‘Empire’ Midseason Premiere Review: It’s Father vs. Son In Epic ‘Death Will Have His Day’
Recap and review of Empire – Midseason Premiere – Episode 11 – Death Will Have His Day:
Empire is back, and that means tensions are at an all-time high as father is pit against son in “Death Will Have His Day”. Granted, this isn’t exactly surprising, considering how the fall finale ended. With Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) ousting his father from Empire, it was clear there would be fallout of an explosive nature. But I didn’t realize just how intense things would get until the stunning climax of this week’s episode.
On the one hand, I can see why Hakeem made the power play that he did. Even though he’s been the favored son to Lucious (Terrence Howard) in the past, Hakeem felt increasingly marginalized by his old man, to the point where he felt the only way to be truly seen as formidable was to take his dad’s company out from under him. And yet, Hakeem seems to lack a fundamental awareness of why his family is so hurt by this. Throughout the episode, even after he’s named CEO, he seems genuinely confused that his family isn’t willing to forgive him. It marks his immaturity, and is part of an arc that culminates in him making a decision that might come back to haunt him. Basically, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) tries her best to politic her way back into the inner circle of Empire in order to take down Camilla (Naomi Campbell) from the inside. She’s able to negotiate autonomy for the Lyon Dynasty brand, since Hakeem seems open to reasoning with his mother, even though she gave him the beating of a lifetime early in the episode for his betrayal. It speaks to who Hakeem is, really. He continuously talks about wanting the Lyons to go back to being a family again, like they used to be, all while strutting around his father’s office, and seizing his father’s throne. Essentially, Hakeem is capable of being a family man only for as long as that family doesn’t include Lucious. It’s to the point where his defining trait, far more than his braggadocio or his rapping skills or even his desire to emulate the street lifestyle, is his opposition to his father. This is an episode where Hakeem confesses his love to Laura (Jamila Velazquez) after she convinces him to take her virginity, and yet the act itself feels like a desperate attempt to forget about his father and all the drama surrounding him, if only for a few moments. Sure, Hakeem probably does love Laura. But he doesn’t seem like he’s in the right headspace for this relationship at all.
With that said, I don’t think a hatred for one’s father is necessarily a weak trait when trying to craft an interesting character, since it largely works for Hakeem. The dynamic between Hakeem and Lucious makes for a neat inversion of their relationship in the first season, when Hakeem was defined largely by his alignment with Lucious as the chosen one (not to succeed him as CEO, but to succeed him as Empire’s top star. Funny how the top star is now Jamal, a man who struggled to be recognized by his father back in Season 1). The history between Lucious and Hakeem is what makes the climax so effective. Cookie’s plan to take back the company involves careful strategizing, whereas Lucious is looking to employ brute force: he calls Hakeem to the place where he murdered Bunkie in Season 1, and uses the story of Bunkie’s fall as an abject lesson of what happens to people who threaten the Empire. Lucious then hands Hakeem a gun and tells him to pull the trigger, warning that he’s going to do everything in his power to end Hakeem for good unless he does. It’s a speech that ranks as one of the most chilling moments in the series, and Howard does a hell of a job imbuing Lucious with a raw, ragged energy that makes him not only riveting to watch onscreen, but also kind of terrifying. This is a man who built something from nothing, creating a legacy for himself and his children. But that’s now been compromised by the last person he would have expected. His rage towards Hakeem comes from a place of deep hurt, and it plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy….well, without the death. Ultimately, Hakeem can’t bring himself to pull the trigger, rationalizing that he no longer has to do what his father wants him to. So even now, when he wants to appear as though he’s striking out on his own, Hakeem’s decisions are still influenced by what his actions will mean to his father. He doesn’t want to give Lucious the satisfaction of turning him into a killer, so he doesn’t shoot him. And yet, it’s a decision that just might haunt Hakeem, as Lucious reminds his son, “I keep my promises!” So yeah…Hakeem better watch his back.
Of course, there were some other big developments this week outside of the Hakeem, Lucious and Cookie drama. The biggest one is also the saddest, as Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) loses her baby from the fall down the steps. And to make matters worse, she loses her memory of the incident, so she has no idea she was pushed. At least until she starts getting flashbacks to the night of the attack. The show does its best to conceal the identity of the attacker, which makes me think that maybe it wasn’t Anika (Grace Gealey) after all, since the show likely would have just revealed it by now rather than continuing to tease out a reveal many have assumed since November. The expensive high heels Rhonda saw the attacker wearing suggests the woman is a high-roller, and while Anika does dress well, she’s not exactly swimming in cash either. Camilla, however, does have money. So does Mimi. Hell, so does Cookie! Granted, there’s no way Cookie is the attacker, and I seriously doubt the show wants us to think she is. But I do think the show wants us to consider other possibilities than Anika, because really, it’s almost too easy for it to be her, no? Either way, this story led to some of the night’s best moments. Watching Andre (Trai Byers) break down in the hospital while Cookie tries to comfort her son, and his father and brother hold him back, is one of the most powerful moments of the season. This was a great episode for Byers, who is really getting to explore Andre’s nuances as a character. While breaking down in tears over the crib of his unborn child, Andre begins speaking to God, pleading with Him for help. Rhonda’s bold declaration that God doesn’t exist sparks the beginning of what appears to be a crisis of faith for Andre. While I don’t believe Andre will renounce his faith completely, I think it’s interesting to contrast where he draws strength from, since it contrasts so completely with his brothers, as Hakeem draws strength from his ego, and Jamal (Jussie Smollet) seems to draw strength from his musical talents. It certainly helps that Jamal has the freedom and talent to write a song whenever he’s feeling anguished. If anything, Jamal’s performance is as much an outlet as his music, as evidenced by how he responds when Jamieson (William Fichtner) threatens to reveal to the world that he slept with Skye Summers (Alicia Keys). He performs a new song in front of an appreciative crowd, because that’s where he feels the most grounded. It’s this type of characterization that makes the show as good as it is, because we don’t need to be told any of these things, we can just see it for ourselves. Whether it’s Hakeem’s ego, Jamal’s talent, or Andre’s faith.
All in all, I thought “Death Will Have His Day” was a terrific midseason premiere for Empire, a show I’ve missed far more than I actually realized. This is one of the best primetime soaps on TV, and one of the strongest ensembles FOX has had in a really long time. I’m looking forward to seeing where all this is headed, and seeing how Hakeem stacks up as the boss. Because one thing is for certain, his reign is not going to last. The only question is if the broken Lyon family will be able to be put back together again.
What did you think of the Empire midseason premiere, “Death Will Have His Day”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Empire, watch Taraji P. Henson bring Cookie Lyon to The Tonight Show in this fantastic clip!