‘Empire’ Review: ‘Poor Yorick’ Is A Gloriously Crazy Hour of Television
Recap and review of Empire – Season 2 Episode 4 – Poor Yorick:
While Empire presents itself as this wild, over-the-top primetime soap opera, the show boasts some thematically resonant storytelling, even if titles like “Poor Yorick” seem cynically literary by comparison. This was a gloriously crazy hour of television, for both its dramatic bombast and its thematic content. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s my favorite episode of the season so far.
Naturally, the episode’s title is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, referencing the scene in which Hamlet holds the skull of his old jester Yorick, whose body has been exhumed by gravediggers. The speech itself centers on the deterioration of an empire, and the inevitability of oblivion. Death will come for as all, and not even the grandest of empires can last forever. In the end, all you really have is each other. In a pivotal scene, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) get into a fist fight during their music video shoot, prompting Hakeem to declare, to the shocked onlookers on the soundstage, “Why ya’ll shocked? This family ain’t never been a real family!” The Lyon Dynasty (the actual dynasty, not the record label) cannot survive if the Lyon boys are tearing each other apart, King Lear style. The thesis here suggests that a house divided cannot stand, which makes the role of Lucious (Terrence Howard) all the more complicated in the grand scheme of things. His duty is to keep his empire from crumbling while also keeping his family in one piece, for better or worse. These goals are functionally the same thing, so we get Lucious really bringing his power game to the fore: he tries to get Hakeem back to Empire by luring him with an exclusive beat, while offering positive reinforcement to Andre (Trai Byers) after he implies he can make Lucious’s legal troubles disappear. He then helps Jamal with his album, The Artist, while commissioning a world class, Andy Warhol-type artist to craft a painting for his Rolling Stone cover. In short, Lucious is trying to keep his bases covered, and while he can’t exactly prevent the Feds from raiding Empire, or picking up Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) on a B.S. charge related to Porsha (Ta’Rhonda Jones) jumping a turnstile, he’s mostly got things under control this week.
This is never more apparent than in the climax. Andre formulates a plan to help exonerate Lucious by digging up the body of Vernon, whom Roxanne (Tyra Ferrell) needs if she’s going to make any sort of case against Lucious. Naturally, Andre and Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) are a hot mess, freaking out upon realizing that they don’t remember where they actually buried the body (due to all the trees in the area having the same hole, which shouldn’t be anywhere near as comical as it ended up being). Just as all hope seems lost, here comes Lucious with Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo), who has a handy locator that allows them to pinpoint the exact location of Vernon’s corpse. Turns out, after Andre made the implication that he could erase Lucious’s legal troubles, Lucious got suspicious and had his son’s car planted with a tracker. Basically, Lucious is three steps ahead of everyone, planting Vernon’s rotting corpse in Roxanne’s car as a warning of sorts, an indication that the Feds can’t hold him, no matter how hard they try. That said, this realization may have come too late, since Cookie is in the process of making a deal to keep the Feds from harassing her boys, which is all well and good for Cookie, who simply wants Lyon Dynasty tracks back in rotation. But it seems no matter what she does, she’ll always be at cross purposes with Lucious. And for someone who’s every bit as savvy, that could spell danger for Lucious.
There were several other developments this week that were equally salacious. The aforementioned civil war between Hakeem and Jamal is one of the highlights of the episode, as Hakeem vandalizes the painting of Jamal, prompting Lucious to note that the reason he gave the empire to Jamal is because, unlike Hakeem, he can get the job done without his mama. The jab at Hakeem signing with his mother digs deep, and results in a fist fight during the music video shoot that results in Hakeem storming out and vowing never to return again. In the process of drowning his worries at the bar, he sees a gorgeous Spanish singer named Laura (Jamila Velazquez), and seems to have stars in his eyes. It’s looking like the notion of launching a Spanish crossover star hasn’t entirely left Hakeem’s mind. At least not anymore than the insanity has left Andre’s mind. This week, he reveals to a horrified Rhonda that God speaks to him, and that he must follow His word. This is what spurs the entire crazy plot to exhume Vernon’s body, although it seems apparent that the hallucinations that are spurring Andre into action in the first place are the result of the residual guilt he feels over Vernon’s death, as well as his desperation to be welcomed back into the Empire fold. Andre is one of the harder characters to swallow, since he’s so mercurial and hard to pin down, but it also makes him this savage wild card in a world of similarly savage hustlers. He doesn’t hate the player or the game, he simply finds a way to nut up and play. If nothing else, that makes Andre his father’s son, and a vastly more interesting character than the archetype for this role.
“Poor Yorick” is another fun episode in what’s shaping up to be a season that features more of everything. More plotting, more backstabbing, more manipulating, and more high-stakes drama than could possibly be fit into an hour of TV. To say that Empire is a highlight of my TV week would be a vast understatement. This show is on fire right now, and I can’t wait to see how these stories play out as the season rolls on.
But what did you think of Empire, “Poor Yorick”? Sound off in the comments!