Empire Season 2 Premiere: Has Cookie Awakened Jamal’s Inner Lucious?

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Devils Are Here’.

Did they really just do that to Chris Rock? ‘Empire’ co-creator talks us through the epic premiere and previews what’s to come in Season 2. You’re reading because you just watched the latest over-the-top episode and you thought, “What the hell was that?!?” as a billion GIFs of face slaps and decapitated heads exploded in your brain. It’s a testament to a series this brazen and this confident in barreling its plot forward at gunshot speed that, by the end of Wednesday’s Season 2 premiere, Terrence Howard’s Lucious Lyon makes the opposite pronouncement: “Game over, bitches.” How does the most successful TV series in over a decade, a wildly popular hip-hop soap opera with Shakespearean ambitions, possibly live up to the precedent it set: combating homophobia, damning the idea that “black TV” can’t be mainstream TV, and creating a nation of Cookie addicts? “Everyone was always asking about the pressure and I was really trying not to get caught up in it and keep the process the same as it was last year,” says Empire co-creator Danny Strong, who also co-wrote Wednesday’s Season 2 premiere, deliciously titled “The Devils Are Here.” The bombast, the endlessly quotable dialogue, the ferocious performances, the resonant themes, and the simmering epic-ness that came to define the first season of Empire and spark its unprecedented week-by-week build in popularity all somehow shine together again, like blinding pieces of bling clashing beautifully on one of the Lyons’ ostentatious outfits. In the scene where Rock interrogates Cookie’s cousin while cutting up unidentifiable meat, “Empire” makeup artist Karen Lynn Accattato explained to the Observer that creator Lee Daniels wanted to show Rock eating human flesh. “Lee wanted him to be a cannibal, but I guess it was too much for Fox,” Accattato said. “During the filming for scenes with Chris, Lee Daniels had this inspiration.

So every week, instead of a traditional recap, we’ll give you the latest edition of Empire: How Crazy-Awesome Was It?, in which we rate the characters in terms of relative genius/insanity. Lucious is still in jail, but pulling the puppet strings at his record label, where he made Jamal (Jussie Smollett) his successor after making peace with his homosexuality. Come up with some flesh.’” She added, “We actually went to craft service, grabbed some steak and cut off the fat, and glued it on to the actor’s skin.

But a quick look changed her tune. “OK, let me say this: There will be lots of flashbacks to when she was in prison, so you’ll get to see what made her so strong. When Lee Daniels says he wants an effect, you have to get that effect.” Sadly, Frank’s darker tendencies are unlikely to ever see the light of day (despite Cookie referring to him as “Hannibal”), since the character came to a suitably vicious end in the season premiere, after Lucious bought off Frank’s men and had him killed — but not before took the opportunity to twist the knife and told Frank he planned to sign the gangster’s musically-inclined daughter to Empire and “slip her my bone.” Such a charmer. For somebody to serve 17 years of hardcore time and still come out and not lose their soul and not sellout, that’s a hero to me.” “I’m not allowed to say…I’m really not.

First, she stages a #FreeLucious concert, featuring performances by Sean Cross and Swizz Beatz (and, of course, Jamal and Hakeem) in order to raise awareness about Lucious’ plight behind bars and the mass incarceration of black men. They’ve gagged me ‘cause I got in so much trouble talking in the past,” executive producer and co-creator Lee Daniels revealed. “Our bosses have gagged us, but what I can say is it’s not about the guest stars, it’s about the series regulars.” As for what happens with Ta’Rhonda’s character Porsha…”I’m going to kill you,” Terrence Howard told Ta’Rhonda when asked what’s coming up with Lucious. Cookie and her sons threw Mimi what can only be described as a lesbian-themed party, and Cookie even made Boo Boo Kitty (Grace Gealey) sleep with their guest of honor to loosen her purse strings. But to keep up appearances—and to keep positive attention on Empire Records while Lucious is in jail—Cookie stages a massive #FreeLucious concert in a park, which, aside from serving as a venue for some great musical performances is the stage for Cookie to deliver a rousing monologue about police corruption, black male incarceration, and issues that have become tentpoles of the Black Lives Matter movement that has raged over the past year. “How much longer are they going to treat us like animals? She even dresses up as an ape and rattles her cage to make a point about the justice system “treat[ing] us like animals.” Or maybe, y’know, to prove that she looks good in rubberized faux-fur.

Tragically, this plan failed miserably, causing Cookie to quip, “You can’t even dike right.” Mimi ended up investing her millions in Empire (score!), but Cookie, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Maybe we should ask Al Sharpton, who shows up at the rally to proclaim, “Mass incarceration is such an important issue!” with his eyes fixed on Cookie’s low-cut fishnet-and-peacock-feather get-up. In case you need a reminder, Frank is the drug dealer Cookie snitched on, and it only took about five seconds before he convinced Cookie’s cousin to sell her out. Oh, you know, just sending her a casual head in the mail. (Also, the head might have belonged to Cookie’s cousin — we only saw part of its face.) Naturally, Cookie was terrified — but then she put her best patchwork denim jacket on (um, why) and proceeded to visit her husband in jail. It’s not all victory for Lucious, though, whose rule as prison royalty is threatened by the arrival of Frank Gathers, a juicy performance by guest star Chris Rock.

So, yes, it’s for the children that Cookie pays half-naked women to make out with one another and frolic in hot tubs at a party she throws for Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), a lesbian billionaire who might just cough up $250 million for the cause. Gathers has a vendetta against Lucious—Cookie is the one who sold him out—and orders his goons to kill him: “Make it fast and make it quiet.” But Lucious is always a step ahead and turns the tables on Gathers.

Cookie scores the money from Mimi, hoping to remove Lucious from power, but Mimi double-crosses her with help from Jamal, convincing Lucious to let Mimi help run Empire. Because he’s only kinda cool with being a burgeoning serial killer, Lucious tried to cut his enemy a deal: If Frank left his family alone, Lucious would give his daughter a record deal. Now that Season 2 is finally here, we got on the phone with Strong to talk through the episode’s big twists, the big themes of the new season, the fallout of the hostile takeover, and so much more. Hakeem’s taken to riding around on a hover board and hates Jamal due to #AlbumArtDrama (typical), Andre is still distraught over the fact that he’s basically a murderer, and Jamal is busy being angsty, making out with his ex-boyfriend and hating his family. And with her inside knowledge about Lil Wayne — does she have street contacts that might connect her with Lucious and Cookie’s past? — she’s also the perfect addition to Empire.

It’s hilarious that when Lucious first sees Mimi on television, he immediately asks, “Who’s that lesbian bitch in the red suit?” What tipped him off that she was a lesbian? Was it the menswear-inspired suit, which looked like she’d folded origami trousers and a matching jacket out of Christmas wrapping paper, topping it off with a black ribbon tie? Mimi might spend the episode flirting and dancing with Anika, but I suspect that, eventually, Cookie will use that black ribbon to tie Mimi to her bed. It’s the kind of luxury hip-hop jail that lets prisoners Skype into Empire’s boardroom meetings, Fed-Ex a severed head, and watch the news on a gold-plated TV. While Lucious watches Cookie and Mimi get cozy on screen, Jermel tells Lucious that Frank (Chris Rock), a drug lord from Lucious’ old drug-running days, is back behind bars.

But Viola Davis gave that amazing speech about how opportunity is needed for equality to happen, and you must feel proud to be part of a show that’s giving those opportunities. So Frank gets back at Cookie with a Godfather-worthy gangster move: He sends her a dead man’s skull, gift-wrapped in a box — the perfect present for moments when you care enough to send the very best. When Frank tries to make nice with Lucious afterward, Lucious proves his loyalty to Cookie by threatening to sign Frank’s daughter and sleep with her mom. Taraji said this on Ellen yesterday morning, when she talked about how, in 2015, it’s time that we are done with the phrase “the first African-American to do…” I think she’s absolutely right.

But really, when faced with the prospect of your beloved daughter getting a major-label contract and a shot at massive success, who wouldn’t choose death? Having taken over Empire, Jamal — suddenly a multi-tasking workaholic — is so busy with business affairs that his album has dropped to #22 on the charts.

He’s not performing live often enough to boost sales, as this record was evidently placed in a time machine and released in 1997. (Do album sales even matter anymore?) But when Jamal’s boyfriend puts together an LGBT party and headliner Miss Lawrence asks Jamal to perform a duet, Jamal declines, hoping that a donation to GLAAD will make up for his absence. Between Hakeem’s whining and Cookie’s hostile takeover (drink!), Jamal’s so frustrated with the family that he kicks everyone out of the house for betraying his father, punctuating his anger with some minor crying and some purposeful walking into a different room.

Remember that this family is so close, they once sang “You’re So Beautiful” together. (“You’re so beautiful / Give the world a show / Go up-down up-down up-down!”) When you’re bonded by a song that appears to actively promote public incest, the love’s gotta be forever, right? Rhonda asks if Andre told his pastor about Vernon, and Andre… pauses for way too long, then denies that he told anyone. (Dude, could you be more unconvincing?) “This deal is going to go through and this company is going to be yours,” Rhonda tells him. “There’s no way anyone would leave a half-million dollar investment to Cookie and Hakeem.” Famous last words. Most tweetable quote: Nothing too quotable here, but did anyone else catch that Rhonda was wearing a black-ribbon tie in this episode, just like Mimi? And then when all of a sudden we started getting nominated for various critics’ awards I thought, “Oh I guess we are an awards season contender.” So I’m bummed to say that I got suckered into thinking we were.

There is a fun laugh line at the #FreeLucious concert where Cookie is asked if Bill Clinton is there and she responds, “He needs to be if he wants his wife to get elected.” I love it when real-world politics are introduced the Empire world.

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