For a fall season finale, things were kind of oddly muted and weepy on “Empire” this week.
It was weird to see not only Jamal, but Cookie and Andre all crying in one episode for separate reasons when as a rule, Lyons don’t leak much like Black don’t crack.
That is not to say that it wasn’t entertaining, because some seriously loose ends got all tied up.
Tiana and Hakeem ended their will they or won’t they dance and became Takeem. Andre finally said goodbye to Ronda in beautiful if not entirely sane fashion. Jamal, after a whole season of vacillation, beat his inner demons and successfully smashed his first big public performance post PTSD. But when you consider that last season’s finale ended with Jamal getting shot, Ronda being thrown off a building and Lucious marrying his son’s baby mama, the absence of blood and incest makes this week’s “A Furnace For Your Foe,” decidedly tame.
However with Andre’s final declaration to Shine about Lucious, sometimes folks need some beachside catharsis so they can turn around and plan the killing of their own father….but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Musically, things started off in a lot of dribs and drabs with Jamal getting cut off mid rehearsal by D-Major for messing up his choreography and barely more than a sample’s worth of young Lucious performing in flashback to a young Cookie.
Given all of the tiding up of storylines, it’s not altogether surprising that a lot of “a Furnace For Your Foe’s” music got the short end of the performance stick.
However, what was surprising is that one of the best performances allowed to play to completion involved an otherwise uncredited “thug” issuing a brilliant threat to actor Frank Whaley.
Naturally this is in reference to the terror rich rap verse that Lucious issues via one of his musical rap henchmen to journalist Edison Cruz as a ‘favor’ to Diana DuBois. As one of the best freestyle performances of the finale, “Empire” got it right by allowing this number to play out all the way through to the mic drop.
In fitting fashion, the rest of the fall finale performances were part of Angelo DuBois’ People’s Ball event.
The return of Angelo’s youth group WOKE was a nice flourish and seeing them perform “I Did It For My City,” was even better as a mini showcase of what young talent can do.
Between the two big ticket musical items – namely Tiana and Hakeem’s duet and Jamal’s long awaited return to performing, Jamal’s performance was positioned by “Empire” writers to be the showstopper but arguably it was the other way around in reality.
With sparkling lyrics and shine worthy choreography, Tiana and Hakeem’s performance was a melding of talents that warranted the scripted chants of ‘Takeem!’ that followed.
A well crafted piece of musical art from start to finish, the number underscored the undeniable Rihanna/Drake reminiscent chemistry that both Serayah and Bryshere Gray possess when they are allowed to share the stage.
In contrast, while it definitely wasn’t strike out territory, Jamal’s People’s Ball performance seemed out of step with Jamal/Jussie Smollett’s identity as one of Empire’s more sensitive and nuanced artists.
While the song’s the winning bridge of “sacrifice, determination/ I’m ready for the world to see,” had all of the right dramatic elements for Jamal’s final big reveal, the up tempo in your face style of the song, paired with a hyper sexualized delivery seemed out of character as an authentic declaration of his long awaited return to the stage.
But then again Cookie did have to use her daddy learnt plumbing skills to get a little more prescription poison into Jamal’s system for him to perform, so maybe that was the discordant fly in that particular tub of ointment.
“Empire” airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00 central on FOX.