EMPIRE Review: “Strange Bedfellows”

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This week’s episode of is a bit of a misstep. With everything going on, Empire decides it would be a good idea to focus on Hakeem’s 21st birthday. I’m a little surprised he’s not already 21, but that’s neither here nor there. The big problem I have with it, is that it’s not only a misstep in terms of what makes a good episode, it’s a misstep in terms of the season’s plot progression. We didn’t get a lot of Anika, or Lucious or Cookie, instead the focus was centered on Hakeem and Jamal and not for entirely interesting reasons.

This episode feels like it belongs in a different space and time. Take Jamal’s entire plot which focuses on his strange love triangle between himself, Derek and Philip. Derek is bad news. He used to do drugs with Jamal and he’s in the closet about being gay – but sober Jamal understands the latter, at least. So when Jamal wakes up after a fling with Philip to find Derek live streaming not only his coming out but also his grand (unannounced) entrance into Jamal’s apartment, Jamal is shook. But it’s strange, like, why does Derek have such easy 24/7 access to Jamal’s penthouse suite? And why would Jamal ever want to be with Derek? Derek’s entire being is about blaming other people for other things. Jamal is trying to move on with his life and… I guess focus on Hakeem’s birthday party?

Hakeem is also trying to focus on his birthday party, and is convinced it’s going to be his sickest yet. The day starts off right when he wakes up to waffles and demands his entourage to eat them. That whole scene felt like someone messed up the Dave Chappelle quote, and then decided to run with it. The thing is, everyone is so impacted by Anika’s disappearance that no one has had any real time to devote to Hakeem. You can already see the plot develop. Everyone, every second of this episode tells Hakeem that “he’s 21 now, time to be a man,” “Hey Hakeem, time to be a man,” “Hey Hakeem, have you got the time? No? Oh well, I think it’s a quarter passed time to be a man.” It’s annoying. And honestly, Hakeem, by the end of it, has such a journey of stupidity that in no way does he really become a man. The only one of the Lyon boys that feels like he has anything together is Andre – and that dude is crazy.

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Andre is so crazy that he’s willing to cheat on Nessa to figure out who double-crossed him. Let me catch you up: with Anika’s disappearance, Giusa is the new woman to watch on Empire. A sort of Vegas crime lord in the vein of old Mafioso movies, Giusa even has a nickname that invokes the derogatory term “guido.” It’s hard to say what Giusa’s game is after Andre and Shyne witness her murder her husband, but it definitely involves meeting with Lucious Lyon. So much so that Lucious receives an “anonymous tip” about the empire doing some business in Vegas. When he questions Andre about it, Andre plays it terribly. He deny, deny, denies. Part of me thinks Andre is losing his touch for the cunning evil he’s shown he’s capable of, but maybe something else is going on.

What is clear is that Andre isn’t willing to take Hakeem’s idiocy anymore. So, when Hakeem’s birthday goes off the rails after a couple of guys in leather jackets punch a woman in the face and start a riot, Andre blames him for the whole affair. Hakeem tries his best to dodge any responsibility that comes his way, but it seems like everyone has had it with his antics. Andre and Hakeem are especially headed for blows, with Andre flexing his executive muscle by pulling the plug on Hakeem’s Xstream-ing. Instead of Hakeem getting mad, he tries to grow up.

Lucious finds Hakeem packing for his baby, to whisk her away from the Lyon compound. Lucious is proud of Hakeem, but I fear his pride is shortsighted. It’s clear that Lucious has always seen himself most in Hakeem, so any inkling of Hakeem demonstrating responsibility would set his heart straight. Lucious tells Hakeem a story that essentially calls into question Hakeem’s drive against nature’s responsibility. It’s a lesson that although had its moments, honestly felt too heavy handed to be considered honestly by any viewer. There’s a common theme with Empire: when anything is delivered heavy handedly, the opposite rings true. So expect Hakeem to shirk responsibility in a big way in the episode to come.

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While Andre tries to game down Guisa, Anika shows up and reveals that she didn’t ally with Tariq, she plans to play his trust against him. After some creative convincing, Anika receives Lucious and Cookie’s best wishes to bring Tariq down. Anika’s plan is something disappointing. Anika plans to have sex with Tariq, creating a conflict of interest throwing him off of the case that he’s ALREADY supposed to be thrown off of. This is a huge misstep for the show that if it’s not addressed soon, will be seen as nothing short of a major plothole. A few episodes ago Tariq WAS thrown off the case and has since been going rogue. It looks like in the coming episodes, it will either be Anika’s plan that’s doomed to fail or it will be the plot.

TB-TV-Grade-C+

Season 3, Episode 12 (S03E12)
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9PM on FOX

Read all of our reviews of Empire here.
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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.
Follow Arman on Twitter: @armanbfar
Keep up with all of Arman’s reviews here.

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