EMPIRE – the season finale… say what?!

EMPIRE just finished its first season, catapulting itself into a completely different direction. Old storylines wilted, while new ones bloomed. There was a good song or two in between all the drama. Ultimately, I’m not too certain I like the new direction EMPIRE is headed.

Beware this review will discuss what happened with SPOILERS and opinionated analysis from a true fan / movie nerd.

The engine that drives EMPIRE is that Lucious Lyon, the head of a popular record label, is dying. He tells his three sons one of them will take over the company once he passes on. This is a great Hook. This storyline was bold, grabbing my attention right away with promises of conflict between the three brothers. The story got more complicated with Cookie, Lucious’ ex-wife who helped create Empire. She spent years behind bars, rather than rat out Lucious. These complex characters were ripe for exploration.

Then this episode, the very first season finale, un-did all that hard work. It ripped the hook from our cheeks.

The engine that drove EMPIRE is gone. Erased. Lucious isn’t dying. He never had ALS. He was mis-diagnosed. Say what?! The whole concept of this series is no more. Why?

Did EMPIRE “Jump the Shark” with the Finale?

Imagine BREAKING BAD doing the same thing EMPIRE just did? In that show, Walt is told he has Cancer and he will die. He’s so desperate to leave some money behind for his family he enters into the world of crime. This was a solid premise that drove the entire show across multiple seasons. So… What if Walt was cured of Cancer by the end of Season 1? Would this show have succeeded? BREAKING BAD is listed as one of the best shows ever. Ever. But it wouldn’t have been without these drastic stakes motivating the story and characters.

Did the producers of EMPIRE create a story that would arc over 3 seasons? Maybe they didn’t expect the massive popularity. Now FOX tells them they need more content. This show can last more than 3 seasons. So the writers had to quickly create an extended storyline so the series could run for a few more seasons.

I still feel like this storyline of the dying Emperor could return, and the producers will still end the show the original way they intended. But for now, all these storylines from Season 1 are erased. It started a couple of episodes ago. Unfortunately, it continued to the point where there’s no more ALS.

The new storyline revolves around a hostile takeover. A mutiny from within. Hakeem crosses over to the Dark Side, working with his ex-step-mom Anika (aka Booboo Kitty aka Not Halle Berry) and Judd Nelson’s villainous CEO of a rival record company. It gets worse, Hakeem wants to get back at Lucious so bad he’s sleeping with his father’s ex-fiance. Say what? He twists the knife further during a big performance – freestyling hate against Lucious.

I wonder if it would have been better to simply hint at the hostile takeover in the finale, and follow through with it next season? There were just so many new storylines rising from the ashes of the old ones. You know, “Old”, as in a whole episode ago.

Meanwhile, Jamal dropped his album without any big set-up or anything. Did I miss something? This episode also saw a drastic shift in his character. Jamal is sent out to get the original master tapes of Lucious’ recordings. Maybe it’s just me, but I did not expect Jamal to go all Suge Knight. He snapped out of nowhere. Again… Did I miss something? Jamal dangles the man over a balcony, head first, threatening to kill him. Character-wise, this seems like something Andre would do instead. Dre’s already been established as a loose cannon – an emotional character capable of snapping and using extreme measures to get ahead.

Andre has quite the shift in story too. Last episode, he was tended to by Jennifer Hudson’s character. It seemed like she was introducing prayer and religion into his life. It seemed like she would help where medicine couldn’t. So the finale did what it does – it erased the storyline. Lucious, discovering how much Hudson means to Dre, and how much she distracts him from the company, offers her a stack of coin to leave the Church and sing for him at a super-important event. She agrees, ‘cuz… re-write time.

It gets crazier… Andre’s wife left him in the first hour of the Finale. She’s had enough. Years and years of supporting him and dealing with his issues, she leaves. Only to return for the second hour and kill Dre’s Uncle. Yeah, that’s right. Uncle is dead. Did I miss something? Now, this reunited couple will have to evade authorities and cover-up this death. I’m thinking Season 2 could see Lucious taking the rap for this disappearance as well.

BOO!

My review for last episode stated how I was worried EMPIRE could tread into soap opera territory and go crazy with out-there plot twists. I joked that they would have ghosts. Well, guess what. This finale had a ghost! This specter visited Lucious in a drugged fever dream of sorts. Where Cookie conveniently stumbles in to hear Lucious reveal his deepest darkest secrets while TALKING IN HIS SLEEP?! Where did this come from? Couldn’t there be a more active way for Cookie to discover this monumental secret?

It’s like EMPIRE hired a whole new set of writers for the back half of the season. Did the real talent in control simply set-up the first 6 episodes or something? It just doesn’t feel right.

And it gets soapier… Cookie is shocked to hear about this murder. She takes this opportunity to almost get revenge and kill Lucious. She approaches him with a pillow, ready to suffocate him when we Cut To: Commercial. A fast forward later on the DVR and Lucious is watching security camera footage of Cookie with the super-dangerous pillow.

This conveniently destroys their trust. This creates the conflict for future episodes when Lucious will think Cookie set him up with the Police. I would have appreciated a more carefully crafted excuse for their relationship to shift so drastically.

I really enjoyed EMPIRE until is started to unravel its tightly woven storylines. Sure, it always had some soapier moments. There’s a lot of romance. But there were a lot of other elements too. I hope the creative team re-balances itself for next season.

The real highlight of this series is the characters and the world of music. The concept used to be a strong driving force until the mis-diagnosis reveal. That said, the music in the Finale was great, as per usual. Jennifer Hudson performed an impressive number. There were good cameos from SNOOP and PATTI LaBELLE. Jamal had that song he worked on with Lucious. Then Jamal performed the song on-stage. I enjoyed myself with those scenes.

While I was disappointed with the make-over, I’ll still tune in next season to see what happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time with these characters already. And I’ve had a lot of fun too. There might be some intriguing stories to pursue with Lucious behind bars. But I get the feeling, instead of Lucious running OZ, or a long trial, we’ll see him out on bail or freed (for some reason) by the second episode of Season 2.

I hope EMPIRE returns to its roots. I want to see this family fight for the CEO title. I like watching Cookie crack insults like a whip. I like the complex relationships and character flaws. I like Tianna – where’d she go?

And I love the music. I love seeing the creative side of the initial idea, to mixing and recording, to performing in a music video or on stage. Give me more of that EMPIRE. Please. No more shark jumping.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Are you happy with EMPIRE scrapping the whole Lucious is dying concept?

Do you want more music?

Or do you want a continued focus on the crime elements?

Did you want more jokes from Cookie?

Will Lucious be in jail for long?

Who will run Empire?

Is Jamal just a temporary leader?

How will Andre hide his wife’s crime?

Oh, and I saw Tianna in the background for like one second. What happened to her story?

Did EMPIRE just Jump the Shark?

So... What'd you think?

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