays like a parody of pretentious, tempestuous artistes — people who use every triumph and tragedy as fuel for their work and their bad behavior. We have to begin with Cookie’s sex-binge … or sex triathlon, if you will, because three days in bed goes beyond the definition of a marathon. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) Tossing, rolling, spinning, sliding, having pizza delivered, Porsha awkwardly dropping off a laptop to her naked boss. The show follows a powerful family trying to hold on to their music empire after head of the record label Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard, is diagnosed with an illness.

Yes, these were all actual choices faced in Wednesday night’s Empire, “True Love Never.” Never let it be said that this show is afraid to veer into unexpected territory. It has seen comedian Chris Rock play a shady criminal, grunge widow Courtney Love playing a drug-addled singer and Kelly Rowland playing Lucious’ depressed mother.

In a series of dramatic flashbacks, we discover the shocking origin of the gunshot sound effects that drive the mogul’s tailor-made collaboration with young upstart Freeda Gatz: That’s the noise his bipolar mother would make while playing Russian roulette. Via flashbacks, we’ve watched her increasingly erratic behavior, from straddling the line between “baptizing” and drowning a young Lucious to buying him a mountain of early Christmas gifts when the two didn’t even have enough to eat. While Cookie is going mogul-from-bed — running Empire over take-out Chinese, wrapped in a dirty half-blanket — Laz is double-dealing to steal money via promotions, ticket sales and security from Cookie’s newest-hatched concert, “Cookie’s Picnic.” It’s a day of music performed by her clients in a down-home setting in Harlem, complete with barbecue and basketball.

Typically worming out of litigations of this nature involves a trip to the Mayor’s office to romance his assistant Raquel, but as a reformed, religious man, Andre is advised to opt for blackmail instead of adultery. Although he offers her smart advice about helping Jamal break through on a new song that he needs to get ready for award season, Laz leaves the oasis to confer with the head goon outside the apartment. Cookie continues her love affair throughout the episode with no diminished hopes, even after Laz brings his boys to meet with Lyon Dynasty regarding the “15 percent off the top,” and other fees associated with helping Cookie organize and execute “Cookie’s Cookout.” (Disclaimer: I zone out when people start talking about money.

In the season’s third episode, we learned that Andre doesn’t worry about passing on the disorder to his coming child, assuming it isn’t hereditary because none of his siblings has inherited it. (Someone should really direct him to WebMD.) Lucious has never told him about his own mother’s battle with bipolar disorder, but it’s clear she’s the real wedge between Lucious and his eldest son. Lucious tells Freda Gatz, his young protégé, to dig more deeply into her own troubled past with her father, and allow that anger and pain to show in her music. “You were face to face with the monster. We finally have Hakeem stepping up to the plate and reminding his mother he’s her business partner, and should be involved in every deal that occurs, even security and promotions.

Cookie begins planning a Lyon Dynasty festival (garishly called “Cookie’s Cookout”), and while scouting locations that would give the event a suitable hip-hop flair, she’s convinced by Laz to choose Rock Steady Park. It seems that the writers really want to convince us that Lucious is a rapper, so in this episode we get more of Lucious Lyon, rapping raspy and clunky bars over a surprisingly addictive beat. Though his goons want to make another play for money, he instructs them to hold off until he can get them (more) money from promoting Cookie’s new Lyon Dynasty concert, Cookie’s Cookout. Lucious struggles with this song, which serves as the main theme of the episode, its beat intended to return Empire’s sound and aesthetic to its roots: back to the streets. As for Cookie, this park jam seems like a terrible idea when the label in question appears to only have two artists on its roster, and the event security has a history of physical harming one of them.

It’s a clever nod to the constant struggle record labels face, packaging hip-hop which derives its power from its authenticity, its sound of struggle and hardship, but which also needs to express its own success – all in the same breath. I immediately had flashbacks to my first time watching “Clueless” with Cher yelling, “Oooohh, project!” as she washes the drug-store quality red-hair dye out of Ty’s head. Hakeem’s better off soaking up hand-me-down career opportunities from his dad, and Mirage à Trois’s dime-store Pussycat Dolls act is wearing thin. ● The Mirage à Trois leader Laura’s confidence-building public performance of “Yo Viviré,” the Spanish-language version of Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive,” respectably advances “Empire”’s continuing campaign to bring Latin viewers into the fold and stretch the show’s focus beyond hip-hop. We see very little of Jamal this week, but he is finally finding a voice in what is billed a take-away event in the living room of music mogul Huey Jarvis. But when you start singing in a crowded business thoroughfare in the middle of the workweek, you are usually ignored. “Empire” has generally avoided kitschy musical theater tropes in its performance segments, but Laura serenading a crowded plaza, backed by an invisible band, and winning the hearts of felt like a scene out of “Glee.” ● Lucious has been workshopping his single, “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” for weeks now, seeking the advice of industry experts and restlessly tinkering with instrumentation.

So to properly enjoy the episode, you have to look for subtler pleasures — well, alright, “subtler” isn’t the right word for anything on this show, but you get the point. For instance, you can focus on the cameo of The Mod Squad’s Clarence Williams III as Huey Jarvis, a Quincy Jones-esque music legend who dispenses wisdom and bestows blessings like a Grammy Award–winning version of Yoda.

Lucious visits music industry royalty Huey Jarvis, hoping to secure an invite to one of his living room sessions to showcase his new work, Boom Boom Boom Boom, but is rebuffed. Lucious is desperate for this dude’s approval, so when he taps Jamal for a coveted “living-room session” for an in-house audience of industry power players instead, it prompts the elder Lyon into a tailspin. Jarvis tells him he wants to “hear more” and “I’m still wanting to hear that part of yourself that you keep locked up so tight.” Immediately, Lucious remembers when he was a boy, burying bullets in a garden. Cue the episode’s final shot, with the mogul firing a gun into the camera But judging from his behavior elsewhere in the episode, the Lyon King was gonna roar regardless. In one of the hour’s funniest moments, he almost singlehandedly (literally!) scuttled a streaming-service merger by knocking its arrogant techbro CEO out cold for calling his lyrics “shallow”: “Shallow that, punkass.” Nice comeback, Lucious!

You’ve got to hand it to Empire in the wish-fulfillment department: Most internet-startup types are so obnoxious that playing them a little chin music should be considered a public service. Regardless, it’s this performance and an ego-deflating comment to Lucious from Huey that brings us to what I believe to be is the most fun this week: Lucious and Mimi. Lucious steps into a boxing ring with him to discuss business as they take light jabs at each other — but when Jago says his lyrics seem shallow, Lucious hits him so hard that he’s rushed to the hospital.

Mimi, Lucious and Andre attend a financial meeting at Empire, where Mimi pitches a merger with a music-streaming service called SwiftStream, much to Dre’s chagrin. Taken in conjunction with the new flashbacks, this latest impulsive act in a long, long string of terrible acts raises a question: Do all of Lucious’ terrible choices stem from his mother?

Rendezvousing with Lyon at a club, Mimi procures a parade of beautiful women and a metric ton of high-end alcohol; by the time the pair finishes consuming the latter, they’re ready to turn their attention to the former. As always, Lucious technically gets what he claims to want: a new streaming service, a hot track, and Freda’s freedom, which should lead to an even more powerful Empire Records. As an investor into Empire, I don’t blame her; she wants to see the company do well enough to earn her money back and then some. (Or is it her money? This leads to a drunken quasi-hookup in Lucious’ suite, in which the pair alternately kiss each other, leer at their prospective conquest, and give each other seemingly sincere pep-talks about self-worth.

But until then, the hook-up gleefully perverse — in both the dictionary definition of running contrary to the norm, and the everyday connotation of kinky. Here are two people who, as best as we can tell, aren’t all that attracted to each other; the decision to have sex with and/or near each other is just for the sheer hell of it.

Never one to turn down a fight, Lucious takes off his jacket, rolls up his expensive sleeves and steps into the ring to start some testosterone-inspired business dealings over blood and sweat. All the weird emotional energy is more grist for the erotic mill — and a showcase for Tomei’s ability to transform herself from ultraconfident swag machine to teary drunken mess with just a few streaks of mascara.

After explaining why SwiftStream should partner with Empire, Jago straight-up states Lucious’ beats and music are “shallow.” We are treated to a flashback of Lucious’ mother ransacking their house looking for bullets for her pistol, and baby L sitting worriedly on the couch. In that scenario, the relationship is pure romance, the sex energetic and wrapped in satin sheets — a far cry from the stumbling staging of the Lucious/Mimi/April hook-up. It really makes no sense at this point. “Shallow” is apparently the non-safe word for Lucious when with one punch, he manages a total knockout of Jago and his business deal seems dead, like Jago, for now. But there’s still menace beneath the surface, given the guy’s secret alliance to the clique that kidnapped Hakeem; in fact, it seemed all but certain he kept the Lyonness tied up that long specifically so he could wreak more havoc behind the scenes. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again.

To celebrate their business savvy and new toy, Mimi shows up to club de Empire with some very sultry, and sexually ambiguous women for Lucious … and herself. April undresses, sets the scene and a drunk and disorderly Mimi and Lucious heat things up between themselves and their toy before Mimi receives a phone call that she “has to take.” Hmmm. And here’s where these collection of flashbacks for this week lead to: his mother frantically searching for bullets in his childhood home, young Lucious hiding them, and his mother finding the bullet that he missed. Lucious has long since needed a therapist and while the flashbacks to his mother’s suicide attempt haunt him, it’s unclear why that connection hasn’t been directly made to Andre. Finding the pistol a turnoff or turn-on (who really knows at this point?), he calls Freda Gatz into the recording studio at 4 a.m. and frantically records his best beats yet, while drunkenly swinging a pistol.

Drawing anger from his childhood — motivated, as we see through flashbacks, by his mom’s obsession with Russian roulette — Lucious delivers a DMX-like performance. Quote of the week: “I’m gonna get dressed and get a paper,” Laz to Cookie, like it’s 2002 and people still read the print edition of newspapers.

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