'Empire' check-in recap: 'Out, Damn Spot'
I decided this week would be a good week to check in on FOX's "Empire," since it's the runaway juggernaut of the spring, single-handedly forcing TV networks to treat diversity as a potentially lucrative trend, at least until they program three or four "diverse" shows in the fall and they fail and network heads are like, "Well, it turns out viewers didn't really want diversity" and they go back to giving Eddie Cibrian the lead in things, as if Eddie Cibrian was ever actually even a trend, so much as a person with perfectly appealing dimples and better abs than I would ever possess even if I had a personal trainer and near infinite time in which to do crunches, watch "Peaky Blinders" and eat nothing but those little carrots, which confuse me since was it really so cumbersome to eat full-sized carrots?
Little did I realize that Wednesday's (February 11) episode, titled "Out, Damned Spot," would also work effectively as a season or series finale.
What? Most of the show's major plotlines have been cleanly and clearly resolved as the episode ended.
The police snooping around Lucious for killing Bunkie and Lucious' secret about killing Bunkie? Well, Vernon knew a guy who knew a guy and they paid off a sketchy dude to take responsibility for shooting Bunkie. Seems pretty air-tight to me. Plus, Vernon and Dre are in on Lucious' secret and they're both trustworthy sorts, eh?
And remember Lucious' ALS? Well, he found a doctor who knew about some secret drugs that passed Phase 1 in Russia and Lucious correctly assessed that he had nothing to lose and in no time flat the doctor was able to snag some of those drugs -- There's nothing concierge doctors can't do -- and Lucious was hooked up. Seems like a good solution, right? No more ALS means no more need for an IPO and none of that silly talk about splitting his kingdom or "empire," as it were, right?
[I interrupt this semi-sarcastic recitation of resolved plotlines to say something: When describing "Empire," many people initially made comparisons to "King Lear" and I swear I've still seen or heard people doing that as recently as a week or two ago. Can we stop that? It was bad enough we kept straining to pretend that "Sons of Anarchy" was "Hamlet" On Motorcycles long past the point at which it was clear Kurt Sutter had no interest in "Hamlet." But Danny Strong and Lee Daniels have LITERALLY no interest in doing "King Lear" in the world of hip-hop. This, by the by, is totally fine. They needn't! And, in fact, other than the main character having a trio of kids and the idea of divestiture, there weren't even any points of comparison to be made. And yet people have continued to use the short-hand as if it's informative. I'm also not sure tonight's episode gained anything at all from quoting "Macbeth," other than that in quoting "Macbeth," it threw people further off the "King Lear" scent. Anyway... back to things that were resolved in this episode.]
And all season long we've been suggesting that between Hakeem and Jamal, there could be only one musical winner. Over the past few weeks, we've gotten the strong suggestion that both Hakeem and Jamal, while sometimes slow or frustrated in their creative process, are both capable of turning out an almost weekly run of sure-fire hits so consistent that I have the sneaking suspicion there may be room in the market place for the both of them. See? Can't we all just get along?
I kid, but Wednesday's "Empire" was an episode of false resting spots, even if nobody believes any of them are permanent.
Even if we believe that the police believe that they've caught Bunkie's killer and Lucious is no longer a suspect, we now know Vernon and Dre are in cahoots in some way and we got to hear Vernon's legendary mea culpa "I apologize for choking you out" and Dre's appropriate rejoinder, "Put your hands on me again and I will slit your throat."
And we're pretty sure that the Magical Russian Cocktail won't be a cure for Lucious' ALS, an ailment that the "Empire" writers haven't exactly figured out how to handle, somewhat similarly to how the "Boss" writers didn't exactly know what to do with Mayor Kane's Lewy body dementia. Because "Empire" is a no-holds-barred wacky soap opera, I'm hoping that whatever drugs Lucious has been given turn out to cause some wacky Jekyll/Hyde condition in which Lucious goes psycho every night at 8:25 p.m., only to return to normal semi-psycho Lucious at 8:25 a.m. I fear that, instead, the drugs will just make it harder for Lucious to shave sometimes.
And as for Hakeem and Jamal, they're becoming consistent hit machines, but Hakeem's about to face that most nefarious of adversaries, his own misogyny, while Jamal also has an internal demon, in the form of his closeting self-doubt, as well as an external demon in the form of his demonic baby-mama, who appeared at the end of the episode with a pint-sized complication named Lola. [Plotlines like Raven Symone popping up with a wee sprog are the kind of low soap opera hijinks I expect from "Nashville." I want "Empire" to be better than "Nashville." I'm certain that that ought not be too much to ask.]
So if "Out, Damned Spot" was about the illusion of diffused drama/tension -- I'm assuming all of these resting plotlines will be almost immediately agitated next week -- it was actually much more about trotting out an impressive string of guest stars, joining a lineup that is already impressively, but also depressingly, full of guest stars.
Raven Symone? Welcome to the party.
Derek Luke? Hello. What took you so long? Luke popped up for the first time as a new security expert come to make things at Empire more secure, as you'd hope for security experts to do. Based on initial flirtations between Luke's character and Cookie, he may also be a potential love interest for Cookie, whose loins must be all a-flame since her liberation from the hoosegow.
Oh, that's Courtney Love? I had an initial wave of not recognizing Courtney Love, before I remembered that Courtney Love was going to be on "Empire" and I also realized that I just saw Courtney Love both present at Sundance and in the documentary "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," so I know exactly what Courtney Love looks like. I don't know who, exactly, to compare Courtney Love's Elle Dallas to. The Debbie Harry comparison seems natural, but also not time/age appropriate. I also don't know how reconcile the information we were given about Elle Dallas' importance to the history of Empire Entertainment with every other piece of information we've been given about Empire's musical portfolio. Also, the screener we got had a really unsweetened version of the final consultation scene with Cookie, so when we heard Elle's post-motivation version of her song, it sounded loud, poorly mixed and slightly better than the previous versions, but not so spectacular as to make me crow, "Elle Dallas is back, baby!" But maybe when they adjusted the mix for the air version it was made clear that Cookie had worked magic in the appropriately paralleled way to Lucious' sound booth magic from the pilot.
But let's be honest: Wednesday's episode of "Empire" was about the same three things as every week's episodes of "Empire" - Cookie, Cookie and Cookie.
It was about the Cookie-getting-dressed montage set to Lil Kim's "The Jump Off," in which the show decided to turn the "Do a shot every time Cookie shows up in a different outfit" drinking game into a death-sport.
It was about Cookie's spectacular reaction to being lured out by Lucious to a dinner with the family and an engagement announcement, leading to her revealing that she'd gone out in a slinky teddy and a fur coat, allowing for the immortal kiss-off, "Oh and Anika, this is an ass." True dat, Taraji P. Henson. True dat.
It was about Cookie and Porscha being amusing enough as a comedic duo that a famous NFL star was willing to tweet about Jamal's new single because they made him laugh.
And it was about Cookie wickedly urging Jamal to ditch Michael and urging Michael to realize that he was on the verge of being ditched.
This wasn't my favorite "Empire" episode so far, but 43 TV minutes with Cookie is consistently better than most 43 TV minutes that don't include Cookie.
What'd you think? How're you feeling about "Empire" as a whole at this point?