Saturday, April 16, 2016

Empire 2x13 Review: “The Tameness of a Wolf” (Daddy Issues) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“The Tameness of a Wolf”
Original Airdate: April 13, 2016

Last week had me a little worried, but this was another strong episode of Empire that focused on the Lyon family and actually addressed a few of the quibbles I had last week.

First, though, Empire says goodbye to Camilla with a tasteful party at the company. Just kidding! It looks like an art gallery with snacks, giant portraits of Camilla, and Cookie making homophobic comments about Camilla and Mimi’s murder-suicide. It seems a little like the writers just wanted to get the Camilla/Mimi storyline over with as quickly as possible, so a murder-suicide was a way to just wrap it up ASAP.

If a murder-suicide is a way to move the story along without shaking things up or affecting any of the other characters, perhaps the deaths weren’t earned and Mimi and Camilla weren’t that well-drawn in the first place. But I am also ready to move on from this storyline, so I won’t spend too much time on it.

Everything this week focused on Lucious. Even when Hakeem was in D.C. dealing with Laura and Tiana, everything was related to family and how Hakeem measured up to his father.

Lucious, whose focus is always on himself, is working on his video for “Boom boom boom boom.” Because of Jamal’s big reveal that Lucious is a phony, Lucious is inspired to tell the world his story. It’s a power move, really. He’s taking what Jamal thought would be an injury to him and turning it into a huge opportunity. It’s this kind of quick thinking that got Lucious off the streets and into the boardroom of Empire in the first place: he does whatever it takes to get to the top.

So instead of fire and dragons, he re-imagined the video as the day his mother held him underwater in the bathtub and then committed suicide. It’s a chilling story — you know it’s powerful when the show has me feeling sorry for Lucious. No child, or mother, should have to go through what they went through. Lucious struggles with this part of his past because it doesn’t align with who he imagines himself to be. He erased every part of his childhood when he created Lucious Lyon, and going back to dig all that up again is difficult, even for someone as cold as Lucious.

But it’s effective storytelling, for the show and for Lucious. By letting his fans in on his past, he gets to reinvent himself yet again — this time as Dwight Walker, a man who overcame tragedy and living on the street to achieve his dreams.

He’s still Lucious though, so he creates this video at the expense of his surrogate daughter, Freda Gatz. He doesn’t even tell Freda she’s off the song until she shows up to shoot the video. No wonder Freda went straight from the video set to Jamal, who pitched a new song with Freda as a way to get back at Lucious.

Just after I complained that I didn’t see how anyone had any time to write music in between all their evil plotting, Jamal spends the entire episode working on one song. I actually really liked seeing the song come together and seeing him and Hakeem working on it. The music business is still a business, and this episode allowed both Jamal and Lucious to actually be seen doing the work. It’s great to see the Lyons participating in the business they risk everything for, and it worked to refocus the show on what matters most to them.

Lucky for Cookie, the family was able to take a break from work long enough to come to her birthday dinner at Lucious’ house. Lucious acted like he was the only one who came before leading her to a room where the entire family was singing "Happy Birthday." I hate the idea that to plan surprise parties, people have to make the person think that no one is coming to their birthday so they will be surprised when people show up — but I’ll let it go this time because it was really cute to see the entire family singing for their mom.

After celebrating a little bit, for some inexplicable reason, Cookie decided that her birthday party was the right time to show a rough cut of Lucious’ video. Call me crazy, but I don’t think introducing her family to Lucious’ horrific experience of watching his mother commit suicide goes very well with cake. (I just saw The Invitation, y’all, so it’s been a rough few days of people showing inappropriate videos at dinner parties.)

Obviously, after years of being made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for his mental illness, Andre is upset to learn that Lucious’ own mother may have been bipolar and Lucious never said a word about it. Aside from the obvious medical benefits of knowing your family’s history with mental illness, Lucious made Andre feel alien and inadequate in his own family. Instead of offering Andre support, Lucious left Andre alone in his struggles, and he repeated those choices again at the party when he told Andre that he was embarrassed of his mom just like he’s embarrassed of his son.

This scene, probably the best in the episode, worked because Empire has spent time building up to it. The tentative way Andre held Rhonda’s hand in the opening scene said so much more than the entirety of Camilla’s death scene last week because Andre’s actions have weight. The show has also spent time on Lucious’ complicated feelings of guilt and shame surrounding his own mother. So when Andre’s and Lucious’ pasts crash into each other at a family party, it has a big impact.

It’s not right that Lucious made Andre feel shame about his illness — no one should ever be made to feel that way — but I can also see how Lucious got there. He was so afraid to face what happened to his mother that, when Andre was diagnosed with the same illness, he couldn’t deal with it. Lucious is the worst. I think we can all agree on that. To make him more than a cartoon evildoer, he has to be grounded in humanity somehow. That pain and fear is what makes him horrible, but it’s also what makes him human.

Cookie Crumbs:
  • I know it’s cheesy, but I still loved the scene of Jamal, Hakeem, and that kid dropping bars in Philly. 
  • “I heard about your weekend, freak nasty.” I love that Becky’s wild life outside the office is referenced on a throwaway line. It would be nice to see a little more of Becky’s life, though.
  • I think it’s important to show that Cookie really isn’t over Lucious — otherwise why would she choose to hang out with him over her sons on her birthday? 
  • Of course Camilla’s fashion business was named Anthony and Cleopatra. 
  • I didn’t even mention it in the review, but big dummy Hakeem’s reaction to watching his family fall apart at dinner was to go to DC to propose to Laura. Laura seems like an actual good person, and to get any close to the Lyons will destroy her completely.


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