The show that provided diversity and power in season one, has not met the extremely high expectations placed upon it. With disappointing star turns and a forgettable new sound, only Taraij P. Henson still shines.
Season one of Empire was one of the biggest hits of the year, with audiences loving the boundary-breaking and eccentric drama, centred on hip-hop royalty. In the first season alone, the Lyons family faced murder, the acquisition of there records company, jail time and several completely twisted and at times unnecessary love triangles. Now its back for a second season, with unbelievably high expectations to live up to.
The premiere episode of season two begins three months on from where we last left the Lyon brood. Lucious is locked away in jail for murdering his cousin, while the rest of the family – Cookie, Andre, Jamal and Hakeem – has to deal with the fall out. Jamal is still in charge of the company, but Hakeem is hot on his tail and is willing to fight against his brother to win the Lyon family throne. He is prepared to do this via back stabbing, sex and manipulation – think Game of Thrones but with a lot more hip-hop rapping and less gore.
He is aided in his plans by the support of his firecracker mother, Cookie (Taraij P. Henson). Cookie’s main goal in the season premiere is to steal her husband’s company from right under his nose, whilst he resides in prison. She does this by convincing investors to turn against him, all while maintaining support publicity, which she does by staging the #FreeLucious rally in Central Park.
The rally is a shining moment in the premiere, as Cookie makes her entrance by arriving dressed in a gorilla suit, trapped in a cage and giving an impassioned speech about incarceration in America, one that is extremely relevant in the current atmosphere in the United States: ‘The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers, and our sons … It is a system that must be dismantled piece by piece if we are to live up to those words that we recite with our hands on our hearts: ‘Justice for all.’ The speech is yet another star turn for Henson, who proves once again that she deserved the Emmy award nomination and will no doubt be nominated again in the coming year.
But frankly, this is the only really shining moment within the episode. As the focuses then turns to Lucious, whom is rotting away in his prison cell, until he meets with fellow convict and gangster Frank Gathers, played by guest star, Chris Rock. Gathers has been built up over the past season to be the most intimidating and dangerous gangster imaginable. So much so, that the usually fearless Cookie was terrified of him and was almost willing to go into protective custody to hide from him and his gang, as she was the one that ‘snitched’ him out to the police. However, Rock is the least intimidating gangster ever to grace the screen. He does not instill fear on any level and half the time just looks bored instead of threatening, with this dreary eyes and bland facial expressions. In a show which has seen several astounding guest starts, including Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Marisa Tomei, it is a shame to see this great comic in such a sleep-inducing role.
Overall, this was an unsatisfying start to the raved about show. with hyped star roles failing to meet expectations and the once applauded hip-hop music becoming second base and forgettable. We can only hope that this was a rocky start and that the season will be able to return to its former greatness.
Empire airs on E4 every Tuesday at 9pm.