Snark Tank; Recap
Empire Season 2, Episode 4: Dem Dry Bones, Recap of Empire's Poor Yorick
This episode featured everything Empire does best and everything that threatens to sabotage the show’s success. What does the show do well? Blend Shakespearean level tragedy with the soap opera mechanics of modern television. What threatens to sabotage the show? Plot developments that are just crazy-for-sake-of-being-crazy, or CFSOBC. This episode managed to ground the dramatic events in a way that is at least tethered to reality. The plot that worries me most on the CFSOBC front is everything involving Roxanne Ford and her cleavage. Does it make sense for Roxanne Ford to be hell-bent on taking down a popular media mogul? Is that really a great career move? Will we be spared a scene where Roxanne and Lucious get it on? We’ll see as the season moves forward.
You want to talk about OG’s? Shakespeare beats them all. This man was so gangster we’re still referencing Hamlet in 2015 during a show about the music business. The episode mirrors Hamlet’s ditch digging scene (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times”) but instead of finding Poor Yorick’s skull, Andre and Co. dug up Poor Old Vernon. Andre is the Hamlet of Empire, struggling to maintain his mental health, struggling with loving and hating Lucious and utterly petrified about his future in this life and the next.
The opening montage is an Empire classic. Jamal, who believes his own hype and is obsessed with being an artiste, is discussing a Rolling Stone feature that will reveal Jamal’s music as an artistic manifesto. Jamal’s pretentiousness is breathtaking; he’s every bit the privileged prince now. But he is still only dimly aware that his image and vision are being shaped and twisted by Lucious, who is making Jamal’s story all about Lucious and Empire.
The FBI tears up Empire and then Roxanne Ford and her Breasts arrive at Lucious’ pad to personally serve the search warrant. Lucious is in a cuddle/spoon situation with some woman when Thirsty barges in to warn him that the feds are at the door. Thirsty spent the night in the guest room, but next week I fully expect him to be in a cuddle/spoon situation with Lucious, since the man is ingratiating himself into everything. Better hope he’s not a spy, Lucious!
Yes there is a scene where Lucious disrobes and shows Roxanne everything he’s packing. Getting close to CFSOBC, but this is very much in keeping with Lucious’ mental state in this episode: he wants to get raw.
Cookie is hustling to create Lyon Dynasty. Her team includes Hakeem, who wants to find a replacement for Valentina, and Anika, who can earn herself a job if she gets Valentina back. The feds also serve a warrant on Dynasty.
At an emergency meeting of the Empire Board of Directors, Mimi Whiteman and Jamal urge caution in the face of federal investigators. But Lucious wants to go another way.
His message is that the feds don’t have anything on him or else they wouldn’t be fishing with a warrant (false) and that he’s going to be the rap (probably). Lucious says “where we come from, if the cops raid your house that makes you a G, if the Feds raise your house, you’re an OG … it gives you a ghetto pass. It shows we’re so raw, so dangerous.” This resonates with a fellow 40-something like Mimi. She is like “this is how players play to win! Holla!” I half expected her to break into “whoop, there it is.”
Everyone under age 35 is rolling their eyes because of Lucious’ old school 1990s hyperbole. If Hakeem had been in this scene he would be like “nah man, you ain’t raw!” Let us recall that in real life, the FBI also messed with the Insane Clown Posse and it made them seem more like aging clowns than Old Gangstas.
Every scene between Cookie and Lucious is riveting. They meet up to discuss strategy. Lucious believes the feds are desperate because Vernon switched up on them. Hakeem wants to know if his father killed Bunkie, which Lucious denies. Bunkie and Vernon hover over this episodes like ghosts.
Andre is still waking up with those nightmares again and throwing up. Lucious is picking up his Grammy Award and other broken relics from the FBI raid, including a photo of him and said ghost. Cookie demands that they call a truce and that Lucious let the Dynasty artists back on the radio. Her offer is to let Hakeem do a music video with Jamal, which will present the family as a united front.
As much as Lucious likes the idea, he won’t budge on the radio. He’s trying to give Hakeem some kind of lesson, which I almost sort of believe. Of course he then straight up lies to Cookie and says he won’t poach her clients for Empire and that he never, ever tried to steal Dynasty’s mater tapes. Anika is the liar, he claims. Then they fight and call each other grandma/grandpa and she calls him fat and shows off her ass.
And I Shake My Little Tush on the Catwalk
Jamal’s boyfriend Michael is watching the Rolling Stone hipster-photog with a high degree of shade. The photog wants Jamal to strike a pose that reveals the pain of his dad’s legal battle – “I wanna capture your beautiful soul.”
Jamal thinks hipster-photog is the new Andy Warhol, which is why he agrees to sit at the piano and play his feelings. The photog looks like a muppet but says shit like “I wanna be inside you.” Seriously, dude?
Andre meets Lucious on the catwalk somewhere. What is this, the Starship Enterprise? Dre is sad because all he does is love and he gets nothing in return. Lucious says he didn’t grow up the way Dre did. And we get a flashback where Mama Rowland is being interviewed by child protective services because neighbors say her little boy is not being taken care of. All little Lucious says is that he wants to stay with mommy. I just know this is going to be heartbreaking (and Terrence Howard‘s real childhood was heartbreaking as well).
This prompts Lucious to say he only wants to be a good grandfather. And with that, Andre makes a move: he will make the entire federal case go away if his father lets him return and be CFO. Lucious is like, “oh sure son,” not knowing how off the chain Andre is about to go. Or maybe he does know, because he seems concerned when Andre struts out.
Lucious tries to get to Hakeem by bringing his son some sweet custom beats (cue Beats by Dre product placement!)
Hakeem doesn’t want those beats so Lucious leaves. In comes Cookie, wearing an outfit that looks like Rick James as reinterpreted by Dave Chappelle. Cookie still has doubts about Hakeem’s loyalty but he assures her “it’s you and me now.”
California Love, Black Panther Style
Mimi, Lucious and the rest of Team Lyon make a video that is essentially a version of 2Pac’s California Love. The director describes it as a “post-apocalyptic Black Panther theme with the brothers fighting police oppression.” Cookie thinks this is pure trash but everyone else is on board. It is indeed hypocritical for the Lyon brothers to exploit a movement that centers around the police abuse against the African American community.
However, this calculated embrace of the anti-police oppression movement is savvy and makes sense in the context of the world these characters live in. The three sons have only known economic prosperity, and Lucious is one of the wealthiest and most powerful guys in the music business. And he did indeed kill Bunkie. And they feel perfectly comfortable co-opting the movement for Lucious’ battle with the feds.
Is Lucious’ fight the same as Trayvon‘s and Eric Garner‘s and Tamir Rice‘s? Oh hell no. And when Jay Z started selling Occupy t-shirts, or when Russell Simmons expressed awkward support for the movement, it also felt false. The show is expertly demonstrating that dynamic.
Orange is the New Black
Which is why what happens with Cookie is smart. On a break Cookie steps outside the thunderdome and is promptly arrested. Cookie says a line referring to the late Sandra Bland, who was tragically left to die in jail. “If I die in prison, I did not commit suicide.” Cookie’s been to prison, she experienced the loneliness, isolation, humiliation and violence that such an experience demands of people. She’s also taken the rap for someone else and been manipulated by the feds and local cops after her release on parole. Cookie is more of a victim of the police state than anybody on this show so far.
Prosecutor Big Bustier lets her know the warrant is for jumping a subway turnstile, because she jumped and never appeared in court. The video reveals that good old Porsha didn’t pay for her subway ride and then gave the cops Cookie’s name. Roxanne reminds Cookie she is on parole and one tiny move will just send her back. She turns up the heat by threatening Cookie’s children, even referencing Andre’s suicidal tendencies.
When Roxanne leaves her to ponder all this, we see flashbacks of Cookie crying and wanting to die in prison. She calls for Roxanne. (Also does Roxanne have a velcro boob-cover affixed to all of her outfits? There is clearly strategic boob deployment going on). Cookie has a sly move. She invents a story that Bunkie and Lucious were fighting over the Apex radio deal. She says essentially that “Bunkie was trying to get him to stop the Apex deal. Now Bunkie is gone and Lucious bought the radio stations. See?” Ford is super happy and says she’ll tie up the sale for years. They exchange pleasantries about wigs and weaves.
Ride or Die
Hamlet is washing his face and looking pained. I’m not sure how many more scenes of Andre’s morning sickness I can take. He tells Rhonda he’s been hearing direct from God. Rhonda is like “oh shit!” He says God is saying keep seeking Empire, follow God’s word. Just as we discussed last week, God’s word is Dad’s Word.
And so, Andre goes to get his shovel and dig up some bones. Rhonda insists on riding along.
When Hakeem finally listens to the custom beats, he loves them. But dad won’t give him anything unless he returns to Empire. He wants Hakeem to remember that Cookie is unreliable, no one knows where she is, and Hakeem can manage Valentina.
At the video shoot, Lucious is gushing over the hipster-photog’s portrait of Jamal. Hakeem is jealous, he thinks it’s tacky and ugly, and shows out by knifing the portrait. Jamal and Lucious go hard at Hakeem. They also point out that Cookie is MIA, and then Lucious goes misogynist and says Hakeem is just a mama’s boy who can’t work without his mommy. Jamal is all in for this ish too – recall that last week he was receptive to Lucious’ idea that a woman could never ever understand Jamal’s artistry or struggle as a man.
They resume the shoot and then the brothers fight. Hakeem nearly beats Jamal with a baseball bat. He storms out and says that the Lyons have never been a real family. Lucky for Hakeem, his luck is about to change. He heads to a lounge where a Harry Connick Jr./Michael Buble clone is crooning “The Sunny Side of the Street.” Then the clone introduces his cousin. It’s her first ever performance and she’s singing Linda Ronstadt in Spanish.
Hakeem is smitten. The girl group is going to be back in business.
Andre/Rhonda start digging for the body but they can’t find it! They’re digging for the grave under a tree with a knotted hole. But all the damn trees have holes! Rhonda wants to give up. Just as they start filling up the holes, a car pulls up. As much as I wish Niecey Nash or Jamie Lee Curtis were getting out of a Scream Queens car, it turns out to be Lucious and his lawyer. They put a tracking device on Andre’s car! Rhonda admits she killed Vernon in the study with the candlestick.
[clue!] Lucious is is all proud of Rhonda – “you saved my life!”
They help dig up Vernon. Thirsty helps put the rotting body into the truck of the car. Andre decides now is time for a prayer. “I’m sorry Uncle Vernon… I love you and I forgive you and God help me.” Lucious asks for some alone time, which he uses to say “You will rot in hell you snitch.”
And with that, Andre is back in.
Hope and Change
Jamal is apologizing to the hipster-photog for Hakeem’s behavior. But photog says the painting “isn’t ruined. It’s changed. Art is fluid and ephemeral. This is what the painting has to say, because the throat represents a racist and homophobic society.” Jamal’s boyfriend Michael is like “ha ha ha! no.” But Jamal is totally down with this pretension. They post prints of that painting all over town. It’s clear this is Empire’s take on Shepherd Fairey, whose iconic painting of Barak Obama made a huge impact in the 2008 elections.
Anika and Cookie talk and Cookie makes a huge mistake. She sends Anika away stating that she knows Lucious is a liar but Anika isn’t trustworthy either. This makes Anika a dangerous free agent.
The episode ends with a lovely moment between Ford and Vernon’s decomposing body, which has been dumped in Roxanne’s car to send her a message.
Do you like the Roxanne Ford plot, or do you think it’s too much?
What other Shakespeare is in the show going to follow?
Do you think Hakeem will stick with Cookie for the long term, or will he be gone once Lucious welcomes him back to the fold?