This Week's 'Empire': 5 Favorite Moments, From 'Hustle & Flow' Reunion to 'Rainbow Sensation'
While laudable in its scope (it covered everything from the politics of prison to soap opera drama), the Empire season 2 premiere juggled too much for one hour of TV. Last night's episode, however, ("Without a Country"; aired Sept. 30) was exactly what you want from Empire: Great music, convincing guest stars and dramatic surprises – like Cookie breaking off to start her own label, Dynasty -- that didn't feel inserted simply for shock value.
From Jussie Smollett's new banger to Ludacris' guest spot, here's our five favorite moments. Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
"Born to Love U"
Damn, this is the kind of thing that could (and should) be heard on the radio. Like many of today's hits (including another U tune, "Where Are U Now"), this track takes a heart-on-sleeve piano ballad and makes it weirder with a vocal modulated hook. If Dynasty wants to challenge Empire for the crown, it's gonna have to work harder.
The Godfather Homage
When Cookie pleads with Jamal to put family first, director Dee Rees (who helmed the Bessie biopic) gives us a Godfather homage that tells us a lot about the future direction of his character in seconds. As Jamal coldly closes the door on his mother, we're reminded of Al Pacino closing the door on Diane Keaton at the end of the first Godfather film and cutting her out of his life.
Hustle & Flow Reunion
When Terrence Howard and Ludacris shared scenes in the top-notch 2005 film Hustle & Flow, Luda played the hip-hop star and Howard played the nobody. It ended with Howard beating on Luda. In this week's Empire, Howard plays the rap mogul and Chris Bridges plays the nobody, a can't-be-bought prison security guard who has it out for Lucious Lyon. Once again, this standoff ends with Ludacris' character getting a beating.
Now on Cookie's rival label Dynasty, Hakeem is looking to create a multi-culti Destiny's Child (including guest star Becky G in a steamy role). His hilariously unfortunate name for the group: Rainbow Sensation, which Cookie says "may be the dumbest name known to man." Cookie also gets in a sideways swipe at Jennifer Lopez: "Ain't nothing wrong with a couple J.Los [in the group]. As long as they can really sing."
Andre Royo (Bubbles from The Wire) is, simply put, a fucking great actor. His performance as Lucious' new sleazy but effective lawyer was instantly believable -- the second he got on camera, you felt you knew who this character was. The knock-off suit costuming helped, but ultimately, it was Royo -- he's an actor who tells a story before he even opens his mouth.