Currently Awesome: Empire

The family that plays together stays together, right? Not this season.

*Minor spoilers follow*

Between Lucious’ incarceration, subsequent release (and those telling snippets of his childhood) to the creation of Lyon Dynasty and Hakeem’s reign as CEO of Empire, season two hasn’t shied away from playing up the daily power struggle of the “first family of music” that is the Lyon family. In the midst of backstabbings and power play Jamal and Hakeem fight to spread their wings (with Mirage a Trois and Freda, respectively) while Lucious battles the board as well as his own flesh and blood and inner demons to take back control. But will the king have the queen by his side when he regains his rule? I don’t know—there’s still the finale to go.

What makes this one-hour drama such monster hit? Well, having a monster at the heart of it doesn’t hurt.

1. Characters/Cast. “Lucious is a beast” is what I keep repeating to my mother, who watches the show with me. He is, and Terrence Howard portrays the beast beautifully. Here we have a man so arrogant and yet so ardent that he pulls from me both admiration and repulsion. He’s despicable and close-minded and, as we now know, the sympathetic son of a sufferer of bipolar disorder. He’s easy to hate and hard to hate. Now that is an artist. Not unlike Lucious is his ex-wife, Cookie, into whom Taraji P. Henson injects soul in every beat of the lioness’s heart. And fist. Whenever I dare question the queen I’m drawn back in by her love for her family, the base on which her boys still stand. And Andre, Jamal and Hakeem still stand, whether it’s with their parents or against their parents. They will not be manipulated…and if they are, it’s only because they’re usually a step ahead. They remain true to themselves in an industry where the opposite sometimes seems to be a requirement. Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray remain true to their characters too—to the logic, to the compassion and to the fire.

2. Tone (pun intended). The music is phenomenal—for most fans I feel like that goes without saying (even though I just said it), but I also like the energy of this show and how passion is at the core of it all. Everything—rage, grief, joy, guilt—is perpetuated by passion for the beautiful, twisted jungle the Lyons live in and call home: their music.

I have passions—music is and was one of them. I need to remember the fire, to join with it, to boil and burn and fire messages out into the night like shooting stars…

I need to stand strong on the throne of my own empire.

You can’t sit out your life.

By virtue of being just what it is, the show is kind of inspirational. It doesn’t just play music, it is music. Every dirty, glitzy, greedy, wondrous bit.

How can I relate it to my writing? Here is a drama where the family is not just a family unit—the members are also individuals. I’m intrigued with characters whose loyalty and lust seem to only go so far. But why? Is it because blood is truly thicker than water or for another selfish, sinister reason? Who indeed runs this? Is it the person holding the gun? Holding their tongue? Holding someone hostage? The person holding the strings? Or the person cutting them in half? I want to develop family dynamics as layered as this. I’ll allow my characters to be true to themselves without sacrificing one to another. I need to not be afraid to make antiheroes or even downright villains. You never know what someone’s capable of until they’re pushed, and I’ve got to push my characters and myself in order to create a story worth telling, and Empire has a story worth listening to.

The finale airs Wednesday, May 18 at 9:00 p.m.

-BP

Addendum: MODERATE spoilers below

Of course now that I’ve raved about Empire, the finale disappoints me. Laura decides now, because of some gangster’s appearance, that she can’t be with Hakeem? Are you kidding? I mean, she’s too good for him, but seriously, how convenient for the end of the season. Speaking of the end, what was that? Come on. I can accept the forced marriage, but the soap opera cliffhanger? I personally expected more. Or less. Whatever. Something different. Again, whatever. It’s not like I’m not going to watch season 3.

 

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