I'm going to keep it 100: I hated the majority of Empire's second season. It popped-and-locked into the sophomore slump with messy, ill-explained storylines and was jam-packed with guest stars (Chris Rock as a creepy cannibalistic prison kingpin? Sure!). Luckily, the stacked cast—featuring Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and Jussie Smollett—was able to elevate the material, so it was at least watchable.
Prior to Wednesday’s premiere, the powers that be made big promises to re-center the lion's share of the focus to the Lyon family. And like a revitalized singer armed with a divorce album, Empire staged one hell of a comeback.
The season three premiere opened with the power and swag that it’s known for by picking up mere seconds after a vengeance-crazed Rhonda attacked pregnant Anika on a rooftop. And it’s not a terrible shock that it’s also Rhonda who plummets to her death. Andre, just witnessing his wife's murder, also physically confronts Anika (Sidenote: can we not make violence against pregnant women a trend on his show or any other? Thanks). The two murder attempts triggers premature labor, and sobered Andre enough to take her to the hospital. This tear-soaked, rage-charged scene is made all the more harrowing when you remember that players, Grace Gealey and Trai Byers, were recently married.
What followed is the most legitimately intense delivery television in recent television history. Lucious strolls into the delivery room under the guise of the new father-to-be only to whisper sweet death threats and a cover story in Anika’s ear. It's a deliciously sinister twist on the encouragements to "push" during child birth.
All of this happened in the first seven minutes.
The rest of the beautifully directed "Light In Darkness" flows with an unrushed fluidity that was mostly missing from season 2, and yet it still managed to set up upcoming storylines with compelling flare: a blasphemously low-energy Cookie is crumbling from heartbreak from Lucious and Anika’s marriage of convenience; Jamal is struggling with anxiety from his shooting as he pushes himself to return to music with an all too timely Black Lives Matter message (see below); half-brother and full-on FBI agent Tariq is closing in on Lucious' empire; and Xzibit's volatile producer sets his treacherous gaze on a vulnerable Hakeem.
The only lowpoint of the episode (excluding Lucious; Billy Dee Williams makeunder) is Andre's arc as the grieving husband. It's not that Trai Byers isn't performing the hell out of the storyline, because he is, and he has. The issue is the melodramatic and problematic representation of mental illness that hasn't improved in three seasons. Andre was originally conceived as the even-keeled, Ivy League respectable black man, but yet his journey has been the most bonkers. From recording booth suicide attempts to mental institutions to born-again Bible-thumper to grieving father, Andre's new title as hallucinating widower feels like the cherry on the Empire's most depressing sundae. Here's hoping the ghost of his pancaked wife will coax him through it quickly, and maybe stick around to haunt Lucious. He totally deserves it.
Photo Credits: tvline.com
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.