‘Empire’ returns with high stakes and drama

By Joe Passantino
Staff Writer 

When “Empire” burst onto the scene last January, its frenetic pace and shocking plot twists ballooned its ratings to astounding levels. The novelty surrounding the show has worn down in a year’s time, but “Empire” has plenty of excitement left to offer its millions of viewers. Season two’s mid-season premiere aired on Wednesday, March 30, with episode 11, “Death Will Have His Day.” The new episode opens with several new character directions, giving the show plenty to explore over the next few weeks.

The decision to kill off Andre and Rhonda’s baby is a good, creative choice, and the show’s handling of this situation is powerful. When viewers see the pregnant Rhonda, bloody and struggling on the floor of her home, it encapsulates the darkness of “Empire’s” world. Her struggle to believe in God has been a huge part of Andre’s recent development. We had seen religion as the only thing keeping his bipolar character together — if he follows Rhonda in losing his belief, he might go over the edge. It’s not a pleasant outcome, but one that should prove fascinating to watch.

As far as the identity of who pushed Rhonda down the stairs, I hope it is not Anika. The episode did a good job leading us in that direction, as it made clear the pregnant Anika’s possible motive (wanting her son to be Empire Entertainment’s heir). Nonetheless, it is often more impactful when a mystery results in an unexpected culprit. Certainly, “Empire” has become known for its twists, so it would make sense for Anika to be a red herring here.

I liked seeing Hakeem’s development throughout the episode, following his ousting of Lucious as Empire CEO. Hakeem was desperate to get out of his father’s shadow last season and now it seems he’s finally done it. Of course, he’s also made an enemy of a former ally in his mother. Throughout “Empire’s” run, we have seen different members of the family feuding with one another — in this case, Hakeem seems to be on a side of his own. This is quite interesting, given that he seems to be in over his head against Cookie and Lucious.

Lucious is as aggressive as ever, albeit from a different position — he is now on the outside, trying to reclaim his throne. This is a refreshing departure from his usual role as the man in power. Where Lucious once was on the defensive against threats to his company, he is now desperate to ensure that his life’s work was not in vain. While family is the core of the show, it has long been evident that Lucious views his musical accomplishments as just as important as his biological ones — perhaps more.

We see this during a dramatic final scene, in which Lucious threatens to kill Hakeem, but offers his son the chance to kill him first. This was perfect in keeping with both characters — Lucious knew Hakeem could not do it and Hakeem showed that he is all bark and no bite. When Lucious ends the episode by saying that he keeps his promises, I certainly believed he would try.

Overall, this episode was a very good start to the season’s second half. Several developments promise to have an impact lasting beyond “Empire’s” usual scope and, as always, it will be fun to watch what happens next.