‘Empire’ Season 2 Episode 16 Review: Mama Drama Anchors ‘The Lyon Who Cried Wolf’
Recap and review of Empire – Season 2 Episode 16 – The Lyon Who Cried Wolf:
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Empire thrives when it reaches that perfect balance between family drama and music industry intrigue. In this respect, “The Lyon Who Cried Wolf” is one of the absolute best episodes of this season. Hell, the music moments alone are enough to illustrate how much this show can accomplish in the storytelling department, without necessarily having to be histrionic or over-the-top. That isn’t to say we didn’t still get a massive helping of melodrama, but it was all in service of a story that feels bigger, with stakes that are higher than just who’s going to win an ASA Award.
But seriously, let’s talk about that big music moment. It was actually delivered in two parts, as the Lyon family rehearses their ASA Awards performance after feuding back-and-forth on how to perform the song. It was hard enough for Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) to get them all to agree, especially since both Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) wanted to focus on their solos, rather than being paired up in some sort of misguided attempt to show family unity. But that rehearsal, using a piano line given to Lucious (Terrence Howard) by his mother, Leah Walker, leaves us with a subtle, poignant, and profoundly powerful track about how the bonds of family persist above all. This, despite Andre (Trai Byers) essentially betraying Lucious early in the episode by bringing Leah back into his life, not realizing the level of damage the woman has the potential to cause. The Lyon family performance is one of the best moments of the entire season, with Cookie adorably reacting with shock to Hakeem proclaiming he’s “ratchet” just like his parents, and Jamal singing with his brother about how if Bloods and Crips can get along, why can’t the Lyons? The song becomes even more poignant in its final version in front of D-Major/Derek (Tobias Truvillion), a major force in the music industry and the ASA Awards race. Lucious gets to sing on the track, showing off a beautifully underrated singing voice. It’s the most united the Lyon family has ever seen, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get goosebumps watching them all come together like this.
And yet, that feeling of togetherness is fleeting, as drama quickly takes hold. On the one hand, I’m interested in seeing how Jamal handles his budding romantic relationship with Derek, since they have outstanding chemistry, and it’s about time the show depicted a gay romance that didn’t involve the relatively bland Michael (Rafael de La Fuente). On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure Jamal is the type of guy who would willingly pursue a relationship with someone who isn’t out. So much of his journey has been about embracing his “truth”, and Jamal simply strikes me as the type of guy who’d look for that truth in others. Granted, he can’t exactly demand that Derek come out, since the decision to come out is a choice each person has to make on his or her own terms. But I don’t think this relationship is necessarily long for this world. Still, at least it’s going better than the relationship between Hakeem and Laura (Jamila Velazquez), who flips out when she discovers that her fiance has recorded a duet with Tiana (Serayah McNeill). For once, Hakeem is entirely reasonable when he tells Laura that she can’t expect to be on every duet with him, although I get why she’s concerned about what Tiana will do, since the girl comes across as WAY too thirsty at the recording studio. Either way, I really don’t see this Laura/Hakeem relationship working out, which is a shame, because I kind of like them together.
At the very least, I enjoy their romantic drama more than the weird business with Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) slowly regaining her memories about being pushed down the stairs. All her memories are pointing toward Anika (Grace Gealey) being the culprit, but it’s almost too obvious not to be a misdirect. But then, who else would it be that could still lead to any sort of real payoff? Camilla and Mimi are dead, and Cookie’s sisters would make no kind of sense. Hell, I have no idea why Cookie’s sisters are even still in this story, other than to provide more jealous grabs for power. And, I suppose, to introduce a legal danger to the Lyon family, as Carol finds herself seduced by former beau/current federal agent Tariq, who overhears Carol telling her sister that she wants to come clean to Cookie about how she helped Lucious commit a few murders while her sister was locked up. I would imagine this is where the murder of Frank Gathers comes into play, as Lucious could find himself going to prison for any number of crimes. I mean, sheesh, he even has Thirsty (Andre Royo) abandon Harper in the hood, where she’s quickly abducted and likely killed. All for having told Andre the truth about where to find his grandmother. It’s clear Lucious doesn’t care about the lives he needs to end in order to protect his empire, which makes him a dangerous, terrifying, and yet unmistakably compelling character. Even now, he’s faced with the possibility of having to murder his mother, after Leah holds him at knife point and forces him to eat cake, in what is easily the most disturbing scene of the episode. Her apology for not killing him when she had the chance is downright bone-chilling, and that ending made it clear that both Lucious and Leah Walker cannot survive. Somebody’s got to go, and I sincerely doubt it’s going to be Lucious. But can a man ever come back from killing his own mother? Or is it too great a stain on his soul? Could Lucious really go through with it? I feel like the next few weeks will define the Lucious Lyon character for the rest of the series, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
But what did you think of Empire Season 2 Episode 16, “The Lyon Who Cried Wolf”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Empire, read our review of last week’s epic “More Than Kin”!