The saying typically goes, “with friends like these who needs enemies,” but in the case of Jamal and the secrets uncovered at the end of “The Unkindest Cut,” it’s clear that “friends” have nothing on family when it comes to “Empire.”
As poor Jamal tries to valiantly face up to his PTSD trigger via Lucious, the man that he took Freda Gatz’s bullet for, Jamal only learns that it was in fact his own mother, Cookie who started the whole set of events that put the bullet into play in the first place.
Given the almost Shakespearean level of deception when it comes matriarchs, patriarchs and death via violent ends, one has to wonder if someone as artistically sensitive as Jamal will ever truly get over his PTSD now with all of these old Frank Gathers’ ghost bones flying out of the closet.
But Jamal’s revelation wasn’t even the most scandalously dramatic turn in this episode. Lucious’ mama seemingly joined forces with Tariq and the Feds to hurt Lucious – only to show her double spy status in a strangely intimate mother son tie dance.
Annika and Lucious got seriously freaky in some foreplay that involved the wanton destruction of numerous priceless artifacts (save the one that was the most phallic) and finally one rich white girl woke up with all of her Marsha Brady grade straight hair cut off and lying around her in bed like that bloody severed horse’s head in “The GodFather.” Yes, when it came to dramatic plot lines this week’s “Empire” did not stutter when they took it all the way to the wall.
However, were the musical selections equally as good in their badassery? If we are honest, it was a mixed bag.
First, things started off with Tiana practicing a pretty basic signature number. It was chocked with all of Tiana’s usual stuff, but it was really just elevator muzak for Cookie, Angelo and Diana to show their happy boyfriend, girlfriend, boyfriend’s mama trio deal while giving Gina Gershon time to add her special brand of high-class brittleness as the racist fashion mogul Helene Von Wyatt of HVW Fashion.
While the song itself was unremarkable, Tiana’s tirade after the face was a tidy art imitates life masterpiece in sly shade. As Tiana, played by real life pop personality Serayah rips on HVM Fashion, saying that Helene is only collaborating with “Empire” to improve her image after a “wack ass out of Africa Collection that had no black people in it,” one can only wonder how Serayah’s real life famous friend Taylor Swift felt about this bit seeing as Swift has a certain wack ass “Out of Africa” music video herself. Go ahead, “Empire.” We see what you did there.
Next, courtesy of Andre “fixing” Miss Von Wyatt’s “whites only” aesthetic to something more ethnically diverse via a middle of the night chopping off all of Helene’s daughter’s locks, Nessa replaces Tiana as HVM Fashion’s new musical headliner. While it was a guilty pleasure to see Nessa singing “Black Girl Magic” in resplendent living color versus a whitewashed HVM palette, one has to admit that the 180 degree turn was a bit of an overreach in last minute couture plausibility.
Nessa does perform the song beautifully, but the segment gets a bit repetitive due to a lack of lyrical complexity. Case in point, while the celebration of black hair is a starting point, Black Girl Magic has always been about more than just hair. The narrow concentration on hair with the multitude of intercut images of black women with different hair styles started to feel a bit more Dove hair commercial campaign versus a great “Empire” single. Good effort, but it needed more to live up to the “magic” in it’s name.
Lastly, the best musical performance of the night was appropriately the most cutting. Jamal’s accusatory song to his father, “Heartless,” set to the same home movie footage used for last week’s musical ode to Cookie shows just how differently a child’s estimation of their two parents as individuals can be. As a sample of Jamal’s new album, “When Cookie Met Lucious,” one can only hope that Jamal can pull himself together long enough to finish it – familial repercussions be damned.
“Empire” airs Wednesday nights at 9/8 central on FOX.