It appears Empire isn’t letting up with the Shakespearean influences. Not only is the show emulating King Lear, it seems to have a little bit of The Taming of the Shrew in it as well. “The Outspoken King,” the show’s sophomore episode, certainly does have a lot of shrews that need taming.
The episode also leads me to believe that the show may have a serious woman problem, which is unfortunate, since this episode was written by co-creator Danny Strong and new showrunner Ilene Chaiken (who’s best known for creating The L Word). Nearly every female character is manipulative, power-hungry, ball-busting (in the case of Andre’s own Lady Macbeth, Rhonda, literally), or just plain ghetto. If an Aaron Sorkin–style backlash doesn’t pop off after this, inciting sites like Jezebel and Salon to launch missives lambasting the show’s less-than-supportive portrayal of women, I’ll be very surprised.
Cookie, the show’s Head Beeyotch in Charge, exhibits all of those aforementioned qualities. Thankfully, Taraji P. Henson displays enough emotional soulfulness in her performance to make us still root for her, even though it was revealed at the end of the episode that her character may have another more serious agenda besides being an integral member of the Empire Entertainment (and Lyon) family. But more on that later.
Apart from that Solange moment in the elevator, Cookie certainly tried to keep her cool around Lucious’s new squeeze Anika, who just may be the most pitifully insecure, thirsty-ass character I’ve ever seen on a TV show. (Wait a minute – I take that back. A new season of Girls has just started.) This girl is being way too extra — sauntering in front of Cookie in her underwear mere minutes after she was in a dress was just pathetic — in showing that no one is going to steal her man, even though Cookie has shown no interest in trying to get Lucious back. (Although Cookie does prove she can still influence Lucious, inspiring him to defend his label and hip-hop in general on that conservative lady’s talk show.) She seems so damn needy. When she sidles up to Lucious while he and Cookie were having a healing talk at Leviticus, I was almost expecting Cookie to grab a tray of drinks from a server, hand it over to Anika, and say, “There, your thirsty ass is hydrated for the rest of the night! Damn!”
I could spend the rest of this recap talking about how sad Anika is, but there are other thots I need to call out. We might as well get right to Rhonda and that damn bib! It turns out that if Andre’s wife wants Andre to do something, she’ll pull out that piece of baby clothing (from a kitchen drawer?!) and go down on her knees right there near the breakfast nook. (I’m surprised Andre didn’t pull a Ray Liotta and go, “Oh, all right!”)
It seems Andre doesn’t want to take medication for his bipolar disorder, which makes him less controlled and more loosey-goosey. Rhonda is intent on not having that, to the point where ol’ girl will squash his junk under a table and vow to have him committed if he doesn’t take those damn pills. I’m assuming we’ll find out in future episodes why Andre wouldn’t want to keep his disorder in check, especially after Lucious caught some loopiness in his eyes back at the elevator and asked him if he’s all right.
It looks like Hakeem has found a girl who might give him some bib action as well. He immediately gets smitten with Tiana, a Rihanna-in-training who initially doesn’t have time for any of his childish, wannabe-thug antics. Eventually, it’s his childish, wannabe-thug antics (a video of him pissing in a restaurant and calling Obama a sellout goes viral) that has her end up at Leviticus. Sure, I knew it was inevitable that they’d hook up, but not this soon. I thought they would’ve danced around each other’s feelings for a couple more episodes, as Tiana encourages this snot-nosed punk to grow up and be a man. Alas, all dude had to do was say was her name a couple of times during a rap song, and she’s all ready to be a Backstage Betty in his dressing room.
Even Cookie exhibited some wrongheadedness when it came to pushing Jamal to come out of the closet and embarrass his old man, who decides to have “controversial” rapper Kidd Fo-Fo open up for Hakeem at Leviticus instead of Jamal. While she’s organizing a press conference with help from Rhonda and Dominique Prado, that cartoonish caricature of a publicist, Lucious nips that in the bud by threatening to cut Jamal off. Even though Jamal was a no-show, which causes Cookie to briefly fume, Jamal eventually showed you can’t shut him up by teaming with his little bro for the Leviticus performance.
This would’ve been a victorious way for Cookie to end the night if it wasn’t spoiled by her being forced to get in the back of a car by an Agent Carter (sadly, not this Agent Carter), who informed Cookie she’s going to have to testify in front of a grand jury if she wants to stay out of jail. (I knew that “good behavior” talk was too good to be true.)
So, it looks like Cookie may have to go into snitch mode soon. And even then, she’ll still probably be more sympathetic than most of the women on this damn show.
- It still amazes me how King Lucious (who was rocking royal-blue suits for most of the ep) fails to recognize the lucrative potential in having Hakeem and Jamal become a double act. Just think: the bad-boy thug rapper and the sensitive R&B brotha. Not to mention that, as they once again proved when they performed at Leviticus, they are awesome when they’re together. Jamal is good for Hakeem both creatively and professionally. Hell, even Hakeem’s snotty shtick is kept to a minimum whenever Jamal is around. Is Lucious’s homophobia so intense, he can’t even see the cash cow that’s right in front of him?
- Don’t bring up the names of legendary divas around these people. First Kidd Fo-Fo asks Lucious who Diana Ross is, then Cookie asks Jamal who Mama Rose is. And these people are supposed to be in the music biz?
- It’s a shame Lucious fired Kidd Fo-Fo for talking lip to Cookie. I would’ve enjoyed him saying some more imbecilic things in future episodes. As someone who has interviewed many a dumb rapper in my time, Kidd Fo-Fo brought back many fond memories.
- If Lucious doesn’t want Cookie hanging around Empire, why the hell is it so damn easy for her to slip in and out of the building? Can’t he just tell security to keep her the hell away?
- It appears Malik Yoba’s Vernon has gone from sycophantic yes man in the pilot to sympathetic family friend in the second episode. One of the few characters to exhibit some sort of decency throughout the episode, it’s almost like he’s becoming an audience surrogate. It also looks like he’s going to be the one who’ll eventually find out the horrible truth about the death of Bunkie (a.k.a. Cookie’s favorite cousin), now that he’s on the case after identifying the body.
- “What you talking about, Willis?” Yes, Terrence Howard ad-libbed that.
- Gabourey Sidibe returned as Lucious’s weave-alicious girl Friday Becky, who seemed to be only around to (1) have Terrence Howard throw candy at her and (2) remind the audience that Lucious still has ALS when she finds medication in his bathroom.
- “C’mon, Barack, you know you don’t have to use that kind of language.” Hell, if some bitch-ass kid was talking smack about me, I’d curse the daddy out, too!
- You were way off your mark with that shoe toss, Cookie!
- Seriously, which employment agency did Cookie call to get Porsha?
So, let’s get on with it!