“Empire” is famous for going out with a bang, but the trigger happy series restrained itself during the Season 3 fall finale Wednesday night (Dec. 14).
Entitled “A Furnace for your Foe,” the episode found new business alliances formed as romantic relationships were reborn… Or hit a roadblock. But since no one got shot, arrested, or married their son’s baby mama, it seemed pretty tame.
While the hour still deliciously frothed over with the usual theatrics sometimes, Lucious secretly meeting Mrs. Dubois on a Ferris wheel to hatch a deal was a delightfully fun change of scenery, the FOX series has simmered down the drama from past seasons. Viewers no longer feel like they have whiplash after each episode. Remember that Season 1 finale?
“Empire” has since melted into a real sweet spot. The characters’ actions line up with the hands they’ve been dealt. And it all comes to a head in a very satisfying way.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the fall finale, an issue important enough to make the entire Lyon family set aside their differences and come together, was an intervention for Jamal.
Jamal (Jussie Smollett) will be heading to rehab during the show’s winter break. Over the course of his recovery from getting shot last season, the superstar singer slowly became dependent on his medications, snowballing to the point that he became completely useless without them. “Empire” took its time showing this progression, and we watched throughout the season as Jamal’s dependency on drugs ruined his love life, familial relationships, and how the PTSD heavily bruised his career.
So when Jamal is throwing up from withdrawal, the look on Cookie’s (Taraji P. Henson) face when she cracks open the sink pipe to give her son just enough pills to perform is a heartbreaking, and complicated scene. We don’t want Cookie to abet Jamal, but it’s also too hard watching him in so much pain.
At first, it seems completely out of character for Cookie to acquiesce to Jamal’s request for drugs. Cookie has always put her children first no matter what. So what if she promised her boyfriend, his high powered mother, and thousands of screaming fans that he’d perform? She could care less. Her baby is sick and in trouble. This woman went to jail for 17 years to keep her kids safe!
So the moment Jamal steps offstage, the way Cookie coddles him down the steps, the unnatural high tone in her voice, it was clear something was up: Hats off to Henson. Her acting performance in this episode is beyond merit. The slap she gives Jamal before he steps on stage, her nerves while walking towards the family lined up for an intervention, and then the pain in her eyes when she tells Jamal they’re sending him to rehab — it’s beyond impressive.
Lucious, jilted by his deal with Diana Dubois, tries to throw Angelo’s mayoral run under the bus. Angelo (Taye Diggs) admits to being convicted of a DUI at 17… To which Cookie reacts with a point-blank “What teenager doesn’t?” response. Nice try, Lucious!
But when the reporter mentions that a female died in the passenger seat, that Angelo apparently escaped from the drowning car by leaving her for dead after the vehicle went off a ledge — well, clearly a discussion needs to be had. Cookie has a high-rise apartment-sized closet full of skeletons — we know she’ll hear Angelo out before making any snap decisions about the fate of their relationship.
Because of Lucious’ psycho mother, the crazy kinky hook-ups between Lucious and Boo Boo Kitty (Grace Byers) may come to abrupt end. But this relationship is already twisted beyond repair, and should finally be laid to rest. And on the other end of the ex reunion spectrum, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Grey) and Tiana (Seraya) have rekindled their romance. We’d ship this hard… If Tiana weren’t queer, and merely going along with it because it’s what the fans want.
Andre (Trai Byers), after his “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” come-to-Jesus moment, finally lets go of hallucination Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday). His new agenda to take over Empire now includes not only making Nessa a star, but killing his father. And he’s enlisted Shyne (Xzibit) to help him.
Usually, it’s ridiculous to think about a show’s star getting killed off, but in this instance, it’s not unthinkable. There’s more than enough strong main characters and drama in play. It’s sad to say, but if Howard were to leave, the series would roll on just fine.
“Empire’ returns with new episodes March 27.