Snark Tank; Recap
Empire Season 2, Episode 2: All Eyez On Me, Recap of "Without a Country"
Empire‘s second episode, Without a Country, is the beginning of a longer story about the origins of Lucious Lyon, and the arc appears to be heading toward revealing his background. The episode begins with Lucious being denied his medication for MG and raging against the notion that he will rot in jail, “a man without a country.” The phrase refers to a short story by Edward Everett Hale, published in 1863. Hale’s story was about Phillip Nolan, an officer and conspirator with Aaron Burr who is convicted of treason. After shouting “damn the United States” in a moment of pique, Nolan is then banished to live out the rest of his days aboard a series of ships off the Eastern seaboard, never to set foot on land or hear another world about his country ever again.
As an author, Hale is now in as much exile as his most famous character. He was once as popular in the literary world as Lucious Lyon is in the music world. He was taught in American schools for almost two-hundred years. And then, he simply vanished. Edward Everett Hale doesn’t exist in the public consciousness, outside of a phrase that continues to be popular: a man without a country.
There’s nothing Lucious fears more than being irrelevant and forgotten. Season 1 featured Lucious Lyon fighting against the dying of his own light. Now he’s healthier, but cornered and motivated to keep his company, which is his only true home. But will his moves wind up saving his Empire? How much control has he given to Mimi Whiteman by making that deal to spite his ex-wife and children? And what about the mysterious lawyer, Thirsty? I suspect this new partnership will not leave Lucious large and in charge.
Hustle & Flow
This week’s prison subplot features Ludacris as a prison guard who does not like Lucious. Look everyone, a Hustle & Flow reunion! Ludacris played Skinny Black in that indie, which is the movie that made Howard into a big star. Ludacris is on Empire this week to tell Lucious that he is a piece of crap, that he could kill him right now and make him “just another dead rapper.”
Jamal is still enjoying being in his dad’s favor, so he goes to prison for a little visit, which is immediately interrupted by a lawyer in a cheap suit. The lawyer introduces himself as “Thirsty.” Thirsty says, “my law degree came from some college in the Caribbean, so what?” Jamal does not want to hire this guy, but Lucious hires him anyway.
Doesn’t Thirsty’s suit make him look like an extra from Tim Burton’s Batman?
Started from the Bottom
This episode opened with a split screen showing Cookie and her sons preparing to open their new record company. Hakeem and Andre are children who were raised in luxury, so they are a bit uneasy about the cheap digs Cookie is considering. She gives her kids a lesson in where the family came from. “When we started Empire, we wasn’t no empire. We were making music in Carol’s living room until we graduated to a garage.”
This sort of resonates with Hakeem, who has a classic rap dilemma – how to seem authentic or street when you come from wealth. Hakeem immediately has plans for the new company. “I’m gonna start a girl group!” Hakeem and a girl group? I would watch the hell out of that.
Andre seems to be coming apart at the seams. Impending fatherhood and the idea that he’s starting from the bottom with no guarantee of success is eating away at him. Previously he was his father’s golden boy but now he’s out of Empire. He knows for this venture to succeed Hakeem needs to put out an album, but Jamal and Empire have full control over Hakeem’s album.
Meanwhile Jamal is at home showing off his new tunes for an interview with the British TV show Spilling the Tea (yes!), which Cookie interrupts to ask Jamal to give her Hakeem’s album. Jamal is still determined to show he’s a tough guy, so he says no. Cookie reminds him he will never be Lucious.
And then she’s like “oh we’re starting a new label.” Because that’s pure Cookie style.
Hakeem and Chicken audition girls for his group, which he wants to be comprised of one white woman, one black woman and one Latina. His idea is to call them Rainbow Sensation. It’s basically Destiny’s Child repackaged as United Colors of Benetton. All I could think about during these scenes was SNL’s sketch Gemini’s Twin.
Hakeem is immediately taken by a sexy, in-your-face Latina singer named Valentina (Becky G). She tells him she’s not up for being a member of a group. But as Hakeem says, “She’s crazy. I love her.” The two eventually end up in the bath again, because taking a schvitz is one of Hakeem’s go-to moves.
Hakeem has the solution to the problem of his missing album. He leaks it online. This is a move that many musicians have made (Angel Haze, Death Grips, Wilco) when they were frustrated with their label. Hakeem is proving to be every bit the loose canon he was last season, but he’s slowly maturing. Rather than acting out with public urination and other hijinks, he’s full of ideas about the new label, and some of these punches are going to miss, but some will land. This is progress for the young man.
Lucious rallies his prison peeps so he can get some recording equipment to put out a new single from prison. This hilarious scene shows Howard in vintage form, as he raps a song called “Snitch Bitch.” I dare you to get this song out of your head. The scene is a direct reference to Hustle & Flow. This is some kind of neat prison, right? You can get some recording equipment, Skype, and apparently wi-fi. Thirsty is behind some of this, because of course he is. You weren’t fooled by the cheap suit, were you?
We can never decide how much of a schemer Rhonda is, but this episode showed she’s still up for manipulation where it’s needed. She visits Jamal in secret and says he’s going to be an uncle! Oh and can Andre have his job back in Empire? Unlike his hard tack with his mom, Jamal falls for Rhonda’s baby hook, line and sinker. Her husband doesn’t know about this meeting, but he wants to jump ship because he thinks that Hakeem’s decision to leak the album pretty much puts them all in danger of a big lawsuit. A tearful Andre asks his mother to let him go.
Cookie demonstrates something in this episode about motherhood. Sure she once beat Hakeem with a broom, but she wants what’s best for her children. She says of course he can go, just as she tells Hakeem if he wants to return to Empire, that’s also his decision, just as she tells Jamal he was a victim of his father. Cookie is not about controlling her children, she’s no Lucious.
And she believes she will be successful with or without her boys. Tiana is back and Cookie is going to make her a star.
So Andre puts on his best wool cardigan and goes to beg dear old dad to return to Empire. We can’t say enough about Trai Byers‘s ability to make us weep. Watching Andre beg for a job is heartbreaking. Lucious has a flashback during this scene, which introduces us to his mom, played by Kelly Rowland. Rowland’s character is holding little Lucious and staring all glassy eyed. And something about that memory makes Lucious snap back at Andre, “You believe in God … pray that he forgives you ’cause I don’t.”
Brothers in Arms
Hakeem and Jamal have another fireside chat. They enjoy these little meetings, as the two continue to realize that they make beautiful music together. Hakeem has had a few moments of doubt about the new company, but he declines Jamal’s invite to come back. He’s all in with Cookie.
Empire may be flashy, but these characters are three-dimensional. Hakeem never knew his mother and is finally experiencing a mother’s love and wants to explore this new relationship. Jamal’s most indelible memory is of daddy dumping him in the trash can due to his sexuality, but he’s craved his father’s attention for his whole live. Now that he’s basking in closeness with Lucious, he can’t see that he’s still likely to get stabbed in the heart.
All Eyez on Me
Lucious’s prison song made its way to radio just in time for his long-awaited bond hearing. The prosecutor and her massive cleavage are strutting around proclaiming that Lucious is a flight risk. The judge seems inclined to agree until Thirsty approaches the bench with some photographs showing the judge in a compromising position (a S&M scene gone wrong!), so he releases Lucious on bail, much to everyone’s chagrin.
- Lucious rides high; his Empire is secure (he thinks). Now that he’s a free man and all eyes are on him, what will he do? Is Jamal about to get a lesson in the calculating ways of Lucious Lyon?
- Where are Mimi and her fly suits?
- How great was it for Cookie to call the new company Lyon Dynasty, since Dynasty is one of Lee Daniels’ inspirations for Empire? Don’t you wish Cookie could mix it up with Alexis and Crystal?
- What do you think happened to Lucious’ mother? Could she have suffered from the same mental illness as Andre?