Ranking All of the Empire Season 2 Premiere’s Celeb Cameos—From the Crazy to …

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Empire: season two, episode one – The Devils Are Here.

Spoiler alert: This blog details events in the second season of Empire, which airs at 9pm 23 September on Fox in the US; and goes out on 6 October on E4 in the UK Lee Daniels’ Empire, the Dynasty-esque, Shakespearean melodrama centered around patriarch and music mogul Lucious Lyon, his three sons and (of course) his wife Cookie, is back. Henson’s nomination because — hello — she’s amazing.) The increasing ratings over the first five episodes of season one last year broke a record that’s at least 23 years old.

The last time we saw that type of steady increase was in 1992. (Video via Fox / “Empire”) A lot of that has to do with the way co-creator Lee Daniels designed the show. The sartorial association is for good reason: when costume designer Paolo Nieddu outfitted Cookie for the Fox show’s first episode, he says, “I literally put her in animal print almost every single scene. . . . When we last saw the Lyons in a two-hour season finale, they were a grand mosaic of hot messes – dealing in murder, betrayal and plotting – which ended with Lucious’s arrest and middle son Jamal in control of the company. Hip-hop producer Swizz Beats, who is on the show’s music production team, makes the first of several celebrity cameos, setting the tone by asking: “Did you know there’re 1.68 million black men that are being held in mass incarceration in America’s prison system today? Now, though, she’s honing her [fashion] skills.” Cookie won’t ditch her sartorial signature entirely, though. “I’m kind of trickling it in,” Nieddu says of the animal print. “It’s in a handbag here, or a leopard shoe there. . . .

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. Right now.” Backstage, rising rapper Hakeem Lyon is conflicted about performing at a concert in support of his incarcerated and “guilty” father, who is in federal jail facing murder charges for the death of Bunkie Williams, his longtime bodyguard and Cookie’s cousin. “We should be performing for the brother and sisters that are innocent,” says Hakeem, the youngest Lyon, freshly denied what he was groomed to believe his birthright: becoming head of Empire. It’s going to come in little waves, like a Where’s Waldo for me.” Unlike costume designers on other series, Nieddu doesn’t restrict each character to certain clothing colors with a wardrobe palette. Hakeem is already wary of Cookie’s plan to score investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) and a chunk of her millions to recapture Empire from Jamal, who is now proxy for Lucious.

Cookie basically took the crowd to church, delivering an impassioned sermon-like speech about the topic: “The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers and our sons. Instead, he approaches the entertainment industry-set series like a stylist might—dressing his “clients” to face off on the red carpet with other superstars. “In my head, Cookie Lyon and Kim Kardashian both go the Grammys. So I’m not inspired by anyone’s fashion—although I did buy Cookie a pair of Pierre Hardy shoes that I saw Rihanna wearing—as much as I act as though I’m competing with Kim or Rihanna’s stylist. Things get interesting when the universe of Empire bleeds together with reality: quick cuts between the crowd, a caged gorilla and police in riot gear. It’s the most he’s seen of the majority of them — Cookie hasn’t yet visited him, but that pales in comparison to the years he refused to visit her during her prison bid.

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? Backstage, when Hakeem reminded his mother that Lucious was in prison for a murder he actually committed (of their cousin, no less), Cookie revealed her master plan: “This is about us taking the empire. It is a maroon-and-salmon houndstooth-y plaid sleeveless vest top with an over-size white collar and matching flared pants.” Like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw before her, Cookie dresses distinctly for every possible occasion. We’d like to imagine that they have a shared Google Doc titled “Hostile Takeover!!!” that is open to anyone who has the link.) With Jamal at the helm of Empire at Lucious’s behest, Dre, Hakeem and Cookie have been working to obtain a controlling interest in the company. The character’s liberal attitude toward fashion allows for a particularly whimsical costume design process for both Nieddu and Henson. “Taraji and I talked about it and she said, ‘I’m like your Barbie!’ She is my real-life doll—the Barbie I never had and secretly wanted,” he says, laughing. “And it is—like, here’s Barbie as an actor, and Barbie as an executive.

Daniels tethers his audience with this conspiratorial wink, bridging audiences with real-life personalties, a kind of doubling that makes the show as relevant as it is entertaining. She comes into the fitting and will say, ‘What do you want to put on me today?’” Cookie is not the only Empire character to undergo a style evolution in the show’s second season. Cookie keeps it moving until they are stopped by Lemon and Porsha quips: “I’m not feeling what you did out in Peterson …” The fourth wall breaks, perhaps inviting Black Twitter to reminisce over its widespread public criticism (and jokes) targeted at CNN’s coverage of the protests in Ferguson. Nieddu says that Hakeem, Cookie and Lucious’s reckless, youngest son, also switches up his look. “I feel like there’s always that little bratty side of him. . . . From Jimmy Fallon skits and “Saturday Night Live” appearances to Jussie Smollett performing “Empire” hit songs at award shows, it’s easy to see that the show is here to stay.

When Jamal takes issue with the proposed artwork for Hakeem’s still-not-released album, Hakeem says he’s “going to tell mom!” Becky, upgraded to A&R from her role as Lucious’s assistant, has the best response to the animosity, telling Jamal: “You’re rude, he’s crude and the both of y’all are socially unacceptable. 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.

Cookie’s cousin, Jamel, asks Lucious for protection when word gets out that Frank Gathers (played by Chris Rock), the drug kingpin who employed both Lucious and Cookie, and whom Cookie served time for, would be joining him behind bars. The eldest Lyon brother is paranoid about his role in covering up Vernon’s murder and holds particular contempt for Jamal being the chosen heir to their father’s legacy. 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. 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.

It’s a hard sell for Rock, who looks like he’s about to burst into a smile at any moment, but he trudges off, stone-faced, to track down Jamal and try to find out if there’s any dirt on Cookie. Enter Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman, a wealthy potential investor who isn’t shy about what she likes (Anika) and what she doesn’t (people trying too hard).

One day they were doing a scene where he was playing basketball and he took an extra tank top, like a Hanes tank, and wrapped it over his head like a turban.” The task of dressing Empire’s characters is so all-consuming that Nieddu says he can never really turn the job off. “I’ll come home and be trying to decompress and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a good uninterrupted moment for me to go on Style.com or eBay.’ I have to stop myself on the weekends and tell myself, ‘O.K., let’s not do the show today. You did it all week.’” And although Cookie is trying her manicured hand at new styles this season, Nieddu is clear that the burgeoning fashionista draws a hard line at certain aesthetics. The episode premieres with quite a statement: the #FreeLucious concert where Cookie descends to the stage dressed as a gorilla in a cage and delivers that big monologue, “How much longer?” Last year you talked about issues that were on your agenda to tackle in the first season.

Later, Andre wakes up in a cold sweat after a nightmare where he and his wife, Rhonda, are knee deep in a grave made for attorney and family confidant Vernon. Mimi buys into Empire, but opts to partner with Lucious instead, adding insult to injury when the takeover team arrives to a board meeting in formation (with Hakeem on a hovercraft because of course). “I thought I told you to sleep with her,” Cookie snaps at Anika. “I did,” Anika says, looking pained. The rules seem pretty lax there: In addition to watching television and joining video conferences, the inmates appear to be free to move about the facility with little oversight. It’s nice to see “Empire’s” writers revisiting this particular storyline, which seemed to vanish amid all of the late-season melodrama earlier this year.

Jamal reveals his knowledge of the identity of the investor and Mimi spins around in her chair, Dr Evil style, revealing her partnership with Lucious, the incarcerated back-stabber supreme. Jamal flips on a large screen with Lucious’s video message for the takeover squad: “Game over, bitches!” Cookie and Lucious confront each other, but bitterness over the failed takeover is set aside to deal with the very clear and present danger to Cookie and her sons waged by that “Idi Amin man” AKA Frank Gathers, who looks nothing like the former Ugandan dictator. Lucious seemingly throws Cookie under the bus, yet sitting across from Gathers over a chess board Lucious reveals that Frank’s beef with Cookie is his, and Frank orders his henchmen to kill Lucious only to discover that Lucious bought their loyalty. 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.

Cookie slaps him, but Jamal only responds: “You done now, lady?” Mother now estranged from her favorite child, Jamal closes the door, weeps, then walks away. 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.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic cover story, a real life accounting on mass incarceration and the harm it does to black families, is a great start for the uninformed. Jamal’s estrangement from Cookie is heartbreaking, it’s my favorite alliance, but it’s surely only a matter of time before Lucious will betray him. 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. He’s ascending the Empire throne and becoming more powerful, but he’s also becoming a gay public figure, which is something he seems to be a little bit hesitant about.

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