‘Empire’ Fall Finale Review: The Dynasty Crumbles In the Riveting ‘Et Tu, Brute?’
Recap and review of Empire – Season 2 Episode 10 – Et Tu, Brute?:
What happens when a dynasty crumbles? Empire reveals that to us in the riveting “Et Tu, Brute?”, which is just about the best fall finale I’ve seen from any show in a long-ass time. Seriously, this had just about everything I could have asked for from a finale of this magnitude, and it culminates with one of the most powerful characters in the entire series ending up as a crying mess, while his grandchild essentially dies on the linoleum with his mother. Put bluntly, this fall finale is going to make March seem even farther away than it already is.
Impressively, the episode manages to balance the Herculean amount of storylines it needs to carry, ultimately tying them together in one cohesive narrative. Basically, Camilla Marks (Naomi Campbell) is back, and she’s manipulating Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) into ousting Lucious (Terrence Howard) from his CEO position at Empire. She does this by essentially faking a marriage to Mimi (Marisa Tomei) and seducing Hakeem into believing he’ll be made CEO once Lucious is out of power. Mimi plays a video for the board of directors that shows Lucious essentially failing to take any of them seriously, resulting in a call for a vote to remove Lucious from his position as CEO of the company. And sure enough, the deciding vote comes down to Hakeem, who chooses to kick his father out of his position, leaving him a man without a company. It’s brilliant stuff, and the drama is downright exquisite when you consider how long this Hakeem vs. Lucious feud has been brewing. While you could maybe argue that Lucious has been trying to steel his son for the road ahead, in addition to trying to lure him back to the Empire label with insane beats, one of the big narratives of the season has pit father against son. And it’s never more evident than here, as Hakeem essentially robs his father of his legacy in order to secure his own advancement. Hakeem has always had a chip on his shoulder, since not a whole lot of people take him seriously.
When he gets snubbed for the American Sound Awards in favor of Freda Gatz, that’s pretty much the last straw for Hakeem, so it makes a certain sense that he would go to such extreme lengths in the hopes of being seen as a serious artist and businessman. Hell, he even performs a prison concert set up by Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) despite his reservations. Hakeem is maturing as a potential force in the music industry, but he’s still as immature as ever as a son, and it’s hard to know just how much of that is his fault, when you consider who his father is. For his part, Lucious is an absolute wreck after losing the company, and we see one of the few moments of true vulnerability from Lucious, as he essentially breaks down in front of Cookie, wondering if all of the CDs he sold out of his car trunk, all of the bodies he’s moved, all of the time she did in prison, and all of the stains he’s placed on his soul have been for nothing. It’s a brutally honest moment, all the more so when Cookie tells him to man up, because “You’re a Lyon.” But being a Lyon is a burden Lucious has placed upon himself, because being a Lyon means being more than the average man. And being a Lyon is far easier said than done. It’s Terrence Howard’s best performance of the series, and one of the most heartwrenching. And it’s all the more impressive when you consider how unsympathetic Lucious has often been. I mean, for crying out loud, he gloats after he leads Jamal (Jussie Smollett) has hooked up with Skye Summers (Alicia Keys), boasting that she’s “fixed” his boy. It’s a gross moment, and it’s a real achievement of the script that there’s any sympathy for Lucious by the end of the episode.
And yet, Lucious being ousted from Empire is only one of the big moments of the episode. While we don’t know whether or not Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) is dead, it’s almost a certainty that her baby is dead, as the episode ends with a mysterious, hooded figure pushing Rhonda down a flight of stairs. It’s almost inconceivable that this person isn’t Anika (Grace Gealey), although the obvious nature of the reveal makes me uncertain whether or not it’s her. Granted, the shadowy figure certainly looked like Anika, from what little we saw. And given how her pregnancy by Hakeem has affected her better judgment, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find that Anika had done this. But this seems like too obvious a plot point, even for Empire. So I guess we’re left with a mystery to head into the spring season: did Anika push Rhonda down the stairs? If not, then whom? And did Rhonda even survive the fall? These are all questions I’m actually stoked about getting answers to, since Empire has often felt inert, at certain points of the season. Now, we have a plot that fundamentally alters the DNA of the show: Lucious is out of power, Hakeem is on the rise, Andre (Trai Byers) makes a change as a husband and as a man only for the change to come too late to save Rhonda/his child. It’s all powerful stuff. Another interesting question to be answered is who will win the ASA for Song of the Year, as it comes down to Jamal and Lucious. While the ASA nominations are looming like a shadow over the proceedings of the episode, it doesn’t really come to the fore until the end, as Lucious has never won an ASA despite 19 nominations, whereas Jamal is poised to win a ton in his first year of eligibility. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting father vs. son dynamic that somewhat mirrors the conflict between Lucious and Hakeem. And all this, despite the earlier joy over how well Jamal’s Pepsi commercial was received (to be fair, it was a cool commercial. And I love that the show cut to commercial break for its premiere, and aired it as if it were a real ad). I’m interested to see how conflict develops between Lucious and his sons, especially now, when it seemed like things were slowly, but gradually, getting back on track. Empire remains one of the best primetime soaps on TV, and “Et Tu, Brute?” illustrates why, depicting the fall of an Empire in brutally swift fashion.
But what did you think of the Empire Season 2 Fall Finale, “Et Tu Brute?” Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Empire, find out which baby names have received a huge bump in popularity in 2015 thanks to the show!