‘Empire’ Review: Possible Major Death Caps Off Amazing ‘Sinned Against’
Recap and review of Empire – Season 2 Episode 9 – Sinned Against:
Okay, so I haven’t exactly been shy about how high I’ve been over Empire this season. This show has been on fire, serving as one of the few primetime dramas on TV that has a firm sense of identity. Empire knows what it is, knows what audiences want, and goes out of its way to give it to them, whether it’s silky-smooth Jamal vocals, or uproarious drama from Cookie, or major twists that result in certain characters biting the dust. I guess this is just a long way of saying that “Sinned Against” is a distillation of everything that works about Empire.
The story this week is mostly centered around the theme of uncertainty. We really don’t know how anything is going to turn out. For one, Andre (Trai Byers) is leveraging Empire assets to try and make the SwiftStream deal go through, even though it seemed like Mimi (Marisa Tomei) had that deal locked down last week. By the same token, we have no idea what the deal is with Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and her sister, Carol. She and Candace (Vivica A. Fox) go searching through Philadelphia for their strung out sister, and when they find her, the decision is made that Candace will keep the kids, and Cookie will take Carol…for now. But Carol makes Candace promise not to tell Cookie about a deep, dark secret that could ruin their sisterly relationship. It’s an intriguing question on which to hang this episode, since it seems as though there’s only a few secrets of such severity that it could ruin a family bond, even one as tenuous as what exists between Cookie and her sisters. And we even get a neat guest performance out of this situation, as Rosie O’Donnell plays Carol’s former prison mate, Pepper. Basically, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding Carol, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her secret is something that will factor into the second half of the season in a big way. If I had to guess, I’d say Carol probably slept with Lucious (Terrence Howard), and might have even had a child by him. But it’s hard to know for certain, since the secret could just as easily be that Carol is, in some way, responsible for having Cookie locked up for 17 years. Again, the theme of the episode is uncertainty, and nothing is more uncertain, in my mind, than the fate of the episode’s Number 1 rat, Laz (Adam Rodriguez).
To the surprise of no one, Laz’s big secret gets out, and Lucious holds a gun on him. And, of course, Cookie isn’t exactly forgiving. And why should she be? This is a guy who arranged to have her son kidnapped and beaten. So even if he didn’t plan on falling in love with Cookie, like he says, it doesn’t exactly buy him a whole lot of good will. With that said, the episode appears to leave it largely ambiguous as to whether or not Lucious actually kills Laz. Cookie seems to sanction it, and Lucious appears ready to go through with it, but I feel like you wouldn’t really hire a guy like Adam Rodriguez for an arc that lasts only three or four episodes. I mean, it seems like a waste of a perfectly good character actor, particularly since he never gets to be overtly villainous. He’s just this guy who’s weirdly caught up in some mess he didn’t plan on getting caught in. Yes, he wanted to scheme Cookie out of millions, but I feel like he was mostly just in over his head. With that said, it’s hard to know what we’re even supposed to think about Laz. The show paints him as a bad guy, but Rodriguez’s performance offers more depth than is probably on the page. I’d actually be interested to see him continue on in the show, even as it seems unlikely that he’ll get to.
If nothing else, the Laz story is one of several interesting tales that depend on the uncertainty of the people caught in their center. For instance, Anika (Grace Gealey) is still hung up on Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), and even goes to Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) for more advice on what to do. Of course, Rhonda gives Anika the advice to go for it, completely unaware that the man she’s into is her own brother-in-law. But Anika goes forward with it anyway, putting Laura (Jamila Velazquez) on blast for sleeping alongside several other siblings in a rundown home. In one of the few likable moments for Hakeem (well, depending on your perspective), he rips Anika a new one for targeting someone less fortunate, telling her that she’ll never be a Lyon, no matter how much she schemes. It’s one of Gray’s best moments as an actor, and while I haven’t always felt that the relationship between Hakeem and Anika has made a ton of sense, it’s brought out the best in its respective performers. Ditto the story between Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and pop star Skye Summers (Alicia Keys). Part of me hopes this show isn’t trying to put Jamal in a straight romance just to appeal to a wider audience, since this is a storyline that feels like fanservice to a certain crowd that wants Jamal not to be gay. But if he’s going to be with women, Alicia Keys is a pretty great scene partner to have. Their chemistry onscreen is instantaneous, and from their first scene, it’s clear that this is something that could go well beyond the professional. And I like that, because their connection feels rooted in the music more than anything else. Once again, Empire utilizes its music to develop character, while also offering a window into the industry at large. While I’m not entirely sold on this pairing just yet — even while I’m open to it becoming a romance — it’s a compelling arc to watch unfold nonetheless.
All in all, I thought “Sinned Against” was one of the better episodes of Empire this season. When a show has a fitting sense of identity, it comes through in the storylines, and this episode was no different from last week’s sure-footed hour. I’ll be interested to see how things develop from here, as it seems that each character has his or her own storyline right now. If/when those stories collide, I think we’re going to get fireworks. And I can’t wait for that to inevitably happen.
But what did you think of Empire, “Sinned Against”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Empire, read our analysis of last week’s stellar “My Bad Parts”!