In step with the times, “Empire” would seem to be going straight to today’s news in regards to what can happen these days to any Black person on America’s streets these days – no matter how many Gs are in your bank account.
Last week’s premiere showcased a new song with lyrics about Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin. This week’s episode ends with Andre on the ground on the wrong side of a police officer’s gun in the upscale neighborhood where he used to live with his deceased wife Rhonda. It would seem that with these episodes “Empire” is looking to make a rather pointed statement about what is happening to people of color in America today. For this, they should be commended.
With tonight’s season 3 episode 2 titled “Sin That Amends,” gun violence – both within the Black community and between law officials and the community – definitely takes center stage. However, in a deft balance of reality to fantasy, “Empire” isn’t forgetting that it is a soap opera in the midst of tackling these tough issues.
Taye Diggs is introduced as city councilman Angelo Dubois, a character who both annoys and beguiles Cookie as a government official who uses Jamal’s near death shooting to promote and publicize his own teen summit against gun violence. With Dubois being set up as a “bougie” romantic alternative for Cookie in contrast to the always “street” Lucious, it should be an even more combustible situation when Phylicia Rashad shows up as Angelo Dubois’ mother. However, until then, this episode delivers a dramatic punch when Lucious manipulates the summit to expose Jamal’s inability to perform due to the PTSD he is suffering as a result of being shot by Freda Gatz. It’s a great set piece for Lucious’ brutally ruthless ways as well as a realistic nod to the very real after effects of gun violence on survivors.
As for music, due to the considerable time given to gun violence, there is only one original song on tap. Thankfully, in stark contrast to last week’s premiere, this rap is a pretty good one. As it is once again something Hakeem is working on in the studio, it could be considered a much more satisfying do over from last week’s humdrum perf. This current collaboration between Hakeem and Nessa on the rich subject of “first you hate me/ then you love me,” has something besides just a good hook and a dose sex appeal of performance chemistry. That Shine then destroys the whole flow by physically attacking someone who looks at Nessa’s body “wrong” just plays to the entire episode’s riff on violence. The added bonus for future episodes? There might be some incestuous skeletons in Nessa and Shine’s past when it comes to Shine’s sudden rage when anybody even looks like they might like his niece. And exactly who seems to be liking Nessa for more more than just her physical attributes? Hakeem, of course.
As for the other musical must see moment, it’s an unabashed throwback, but Biz Markie is on point when he does “Just A Friend” for Cookie as a favor to Lucious. Also, to Biz’s credit, the years have been kind. Looks like he’s been doing a couple of gym reps over the years. Nice work on all counts, Biz.
Last but not least, another thick thread running through this week’s latest installment? Loyalty. Becky, who still has yet to get her richly deserved AR executive position at Empire, gets an ultimatum from her man. he loves her, but he’s leaving Empire and he’s set up an AR position for her also if she can find it in her heart to go for her own interests over those of Lucious and Cookie.
So does Becky say goodbye or does she get caught up with the rest of the Lyons in some mess with the feds? Does Andre get shot in his old affluent/ “white” neighborhood for being black, or does he survive another day? Will “Empire” have more than just one good original song per episode next week? We’ll just have to wait and see.
“Empire” airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00 central on FOX.