Snark Tank; Recap

Gay Elephants: Recap of Empire Episode 2, The Outspoken King

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Much has been written – and much will be written – about the fraught father-son dynamic between Lucious and Jamal. Lucious doesn’t want Jamal to be out, doesn’t want him living with his boyfriend, doesn’t want him singing with his brother lest anyone get wind of The Gay and decide that the club and the entire family are Gay, Gay, Gay. So you know that thing between father and son? This episode puts it front and center, and if you disagree with the premise than the entire show will probably feel false to you.

In this episode, Lucious sets up a showcase for Hakeem at the family’s nightclub, Leviticus. Yes, it’s called Leviticus as a reference to the part of the Bible which is allegedly very concerned with gay sex. Hakeem and Cookie want Jamal to back him up during the performance. But Lucious’s terror of his gay son extends to the notion that his performance might cause everyone to think that Leviticus is a gay club. Earth to Lucious: no one would think it’s a gay club if Jamal performs, but we would all make it a gay club because the idea of a gay club named Leviticus is just too delicious to pass up.

So Lucious wants a rapper named Kid Fo-Fo to back up Hakeem, despite the fact that Kid Fo-Fo got into a shootout at a mall, bringing extreme embarrassment to Empire Records. This doesn’t exactly please Cookie, who is trying to manage Jamal and make him a superstar. It also doesn’t please the banks, who are leery of Empire in light of Kid Fo-Fo’s trouble with the law. In case you’ve forgotten, Empire is trying to go public, so any legal mess will scare the bejeezus of the stuffy establishment. Daddy Lucious has to turn to son Andre to bring the banks back to the table. He prods him with the vague idea that maybe, just maybe, Empire will be his at the end of the brotherly competition. Andre is too smart to think he has a chance on his own of winning the Empire inheritance sweepstakes, but Lucious underestimates him.

Oh and did I mention that Andre is bipolar? We don’t know if this is something that anyone else is aware of, other than Andre’s devious white wife. Perhaps this makes Lucious skittish about handing over the reins of his company to the only son qualified to leave it. Being bipolar doesn’t disqualify you from leading a company, but as we’ve seen Lucious is hardly a man without prejudices.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: not every TV critic and recapper buys the idea that a major music executive would be so paranoid and homophobic, with some even saying the entire storyline seems ridiculous. To them I say: hahahaha! If you think everything is hunky dory for gays in the entertainment industry, let me just remind you that you can still more or less count the number of out musicians on two hands. It’s easy to say that a business savvy CEO would look at a gay artist and see nothing but dollar signs, but that’s not the reality. Sexuality is still presumed as a “problem” and not just in entertainment. Industry professionals still advise their artists to stay closeted, lest you become known as “that gay singer/rapper/actor.”

Also consider the following news nugget, confirmed last week by Fox. When they were testing the pilot, audiences were asked to give positive/negative feedback throughout the episode. When Jamal kissed his boyfriend, the approval of test audiences plummeted. It plummeted for all the reasons we would assume: squeamishness about actual displays of affection, dislike of gays, discomfort with two men kissing, etc. These feelings still exist in society and they are the primary reason that it is so hard to introduce a gay character on television. (Bisexuality on television occupies an even weirder space, which one day we we will discuss in a separate article. Pitches welcomed!)

Fox, to its credit, stuck with the gay kiss and is letting the creators of this show stick to their vision. Now seems like a good time to remind you that the show was conceived by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, who then chose The L Word’s Ilene Chaiken as show runner. Lee Daniels of course directed The Butler and is a self-confessed Dynasty fan. Danny Strong, who started his Hollywood life as Jonathan on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, made his bones as a writer on The Butler and the first Hunger Games movie.

Just when the family is being pulled apart, family friend Vernon informs Lucious that Bunky is dead. You just know Lucious is thinking Of course Bunky is dead, I killed him myself! But Lucious calls a family meeting and puts on an Oscar-worthy performance as a devastated, crying patriarch. How Tony Soprano of you, Lucious! Turns out Bunky is Cookie’s cousin and we know that will come back to haunt Lucious later.

It’s been half an episode without Hakeem doing something stupid so it’s time for him to break out of his rut. He’s goes out and gets literally piss-drunk, urinating in the corner of a restaurant and then informing all of the white people that if they voted for Obama the joke is on them since Obama is a sellout. And this whole thing has to be recorded by phone since Hakeem thinks it is hilarious. Once it’s posted on social media, all hell breaks loose. Lucious has to go on a Nancy Grace type show to apologize. Then Kid Fo-Fo gets dropped from the label for dissing Cookie in front of Jamal and Lucious. So we are back to square one: can Jamal accompany his brother to that gig, or not?

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Despite Lucious’s pep talk that he can appear on his own, Hakeem wants to perform with his brother, and that’s exactly what he does. Jamal and Hakeem tear it up together as their proud parents admit that both kids are hella talented. And all is well until Cookie walks outside and is ushered into the car of federal agents. Agent Carter (nice!) is there to remind Cookie she got out of jail for agreeing to testify against someone and it was time to pony up that testimony. But Cookie is like um yeah but if I go to the grand jury I will be dead and you know that means we can’t wait for next week.

What did you think of The Outspoken King?

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.

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