This week’s episode of EMPIRE is unlike any other week of the show I’ve seen. The entire episode is built around one climatic scene with rather unclimactic results. But the whole thing is almost surreal. In a lot of ways this episode feels like one of those drug-induced episodes of Mad Men, but instead of the whole cast losing their mind for a night, it’s really just Lucious, over the course of days. I mean other characters act a little off. Cookie quick to unapologetically bash Lucious and Andre ascends to a cartoonish level of villainy, but nothing sets in like the descent into madness Lucious displays.
Unprompted, Lucious gets very sick. And with Tariq moving in, Lucious decides that his doctor will care for him in his bedroom as opposed to a hospital. The reason is simple, the king cannot leave his castle or his subjects will revolt. And the crazy thing is, Lucious is not only right in his assumption, the episode goes as far as to give examples. Lucious is absolutely the villain of Empire, but I would argue Empire wants a villain to win. His transformation from the cocky powerhouse to a bed ridden, Darth Vader-esque figure is also stunning. Like what the hell is going on? There were so many times I was out on this whole thing, but somehow Empire managed to convince me more and more that not only is this OK, but Lucious might be one of my favorite TV villains, ever.
The Empire subjects do what all good subjects do when their king is in need: they revolt. The first to openly revolt is Cookie and she drags Jamal in with her. Jamal is a corny, beautiful, delicate man. After going through rehab and losing his lead music producer to his father over the merit of a mediocre electric guitar solo, Jamal is ripe for a revolt. But he never really does. When Cookie demands Jamal film the video for his upcoming album and publish a teaser the same night, Jamal questions going behind his father’s back to do it. When Jamal sees his father bedridden, he holds his father’s hand after Cookie refuses to. In a lot of ways, Jamal is the Fredo of this family. A good, sweet soul that is often way too over his head, which at times, gets him into trouble. Lucky for him, the trouble is instead headed towards his father’s favorite son, Hakeem.
During Hakeem’s 21st birthday party last week, a female guest by the name of Kennedy, got brutally punched in the face by some random guy. Because of that she’s suing Empire for 50 million dollars. Lucious and Thirsty decide to take the cutthroat route true to Lucious’ new Darth Vader image. Thirsty rejects Andre’s idea of a settlement, and Hakeem’s idea of an apology. Instead Thirsty decides to victim shame and victim blame until nothing’s left of Kennedy but public doubt. Instead of this, Jamal decides to mansplain to Hakeem what victim shaming is. And a now woke Hakeem is so taken by this new info that he decides to go against Andre and Thirsty’s back and record a live rap on Jamal’s stream in defense of women. It’s a corny rap, but the message is great and it feels genuine. I want to say Hakeem’s Michael Corleone, being his father’s favorite, but it seems much more like he’s Sonny. That is, if Sonny ever stopped being a misogynist.
The real Michael Corleone of this family is Andre. And like Michael Corleone, for all the brains and scheming he has, he makes an equal amount of mistakes. Particularly in his personal life. It’s hard to say if Andre still wants to kill Lucious, but what is clear is that Andre is still very much in business with Giusi and Shyne. He even tactfully manages to use Shyne as muscle against a guy named Geno. And this is the reason why I’m making all of these mafioso references. So much about this recent plot feels like a mirror of The Godfather, especially the move to Vegas. With a bedridden Lucious and a “deal you can’t refuse” made in favor for Empire, Andre is all set to call the board to a meeting tomorrow and discuss this new venture. Unfortunately for Andre, a bed won’t stop his father from ruining his plans.
Enter one of the best scenes in TV history. Is that an overstatement? Probably. But it came out of nowhere and it was just perfect. Andre, thinking his father is about to pass, rushes to his home to find him surrounded by the entire board. Lucious has evolved at this point, from Darth Vader to Vito Corleone. And much like Vito Corleone, what he’s lost in the body, he’s gained in the mind. Lucious reads Andre for lying and Andre decides to make the smart choice, he tells the board, his family and Lucious about Vegas. He’s even prepared projections and goals for the move and everyone is impressed with the numbers. Everyone except Lucious. Lucious fires Andre on the spot for insubordination. But Andre is also smart, and counters Lucious, saying that as a member of the board he cannot be fired unless another member gives his support. For a multitude of different reasons, everyone sides with Andre against Lucious. And in that moment, you can’t help but think Andre’s plan worked perfectly. Maybe Andre never wanted to kill his father literally, because what a killing blow this was.
But outside of the plot, what made this scene so amazing was the score and the way it was shot. Layers upon layers of black, and these eerie images of the board hovering around Lucious’ bed gave it a tone and tempo I have never seen in Empire and rarely seen pulled off in other shows.
The ending is rather insignificant, but fun to watch. There are hints that Cookie still loves Lucious, Angelo wins his primary and Lucious decides to crash his party. But is significant is when Giusi crashes Lucious’ crash. The way Lucious looks at Giusi shows more than just history, it’s the way one would look at a ghost. And maybe she is a ghost. Maybe she’s one of those ghosts in a Shakespearian tale that foretells the complete mental breakdown of a tyrannical character.
Season 3, Episode 13 (S03E13)
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9PM on Fox
Arman is a Seattle-based writer who often lives in LA and wants to be in New York. He has worked on Billy on The Street and Black-ish. He also loves sandwiches.
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Arman Mohazzabfar | Contributor