Thursday, May 19, 2016

Empire 2x18 Review: “Past is Prologue” (The Circle Goes Unbroken) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“Past is Prologue”
Original Airdate: May 18, 2016

How quickly things can fall apart. I'm talking, of course, both about Jamal's wedding and the quality of the episode. The emotional sense of the latest few episodes disappeared as quickly as it came as the Lyons collectively lost control.


That's not to say there aren't good things about this episode. Every scene with the brothers alone together sings because it's clear their relationship is grounded in love. Hakeem and Andre were taking care of Jamal after his hospital stay. Jamal is so disheartened from his family dynamics and the actions that led Freda to pick up that gun that he isn't recovering as quickly as the doctors say he should. Worse than that, even — he's given up music.

Hakeem wants Jamal to perform at his wedding, and he and Andre have been trying to cheer Jamal up and help him get around in his wheelchair. The conversation between the brothers reflects care and concern, and both Hakeem and Andre have been making sacrifices for Jamal. Those small sacrifices, like taking time to help Jamal get around and keeping news about Rhonda from him so Jamal won't worry, mean more than any big flashy plot twist in the episode.

And there were so many plot twists. The thing I like about them — and there's plenty I don't — is that the women of Empire were the ones making moves. Some of them were bad moves, but in a TV season where so many shows treated so many women characters as dispensable, it's refreshing to see so much of the narrative depend on women's choices. It’s too bad, though, that the female characters’ personalities are so inconsistent.

Another great thing about this episode is Taraji. She alone can bring emotional resonance that can save a scene through her acting. In every scene with Cookie and Anika, Taraji's performance was especially great, even when the material she was working with wasn't.

Jamal’s scenes were also strong, probably because they were grounded in his love for music and finding his spirit again after the shooting. It was sort of a pointless twist to have him give up music when he returned to it again so soon and with so little trouble, but it was great to see him quietly come back to himself, and I commend the show for allowing Jamal to walk again without making it yet another empty plot twist. He just quietly got up when he was feeling ready, and no one commented on it. This small moment, like the scenes with Hakeem and Andre, were stronger than any of the multiple scenes where someone’s life was threatened. Small, emotional stakes work better than large, life or death stakes that are ultimately empty.

As for the things that weren’t so good, well... there were a lot.


Who is Shine Johnson and why is he taking up so much of my season finale? Okay, I know who he is, but he definitely did not matter enough to the Lyons or to the season to earn taking up so many terrible minutes in the season ender. He was basically there to cause a fight at Hakeem’s wedding — which, let’s be honest, he wasn’t needed for. A fight could have broken out at a Lyon wedding for SO MANY other reasons. Shine was also there to puncture Laura’s family’s idea that the Lyons were a stand up, respectable family. To which I say hahahahhahha, did you guys really think the Lyons were a safe, loving family? And the only person they had a problem with coming to the wedding was Shine Johnson? Out of all Lucious’ associates, Shine is possibly the loudest, but he is definitely not the most dangerous.

Laura has been such a disappointment this season. Ever since she and Hakeem got engaged, her personality has completely flattened out. Her scenes with Hakeem are too few and too unemotional, and when she canceled the wedding because of a fist fight during the ceremony, it did not seem earned and I felt nothing. No sadness, no surprise, just nothing. (Also, girl, if you think a fight fight at a Lyon event is the worst thing that could happen, you definitely do not know this family. And if that’s all it takes to break up a marriage, you definitely were not ready to get married.)

This is really the crux of the problem this season has had. It’s got plenty of twists but no emotion, so the twists don’t have an impact. On top of that, none of the plot of this episode made sense, and the characters spent way too much screen time trying to explain it.

The Feds are after the Lyons again, and the writers had to shoehorn a reason for them to be after Lucious again, so Lucious and Cookie spent way too much time in conversation that was meant to explain their situation to the audience more than it was for the emotional journey of their characters. The episode also used dialogue to explain away the plot twists from the last few episodes that didn’t pan out and simply disappeared. Remember how Lucious’ mom walked right up to the reporters at the end of the last episode and was ready to spill the beans? This episode ignored that completely except for Lucious telling his mother how glad he was that Thirsty got to her before she told all those reporters everything. I get the feeling that the writers have a competition for how many plot lines they can erase from the previous episodes. So much plot simply vanishes. Like Anika’s hospital stay. We still don’t know why she was in the hospital! What does that mean for the development of the baby? Who cares, I guess!

Ah, Anika. Precious nonsensical blueberry Anika. Nothing she does makes sense, and her personality changes depending on what the plot needs her to do. Take, for example, her suicidal jaunt on Empire’s balcony. She — looking beautiful in a light, gauzy white outfit that makes her look like an angel — perches on the edge of the balcony, ready to jump because she would rather die than snitch on Lucious. Where is this sentiment coming from?! Lucious threatened her life a few episodes ago, and she was ready to leave the Lyons and go it alone. After Lucious broke up with her, she went straight to work with his enemy and also slept with his son to hurt him. She clearly has no problem hurting Lucious, and her plot would have been so much better if she worked with the Feds because she knew it would be better for her and her baby, and becuase it would hurt the man who took so much from her.

Another idea would have been to have the pregnancy mess with her hormones, making her suicidal and giving an explanation for her hospital stay. With that small change, this plot would have made so much more sense. Instead, we have suicidal Anika... because the Feds want her to snitch on Lucious. Which also makes no sense! Why would the Feds want to talk to Anika? What could she possibly have on Lucious’ misdeeds before he even met her?

Also not making sense is Rhonda, whose personality changes from week to week as well. She is either a sweet and hard-working woman who loves Andre and wants the best for him, or a devious mastermind who wants her husband to murder for her. Her attack on Anika in the Lyon’s’ house seemed so out of character, especially since last week she calmly talked to Anika and tried to trick her into confessing. Rhonda has always been more willing to work behind the scenes than to try to kill someone in front of the entire family. But she persists, at least for this episode, and comes back in the final moments to try to kill Anika again. The scene cuts away before we see what happens, but it’s possible she, Anika, or both went over the balcony and to their doom.

Or not. They could be totally fine and this event may never be mentioned again, it’s hard to say.

Cookie crumbs:
  • Okay, I had to cut off complaining about what didn’t make sense somewhere, otherwise this review would go on forever, but I also want to mention that Anika and Lucious did get married so that Anika wouldn’t have to testify against him. This is my least favorite trope! I know I shouldn’t pick too much at what’s not realistic on a soap opera, but the marriage to avoid testifying plot is so overdone. Also, it’s so, so false. It only applies in a few cases, and it definitely doesn’t apply to things Lucious did before they got married. It’s just a pet peeve of mine, I’m sure you all have TV pet peeves, too. Tell me about them in the comments!
  • Actual notes I took while watching this episode: Omg they go through a WEDDING CEREMONY?????? What the actual heck. YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE????? They know they don’t have to kiss, right?
  • Oh yeah, Tyriq is Lucious’ half brother.
  • Every scene with the brothers alone in an elevator is so great. The Empire writers should really consider a bottle episode where Jamal, Hakeem, and Andre get stuck there for a while.
  • As Laura is getting ready to walk down the aisle, her father tells her he hopes Hakeem will keep her safe, which is not a normal thing to say.
  • Laura’s wedding dress was beautiful.
  • For an episode that referenced a cycle so much, it sure did forget a lot of the past events of Empire
  • It’s been a fun season, y’all. Thanks for reading along with me.


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