The usual frenetic pace took a backseat to a tragic Andre story of mental illness in this week’s Empire. It was an emotionally raw turn showcasing a Trai Byers’ performance that left us breathless and had us reaching for the Kleenex.
Empire always sets us up for a Lyon’s den of feels, making us long for a redeemed father reunited with all of his sons and long suffering ex-wife. Empire then says hell to the no, crushing our happy Lyon dreams with the stark realization that Lucious (Terrence Howard), despite all his preaching about family, only cares about himself.
“Sins of the Father” gave us an episode that reinforced our growing belief that Empire will not be a Lucious redemption story instead focusing on the many, many, many sins of daddy Lyon. Murderer, liar, backstabber, homophobe, cheater … each week a new layer is peeled away revealing something uglier in the character of Lucious. How much more could there be? Tonight we found out that yes, there are additional skeletons in the Lyon closet. “Sins” gave us Andre (Trai Byers) as a real character not just a caricature, as the eldest son who cannot live up to the impossible expectations of his father. It was an emotional turn as Empire went serious delving into the world of mental illness through bipolar Andre and giving us more insight into how self-centered, narcissistic, and “all about appearances” Lucious is.
It was the Andre show tonight, but we also witnessed a few subplots come to a necessary and satisfying end before Empire heads into its two hour season finale. Let’s take a look at our Top 5 Empire Moments in “Sins of the Father.”
1. It’s All About Appearances for Lucious
“Sins of the Father” picks up right where we left off. You’ve got to hand it to those Empire writers for never going with the lame time jump so many other shows are fond of when they write themselves in a corner with no easy way out. We see Andre looking extremely un-Andre since his major breakdown, meltdown, crazydown in the elevator last week. No suit, no dollar signs in his eyes, just the look of a broken man.
The Lyon clan is going with the whole fixing Andre’s mental health through the offer of Empire shares and IPO talk. Lucious is conspicuously MIA, skipping son’s therapy in favor of sticking to the land of denial, one he’s been residing in for quite some time.
Through flashbacks, we see Lucious and Mary J. Blige singing it up at a fancy party with young Lucious (in a cute hat = young) crooning and giving creepy eyes to a young Olivia in a low cut dress. His “Shake Down” with Miss Blige is interrupted when college student Andre enters having his first bipolar episode, garnering a Lyon’s share of embarrassment from daddy dearest. Flashbacks have been paramount in exposing Lucious for the man he is. Was there anything more disgusting than a few episodes back when he threw little kid Jamal in a trashcan after his son donned heels and a scarf?
Now we see Daddy Lyon more concerned with the reactions of his guests than what the heck is going on with his obviously in trouble son. Lucious doesn’t deal with any of his sons’ perceived imperfections well preferring to sweep them under the rug or in the closet. Ignoring his own imperfections, Lucious’ screwed up priorities were in full force in “Sins of the Father,” punctuated in this scene where his “just get over it” attitude got slapped in the face with serious mental illness.
2. Jennifer Hudson is the most talented therapist EVER
Most Awesomest Empire Guest Star of the Night Award goes to Jennifer Hudson for sheer singing talent alone. And for the best job title. She shows up as a music therapist claiming, “Music therapy can be very helpful in treating bipolar disorder.”
Cookie’s not buying it, “…music therapy, whatever this is, that’s white people problems.”
We tend to agree with you Cookie, that is until Hudson sings “Remember the Music” and we think she may have just cured cancer. Surprisingly, Andre’s bipolar problem remains. She’s got one more trick up her sleeve.
Hudson says she’s got another “therapy” to try, drawing super close, leaning in, lips almost touching. We think we have an idea on what this therapy is and think it could possibly involve a bib. She grabs Andre’s hands and says, “Let’s pray.” Wait, what? They pray it out and we can’t help but give a wink to those Empire writers for doing the unexpected. Again. So we should have expected it, right?
3. A Cougar Leaves the Building but Has the Last Word
How much have we enjoyed the guest start Naomi Campbell as Camilla? On first glance we thought she ain’t nothin’ but a gold digger, but Hakeem’s second mama peeled away a layer (of more than makeup) showing us a woman who can hold her own in the Lyon fold and may actually have Hakeem’s well-being at heart. She wants to play with the big boys and shows up marking her territory (Hakeem) at the important IPO signing.
Cookie spies the cougar, saying, “She’s got her drawers wrapped around my baby’s neck. He can’t breathe.”
Hakeem unveils his new sound with “Nothing but a Number” extoling the virtues of older women. Hilariously, his new sound is kinda the same as his old sound. Well, except Camilla chimes in for one line, and I think Lucious and Cookie simultaneously vomited in their mouths a little. We know we sure felt something coming to the top when Hakeem sang, “the older the berry, the sweeter the juice.” Ew!
When Lucious leads the cougar to his study, we witness a verbal smackdown where Camilla may have been the victor of this sparring round with, “And in six months, you’ll be rotting in a wheelchair like a vegetable with a colostomy bag trailing behind you.” Who wasn’t expecting a cell phone to go flying as Camilla was sent packing? It’s clear that there is much more to Camilla than we first expected, and we hope a season two return is in the works.
4. Lucious Ain’t Getting’ the Cookie Nookie Tonight
Cookie is not feeling that Lucious love in “Sins of the Father” and we all say “AMEN!” This is the man who let her take the fall for him and spend years in prison missing out on raising her babies. The outwardly confident Cookie seems to lose herself and her mind around her first and only love, Lucious. Tonight was a definite shift in the Cookie Lucious relationship as Mama Lyon took a play from ex-hubby’s book and set her sights on a younger more camera ready lover. Who didn’t cheer when Cookie blows off Lucious for some PG-rated sex talk with cute security guy Malcolm (Derek Luke)?
Malcolm admits, “I’ve been disloyal to my commander by falling for his wife…I’ll be keeping my distance.”
Cookie kisses him and Malcolm unexpectedly has a quick change of heart. We can’t help but be a little fearful for this new relationship and Lucious’ reaction to HIS woman with another man. We have one word for you, Malcolm. Bunkie. Shot in the eye. Okay, maybe more than one word, but be careful little security hottie. We are thankful you’re good with a gun. And that leads us to our final best moment of “Sins of the Father.”
5. Guns a Blazing at the Empire Corral AKA Who’s Your Daddy
The battle royale for the Lola commences with Jamal wanting to take full daddy ownership while Lucious gives him some push back having his own dreams of doing the fatherhood thing right this time. It was surprising that by saying he wanted another chance, Lucious backhandedly admitted he may have not done things right with his sons.
Lucious’ homophobia is on display when he tells Jamal, “Lola don’t need to be raised in that kind of lifestyle.”
Just scoop up that girl and take her back to your ratty apartment, Jamal! Not so fast. Lola mom, Olivia, (guest star Raven Symone) is back after dumping her kid in the Lyon’s Den a few weeks ago. She’s brought someone new to the fold, shady boyfriend Reg who doesn’t look like he’ll be earning any Stepfather of the Year awards. Vernon picks the big IPO signing moment to drag in sad mom and Mr. Sketchy. We knew this was not going to be some boring papers pushed around, but who saw guns a blazing as an option? Not us.
Reg isn’t happy that his woman had a baby with someone else and bizarrely decides that pulling a gun on Jamal will make him feel better. Is Jamal Clint Eastwood? Just checking, because this boy is fearless. Perhaps growing up under the disappointed glare of Lucious has toughened him up. He taunts Mr. Sketchy, saying “shoot” and “do it!”
Lucious intercedes, yelling, “It was me. I’m the father!”
No way! The look on Olivia’s face says “yes way” and Lucious is now officially the devil. Does he have ONE redeeming quality? Just one? Does having ALS count as a redeeming quality? Nah, we didn’t think so, but as the protagonist (or maybe antagonist) of Empire, we were hoping for one selfless act that didn’t end in baby daddy drama.
There’s a scuffle because everyone has apparently lost their minds, and Cookie ends up with Reg’s gun to her head. Smart girl Rhonda hides behind a chair.
“Shoot me…if you shoot me you’ll be everybody’s personal hero,” Lucious pleads and we think it’s the most honest thing he’s ever said.
Malcolm comes in for the save, shooting Reg in the head upping his badass cred (take note Cookie) while messing up the carpet. Malcolm may just be man enough to handle Cookie and the whole crazy mess of Lyon that you know will come with bedding the lioness.
We all agree when Cookie says, “I wish he would’ve shot you.”
This scene came a little out of left field bearing more of a resemblance to the frenzied crazy exemplified in earlier episodes rather than flowing with the more tempered pace of “Sins.” Can we overlook the manipulative shock value of the ending? Yes! Empire’s charm is in the over the top, uber dramatic twists that almost smack us in the face each week.
Final Verdict: “Sins of the Father” forged a mix of serious with soap as it delved into the land of mental illness and came out with a pretty successful endeavor. The slower pace lent itself to tying up loose ends as a perfect lead in to the much anticipated two hour season finale next week.
Trai Byers gives a layered, superstar making performance, proving he’s much more than the one note Andre we’ve seen in week’s past. He’s understated (a first for Empire) and tragic in his scenes with Hudson and who didn’t get a lump when he tells Rhonda he’s staying at the clinic? The flashback sequences showed a manic Andre without sinking into the land of melodrama. Slow hand clap (usually reserved for Henson) to Mr. Byers for lifting Andre from annoying to sympathetic in a record setting two episodes.
While Andre’s story showed us (again) how despicable Lucious is as a father and a man, the subplot of Lola’s storyline perhaps exposed that on some level the head of Empire has a miniscule awareness of his shortcomings. We’re hoping deep in his heart (if there is one), Lucious knows he has failed his sons and ex-wife. Call us optimists, but when the eldest Lyon wants to raise Lola, telling Cookie they can get it “right” this time, we see that he knows on some level he didn’t do it right with his brood. So despite our claims about Lucious being code for Beelzebub, we are still hoping to see an epic Empire redemption story.
Written by Ed Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft, tonight’s installment had a more deliberate style lacking the frenetic pace and gamut of storylines in the usual Empire. It was as if Empire attempted to go from People’s Choice nominee to up for your serious Emmy consideration. It is only the freshman season of the Fox hit, so it’s not unexpected for the show to be somewhat uneven from episode to episode as it finds its identity and basically decides what it wants to be when it grows up.
We realize that every episode will not focus solely on Cookie, and it shouldn’t. As we’ve seen in “Sins,” the supporting players are definitely ready for the spotlight; Andre being the main case in point. The focus was on bringing some resolution to Andre’s story, not leaving much wiggle room for Cookie dressing down an enemy with a barrage of verbal bitch slaps, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention how much we missed little Boo Boo Kitty, Anika (Grace Gealey) and her epic showdowns with Cookie. We wanted to see what was going on in the land of Berretti (gainfully employed Breakfast Clubber Judd Nelson) and Anika scheming but, alas, not tonight. Fingers crossed for next week’s “game changing” finale.
Overall, “Sins of the Father” gave us a solid episode with solid acting, solid music, and solid as soap plot lines. It wrapped up some needed loose ends – Olivia, Lola, and Camilla – while setting the stage for a two hour season finale. Was this a flawless Empire outing? No. Just like its characters, it can be a screwed up mess. But, simply put, the show is about as much fun as you can have on a Wednesday night. But now we’re left with the realization that there is ONE EPISODE LEFT. Deep breath. It is a two hour finale. We think we’re ready. Are you?
Empire 1X10 “Sins of the Father” Review: Top 5 Empire Moments