Empire Recap: This Means War

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Hakeem (center) and Cookie (right) band together to keep Tiana (left) from jumping ship. Photo: Fox
Empire
Show
Empire
Episode Title
Unto the Breach
Season
1
Episode
9
Editor’s Rating
3/5

In this week’s Empire episode “Unto the Breach,” Lucious Lyon goes into a full-on war with his former boss and mentor Billy Baretti, who starts scooping up Empire artists left and right with the help of Anika, who is now suddenly working with him after being hurt by Lucious one too many times. (Apparently, in the Empire universe, Empire and Baretti’s Creedmoor Records are the only major record labels in existence.) 

Now, my question is, is it wrong to root for the bad guy? Baretti may have swindled money from Lucious by slapping his name in the producer credits on Lucious’s albums. But when it comes to which music mogul looked the most sympathetic in this episode, I grudgingly have to go with the white guy. Even though Judd Nelson plays Baretti with a winking sense of slithery shadiness (he acts as though Baretti is fully aware he’s on a ridiculous-ass soap opera), Baretti is written less as a monster and more as a wounded father, still smarting from the loss of his children, both blood-related (he hips Anika to the death of his 9-year-old son, who passed away from leukemia) and kindred-spirit-related (he also admits to Anika that he misses Lucious).

Baretti may be just as crafty and scheming as Lucious, but we all know how much of a lying, homicidal, treacherous, borderline-sociopathic douchebag Lucious can be. Also, the fact that Empire artists can move over to another label just like that once again reminds me how awful Lucious is at running a record label. I don’t know a damn thing about business, but don’t these artists have contracts with Lucious? And couldn’t Lucious just remind them they would be in breach of those contracts if they moved to another label?

Just seeing the mental and verbal abuse he puts on his three kids — which certainly does not let up in this episode — is enough to make me look forward to this man’s mighty, mighty downfall. Lucious continues to be a passive-aggressive father figure who says one thing and does another. He tells Hakeem to stop following him like a lost puppy immediately after he tells him he must watch and analyze how his dad handles this stressful situation. And, of course, he tries to convince an unstable Andre that he still loves him after he flips out from not taking his meds, mostly thanks to his old man telling him that he’s disloyal and will never be accepted as heir apparent in last week’s episode.

“Breach” was an episode that had Empire zipping through things at a breakneck pace. Once Baretti begins to attack, Empire’s basketball-filled conference room becomes a makeshift Dr. Strangelove–ish war room, with Lucious serving as the general and the rest of the Lyon fam as his willing lieutenants. Several of them personally try to convince artists to stay with Empire (Cookie having a drinking contest with rapper Loyal-T was my favorite), while Jamal went about charming triple-platinum artist Delphine (played by British songstress Estelle) into joining the label by singing a duet with her. Lucious almost doesn’t accept this lucrative gift horse, since she wants to work with Jamal, and Lucious is still stubbornly pouting about Jamal coming out at that White Party. Cookie and Hakeem also band together to keep Tiana (remember her?) from jumping ship. All of this leads to a gloriously cheesy, out-of-nowhere jam session where a piano-playing Lucious leads Hakeem, Jamal, Delphine, Tiana, and even Cookie in an impromptu performance of “You’re So Beautiful” at Leviticus. Even when Empire is on the brink of destruction, there’s always time for a quick sing-along.

As always, “Breach” has Empire walking that fine line between being earnestly dramatic and blatantly immoderate. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the scene where Hakeem and Jamal are stuck in an elevator with a spazzing-out Andre — all of them in blue light, Coltrane style — and Jamal and Hakeem calm Andre down by singing “Lean on Me.” (I believe they did the Club Nouveau version.) This scene can either be seen as heartfelt and moving or sappy and cloying. It really all depends on how you watch the show. (It took a minute, but I chose the former.)

For all its tonal seesawing, Empire once again showed, like it did in “False Imposition,” that it works best when the family bands together for the greater good. While this episode didn’t have them in full-on Incredibles mode, we’ll hopefully get more of this as the season comes to a close.

STRAY THOUGHTS

  • I swear this episode was made just to have Taraji P. Henson play Cookie drunk. Watching Cookie get her Marion Ravenwood on with Loyal-T and his blatantly misogynistic boys was the episode’s comic highlight, only to be topped by Cookie making inebriated advances towards Malcolm after he saves her from a mugger. Hell, the whole episode was Cookie at her most hilariously ratchet. (Starting the episode with Cookie showing Anika the door and capping it with her saying “Bye, Felicia!” was already comic gold.) Also, Cookie certainly sobered up quickly afterwards, didn’t she? Guess that sizzurp wasn’t as strong as the pruno she used to make in her cell.
  • Speaking of that, it was great seeing Cookie return to that bullet-ridden, rundown studio (which Becky referred to as Ghetto-Ass Studios), once again run by that cereal-eating engineer. Why doesn’t Cookie invest some money in that place, giving it some proper security (along with bulletproof glass) so she and other Empire artists won’t have to worry about getting robbed while they’re recording?
  • “I’m not a treacherous person,” said Anika, the same woman who roofied Elle Dallas a few weeks ago to keep Cookie from succeeding. This show really doesn’t know whether to make Anika a scheming bitch or an insecure gal blinded by love.
  • Considering that Tiana is a beautiful girl who can get any man (or woman) she wants, it almost makes no sense why she’s still hung up on Hakeem, saying she’ll stay with Empire only if they return to seeing each other. At least Hakeem properly manned up, declaring he’s in love with Camilla and not because Tiana likes to get Sapphic once in a while.
  • How the hell did Lucious not stomp out that wannabe black dude Travie when he said he’s “tired of sharecropping”?
  • Was Hakeem serious about blowing up Creedmoor with help from some C4 supplied by a friend named Chicken?
  • Was I the only one who was just giggling at the sight of Jamal going all D’Angelo for his new video?
  • While it was nice to see Becky back from whatever the hell she was, it was entertaining to see Porsha in ride-or-die mode as Cookie’s right-hand sista. Was there ever a doubt in your mind that she would still side with Cookie after Anika offered to double her salary so she could spy on Cookie? Also, extra points for Porsha telling Jamal to “put his chest up.”
  • No matter what happens next season, can Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, and the rest of the writers please find a way to bring Empire hip-hop artist Coagulation into the story? I just want to know who the hell this guy is and why would he name himself that.

Let’s do this.