‘Empire’ roars back for new season

Posted April 13, 2016


When “Empire,” the hip-hop soap opera, debuted on Fox on Jan. 7, 2015, it drew a lot of attention from the viewing public. Its cast encumbered with Oscar-nominated stars and guest stars, included plenty of family warfare and featured music from the most popular artists in the music business. It was definitely building hopes and expectations.

Fortunately, “Empire” roared out to the small screen again on March 30, when season three premiered on Fox, with much of the continuous impudence from the Lyon family that appeared in its initial run. Certainly captivating critics’ attention by the bursting dramatic scenes of violence, catchy new songs, diamond-encrusted and fur-lined wardrobe and, of course, Cookie, seen as the “sacrificial lamb” for Empire Entertainment.

Although produced, in Chicago, this drama is set in New York and dives into the daily struggles of a hip-hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment. The stream of drama and violence among the members of the Lyon family reaches a crescendo as they fight for control of the company. This third season of “Empire” sheds light on this aspect of control.

Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), a former drug dealer, has dubbed himself as a “hip-hop mogul” and CEO of Empire Entertainment. In season two, he found out he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder. This, in addition to his entire negative past, was caving in on him.

Lucious, focused on training one of his three sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), to take over the family business. However, soon, family warfare would brew as each of them was fighting for the soul of Empire Entertainment or at least a portion of the cast-producing business.

There is a main narrative thrust of the second season, which helps foreshadow the circumstances unfolding in season three. Each family member, including Cookie, the mother of lucious’ three sons who is released from prison after taking the fall for her drug-induced past, just wants Empire and they are willing to take any measure such as, backstabbing, double-dealing, and so forth to make that happen. As Cookie states, “Blood may be thicker than water, but it’s positively soupy when compared with gold.”

Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y. Gray), the rotten youngest Lyon, is at odds with his father Lucious. There are countless moments where Lucious subjects Hakeem to maltreatment during seasons one and two, which sparks Hakeem to go on his own path.

During the season three premiere, he states, “For all the wrong he has done to me, dad deserves the worst.”

Hakeem proves he’s the Lyon that roars the loudest when he succeeds in removing Lucious as the CEO and chairman of Empire Entertainment. The youngest Lyon now holds the empire in the palm of his hand. After years of dirty deals, violence and hard work, Lucious finds himself in a hopeless state, thanks to his youngest son, Hakeem.

The season three premier has touched on the twists and turns of the Lyon Family and the many complications that filtered out new angles on the central conflict- the battle for control of Empire Entertainment. Written and directed by Danny Strong, the hour episode felt like a rerun of Episode 10 from season two.

It picked up where the break left off, with the graphic introductory scene of pregnant Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), Andre’s wife, pushed down a flight of stairs and bleeding profusely. Highly suspenseful music played underneath as the camera zoomed in on her piercing wounds. When seeing this, one would generate a mental question about whom or why this would happen?

Then, soon after, one was led into a red room suggesting a dark mood with Lucious sitting by a piano as he reminisced on the sacrifices he made for the company. The color red symbolizes blood and is associated with the violent energy; war and danger associated with this television series.

There was a steady piano bass in the background accompanying disastrous scenes of cars blown up and violent altercations amongst the Empire Board of Trustees, which were visual representations of Lucious’ thoughts. Lucious’ intense look at the piano leaves one feeling fearful that his ruthless Lyon behavior is about to unleash.

The skirmish over the company, which involved Lucious being ousted and betrayed by his rotten son, Hakeem, generated fury among other family members. One scene illustrated Hakeem holding a gun to his father’s head as Lucious states, “Take my life and shoot me, so that next time I don’t have to be the one that kills you.”

The setting included a bridge and different shades of darkness. Those two aspects alone aroused a feeling of suspense not allowing one to remove their eyes from the screen. Those who have viewed both seasons one and two would agree this scene beginning season three was very reminiscent of when Lucious killed Uncle Vernon (Malik Yoba). The killing took place at the same location, except this time it was in reverse because Hakeem was holding a gun against Lucious.

What remains, then, are the aspects that have made “Empire” Fox’s program of the year. That includes, of course, the musical performances by Jamal and Hakeem. For example, when Jamal performed his song, “Freedom,” after a violent confrontation between Lucious and Hakeem.

This song symbolizes how Hakeem has broken away from his father’s control and has embarked on his own journey as possibly becoming the next CEO of Empire thanks to Camilla (Naomi Campbell.)

After Lucious ousted Camilla from the company in season one, she made promises to Hakeem that she would help him grow as a hip-hop artist. Now, that Camilla has control of the label, it looks like she may hand the company over to Hakeem.

Foremost, “Empire’s” principal attraction remains Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). She is by far everyone’s favorite and she has the best lines out of all the characters. In the premiere of season three, she referred to Campbell’s character as a “half-lesbian” as she snapped at Hakeem and started hitting him with a lamp urging him to hand the company back to his father as she states, “I want to be a family again.” However, will Cookie’s motivations in season three stay true to her statement, regarding family.

Fortunately for Fox, the series has generated positive reviews during seasons one and two and has been a media sensation for many. Director Danny Strong continues to maintain a sense of narrative urgency as he develops the storyline of proceeding episodes for season three. After watching the premiere, one notices how devastated Lucious was after losing his company and how ruthless he has become.

As season three progresses, one will see more of Lucious’ Lyon character of abuse. It is safe to say that he will use his effort and power to have full control over his company again. As he stated, “We’re at war and the empire is at stake. We need to do what we must do to secure the empire.”

  • Title: “Empire”
  • Network: Fox
  • Season three release date: March 30, 2016
  • Length: One episode, 60 minutes
  • Genre: Hip-hop soap opera, drama
  • Actors: Terrence Howard, Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Y. Gray, Naomi Campbell, Taraji P. Henson
  • Special features: explicit language
  • Director: David Strong
  • Rating: A