As The Empire Crumbles » VSB

Featured, Music, Pop Culture, Theory & Essay

As The Empire Crumbles

Fox screenshot


Empire is a huge show. Season One’s success caught everybody by surprise, including the people who created the show and you cannot convince me otherwise. I even claimed, hyperbolically, that Empire was the best show on television for a number of paradoxical reasons. Each week, last season, the viewership grew and for good reason.

With Empire, you really never know what was going to happen next. The entire premise of the show made little sense but me and you (your mama, and your cousin too) were drawn to the Lyon family, especially Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon, the recently released from a 17-year-bid felon returning to take back her family. It was like The Cosby Show (too soon?), only if Cliff and Claire sold weight instead of going to college. This unpredictability was part of the Empire charm. It turned into one of those shows for which celebrities wanted a cameo. I mean, hell, who WOULDN’T want to be a guest star on the biggest show to hit television and Black America in years. The characters were likable enough and believable enough – in a “is this what life is like at Puff’s house every day?” kind of way – that we reluctantly forgave some of the utterly fuckin’ non-sensical scenes towards the end of season one. Like the scene where Lucious is laying in bed being visited by Casper, which if memory serves, was himself. Like I said, some things we just forgave.

To be real, the only true way to enjoy Empire is to take it at face value and not delve in to deeply. It’s like Young Thug songs or sausage. Like that that last sentence; it makes sense but only if you don’t try to analyze it too deeply. You just have to watch and enjoy then go watch something else without trying to make the show mean more than it does.

But that’s the problem, it’s getting harder and harder to watch and ignore the non-sense.

Empire is a show full of non-sequiturs and incomplete then completely forgotten storylines that everybody seems to get over almost instantly. For instance, on episode 5 of this season, Hakeem gets kidnapped. On episode 6, the kidnappers, who are not the best kidnappers ever, lose Hakeem who asks a guy who was driving a van he was in to let him out, only for Hakeem to run up on Boo Boo Kitty for some aggression sex. Or something. I said “hunh??” at my television so loudly I almost activated a Master P station on Pandora – I’ve got a SmartTV. And because the writers for Empire – sorry Lee Daniels, you suck – aren’t good enough to really add nuance and depth to Hakeem’s pscyhe, we get a lot of scenes with Hakeem pseudo-being sucked back into his mind and being upset over what happened and attempting to deal with it. An actor is only as good as the material. Thanks to the material, you can’t really tell if Hakeem is dealing PTSD or if his captors put an LSD patch under one of his tattoos. But the point is: kidnapping then quick rescue. Back to back, pretty cleanly and let’s move on with only scant references from others about what happened (well aside from Luscious making it seem like he bitched out). That’s the Empire way. There are no elephants in the room. They killed the elephants and sent them to Bolivion, only to be heard of again when somebody in the writers room says, “hey, you rememember that time we did x 10 episodes ago but never actually mentioned again? Let’s bring that back!”

Let’s not even talk about Jamal’s daughter who showed up in season one and everybody was like “cool”. Then she was gone at some point and everybody was like “cool”.

I was also irritiated by Lucious attempting to explain to Cookie what happens during a kidnapping, a woman that if memory serves correct, was as heavy into the game as Lucious was, enough to get nearly two dimes of time, but all of a sudden she has NO recollection of street life? Her street acumen was her biggest draw, which is also a problem with this season.

Let me get this right: Cookie starts a record label called Lyon Dynasty, and is headquartered in the hood somewhere (somewhere in Brooklyn?), but she doesn’t have the wherewithal to hire security? At all? Come on. This is a woman who sleeps with a gun and knows how to use it. But security isn’t a concern of hers? Not even a smidge? Not UNTIL one of her artists gets robbed in the building and her son gets kidnapped? They’re using this security storyline as an arc for the season as the introduction of the dude she fell in love with in that Tyler Perry movie they were in together where he was a bearded saint of sorts. But the very premise makes SO little sense that its a turnoff.

This charm of last season’s “I didn’t expect that at all!” is full of “what the fuck did my television just show me because that’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever seen in my life, Empire you’re failing”. It’s a subtle difference, but they’re treading into Tyler Perry “just make it work, maybe nobody will notice” territory. Last season, Empire had the element of surprise working in its favor. Because we had no real comparison, we were all in for the ride together. This season, however, as folks waited for the premiere and have watched the first six episodes, viewership has dipped (though still remaining very high), and I think its because the formula they had for season one, they’ve kicked into hyperdrive for season two. Personalities already exaggerated have gotten more ridiculous. Andre has started to become somebody you hide from on Saturday mornings s when you hear a knock at your door. Jamal’s singing has begun to grate AND he’s not good at business. Only Hakeem is as insufferable as he was on season one, which was really insufferable. Once you add in non-sensical plot points like studio sessions in prison (though this is the same prison for which an inmate managed to cut off the head of another inmate and have it sent to Cookie, so I guess anything is possible here), record labels in the hood with no security, and Andre going full zealot, its starts to become a bit too much.

The fun is gone. Now it’s forced ridiculous. A rapper puts a bible verse into his song while performing and Lucious loses his shit like he’s about to cost them money. Except DMX was  one of the biggest rappers ever and would probably be a preacher if this rap thing didn’t work out (it kind of didn’t after a certain point). Same with Tupac. Or any number of rappers. But that’s a problem because it agitates Lucious and his conflict with Andre. Or there’s Freda Gatts being annoyed by some random dude who is able to bother her DURING HER SHOW and security never intervenes. The more you watch, the more it’s like, were the writers even there for this scene or did they just hand over some blank pages and say, “club scene: y’all figure out the details.”

Many years ago, I remember when Girlfriends hit season 3 and it took a turn for the worse. Back then I posited that many of our shows seemed primed to get maybe two seasons tops, so the writers all prepared for that and gave it their all, so when they were given a third, they were caught with their pants down and kind of threw things together, but never matching the past glory.

Empire seems kind of like that. Of course, it got a second season, but maybe the writers weren’t prepared for that. Hell, they weren’t prepared for Empire to blow the way it did so when they hit the drawing board, with the pressure to be as good and top the first season on, they turned up all the elements from the first season that “worked”. And here we are with people not nearly as enthused by the show as they used to be.

There’s a thin line between love and hate. There’s also a thin line between “I didn’t expect that! Awesome!” and “WTF did I just see, that’s ridiculous, what’s on BET right now?”

I keep trying to watch on auto-pilot, but sometimes you need to look where you’re going. And I’m not sure if Empire is going my way anymore.

Oh, who am I kidding. I’m going to keep watching the trainwreck anyway.


(Also, you might say to yourself, Panama, if you don’t like it, don’t watch, why complain. To which I’ll say, I vote, I smoke, I drank – I’m supposed to stop but I can’t – and I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of Empire so I have a right to present some criticisms as well. Fight me!)


Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at

  • Dougie

    I saw one episode and couldn’t watch it again. I think I’m in the minority, though.

    • Val

      I didn’t even make it through one episode. I turned it off after about 10 minutes.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Being the musical mastermind you are, how you gonna forget the prison studio?????

    Watching Empire is like watching an old school Black Exploitation film where the stunt double is way off, you see the strings, the fake blood and the bad acting. We see all of this yet we still watch.

    • panamajackson

      I mentioned the prison studio! Also, i wrote an entire post about that. I think I’m good money on that.

  • haute_coutoy

    I randomly thought about Lola while watching the other day. Where did she go? And thats all I got from that episode… well this whole season actually. Shrugs. #overit

    • tgtaggie

      I guess she’s in a carseat in the back seat of the DA’s car sitting behind Vernon.

    • blackmoses

      Didn’t she and Olivia (Raven-Symoné’s character) move back home to New Orleans after they shot the abusive boyfriend?

  • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

    The arc of EMPIRE reminds me of the oath DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES took. Bare with me for a sec:

    WHen Desperate Housewives premiered it was a quirky mystery about the dark underpinings of the all-american (virtually all-white) suburb of Wysteria. It’s main character was dead and her voice-over was gonna walk you thru which one of her seemingly above-board neighbors killed her and why.

    But after a few episodes and low ratings, the writers went all yolo on us and turned it into a nighttime soap where everybody was smanging and scheming and sashaying and molesting highschool poolboys and Terrell Owens was banging Nicole Sheridan and Oprah almost got snuffed…

    The result: a phenom was born.

    Enter EMPIRE:

    By accident or expectation, most of us saw the EMPIRE promo early last year and thought “ooh a Hiphop Business Drama?! hope it’s authentic to the cause and the culture, etc.” We got all wrapped up in “our people” “finally coming up”.

    It took 2 episodes for that ish to go into awww-hell-haww-blackety-glammed-up-urban-soapopera hyperdrive.

    And to be real, the way panama feels about empire, is the way i feel about Scandal. I thought Scandal was gonna be this gritty political-crisis-of-the-week where Olivia smartly bails out powerplayers and navigates the shark infested waters of DC.

    By episode 4, Season One, I stopped complaining and said “ok, another nighttime soap… I see you, Shonda.”

    Braincandy sells when done well.

    It’s all rotting my brain, but I just smile through the pain.

    • Desperate Housewives’ writers got desperate real fast after the first season. That was sad to watch.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I see what you did there.

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        DH went off the rails soooo quick. like everybody got drunk in the writers room and said “yo condo paid off yet? mine ain’t. so let’s do this.”

        • lol Yeah seriously. They were like, “Nothing says quality like a black man being held captive in his own mother’s basement!” and off they went.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            That part was creepy. Really creepy.

            • Yeah. I was down for the pool boy plot line and that sort of thing. But then they were reversing blindness and all kinds of craziness.

              • RewindingtonMaximus

                I kept being weirded out by the idea that their kids started being part of the story lines…and then I just faded out.

          • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

            OMG! I remember that. I didn’t know whether to call Al Sharpton or Wendy Williams… I think I just watched football and tried to block it out.

            thanks for bringin that memory back. way to be a trauma trigger.


            • lol Sorry but I have been unable to forget! It was SO bad.

              • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

                so much fetish… so much.

    • Nick Peters

      It’s a negrovella

      • sasha

        This is amazing

    • blackmoses

      To be fair, whenever Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, or anyone else talked about “Empire” in the press, he made it clear from the start that the show was supposed to be a primetime soap, essentially Black “Dynasty” – which, more or less, is what it is, just on severe uppers and without a core to hold all of the mania together.

      Ilene Chaiken was hired as their showrunner in part because she’d worked for Arron Spelling when he was making “Dynasty” – and also because she’d created “The L Word”.

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        yeah if that’s true, then fair enough… the lack of “core” is gonna hurt the show long-term… so will all the stunt casting for the sake of stunt casting… EMPIRE can work for 5-7 years if they develop and carry thru a couple decent storylines.

  • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

    hey yall ever watch NASHVILLE? It’s sorta the white version of EMPIRE built around country music. it’s all family-values-y-lily-white-drama., but not bad… anyway:

    I keep imagining an EMPIRE-NASHVILLE crossover arc where Hakeem’s tour bus breaks down in the south and he ends up doing a Nelly-Brad-Paisley collab with Will Lexington, the white gay country star who secretly lusts after Jamal who’s “taken a liking to the honesty of country music” all while Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) the alcoholic bipolar superstar gets into a catfight with Cookie because Cookie decided she needed some swirl in her life in the form of Juliette Barnes’ babydaddy who just got sole custody cuz Juliette went on another bender and…

    *puts down my daily hennessy and kahlua banana smoothie and walks away from keyboard*

    • I watch Nashville faithfully. I love it lol…also…can we make this idea happen? Because it makes sense and I’m here for it!

      • haute_coutoy

        I too am here for this crossover.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Sidenote: Since you were gracious enough to show me what you look like as a hot unicorn, I forgot to send you a pic of my Halloween costume.

        Not as great as yours, but I tried.

        I was dressed to kill.

        • What were you being? A black gangsta samurai?

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Pretty much. Amazon & UPS wouldn’t let me be late and delayed my costume. So I pulled out a suit, bought some roses, and found my sword, and VIOLA! Lil ol me.

            • you shoulda said you were being Tuxedo Mask.

              • RewindingtonMaximus

                ooooohh damn I did not think of that. I would have still needed a top hat, a cape, and a mask…but you’re right! Might have to remember that for next year, get my Sailor Moon on.

                • HA! My friends and I were talking about going as the Sailor Scouts Group costume needs to happen!!

                  • RewindingtonMaximus

                    Lisssssssssssssssssssen! If you about this life, I’m riding. No lie.

                    • LOl YES!!! you can be our Tuxedo Mask!

        • Cleojonz

          You look pretty darn good in a suit! I hope you had a happy birthday.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Why thank you Ms. Jonz. I had a great birthday. It aint over there, I own this whole month, because I’m greedy and stuff.

            So you know that means birthday shots til I can’t take anymore…join me!

        • LadyIbaka

          Rewind!!!!!! Love it!

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Thank you baby cakes, you know how us Scorpios gotta do.

        • QuirlyGirly

          Very nice!! Red and black look good on you.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Thank you kindly madam. I tried to be spiffy.

        • Sigma_Since 93


    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Um…do you have another one of those smoothies?

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        lol. maing another one so i can catch up on my DVR list.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          I need one for this bus ride I’m about to do…another one so I can finish up work…and probably a last one before I go to sleep

    • bigheadbaby

      Family values on Nashville? Where? LOL #sexdrugscountrymusic

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        exactly, southerfried family values… lol.

        Come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone on Nashville is sober this season. Except for Juliette’s baby, and I’d check that baby bottle myself.

    • RedSoleSista

      Nashville is my favorite train wreck show. I love the hot mess that is Juliette Barnes and the girl that has hair like a mermaid. I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t get past episode three of Empire this season. I just read the recaps on EW.

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        EMPIRE is very glammy to me… just lots of vaseline’d caramel faces and not-so-subtle hints of glitter.

    • Skegeeaces

      Can I get the recipe for dat smoothie doh?!

    • bigheadbaby

      It was so funny to me when Will was taken to the gay club and wasn’t feeling all that dance music. I was like…they fixing to take your gay card, man…LOL What is a hick gay man to do?

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        yippie ki yay, where the brothers at? LOL…

    • bigheadbaby

      Will and Jamal as a couple…wow. I would pay to see that swirl on screen.

    • blackmoses

      One of “Nashville”‘s writers, Wendy Calhoun, quit that show so that she could come and work on “Empire” instead; she’d been jokingly pitching a Black “Nashville” spinoff called “Detroit” in the writers’ room for quite some time.

      • SirKnows DevoidofPunk

        See Nashville is a night-time soap (in my opinion, at least) but it feels so much more cohesive than EMPIRE. hope Wendy brings some more structure to Empire or that show could be over in another season or two, max.

    • Pocahontas9798

      Omg agreed!

    • dmcmillian72

      This would actually be AWESOME!!! Except that the character of Juliette is suffering from postpartum depression…undiagnosed…and that’s why she is swan diving off into the deep end. It’s so sad to watch her character. But I’m also shocked that NO ONE on the show seems to recognize that just maybe a new mother might have PPD!

  • Jocelyn

    Once again, Panama is strumming my pain with his fingers and singing my life with his words. I enjoyed Empire because it was like a hip hop soap opera. It is going so far off the rails now that I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to hang on. Jamal’s singing is SO annoying but if it means we don’t have to hear Lucious rap, then give me more Jamal. Has Andre’s church going cured his bipolar disorder? The Lord I serve would tell that boy to keep taking those meds. They are also neglecting some of the second tier characters and making them even more minor. This would have been a great season to expand Anika and Becky’s roles. Well, Becky has a boo now (while I’m our here single dinamug).

    • LehcarB

      “This would have been a great season to expand Anika and Becky’s roles.”

      Thats why I stopped. No development at all, Anika is just there and it’s sad. Also maybe it was me but when Andre’s wife said she was pregnant and nobody questioned the paternity?

      • Jocelyn

        And shouldn’t that kid about be here? She’s been pregnant forever.

    • sasha

      “The Lord I serve would tell him to keep taking those meds.” DEAD.

  • Aly

    I stopped watching after the first episode this season. Kudos to you for making it this far.

    • Amber

      Me too. I remember watching the first episode of this season and thinking did I miss something because even though i watched all of 1st season. The show just leaps around.

    • YeaSoh

      Yeah I’m definitely off dat

  • Totally didn’t need the image of young thug sausage Panama.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Should not be surprised Empire is beyond ridiculous now. You can’t have a first season like they did and expect a GOOD second season.

    Greatness only comes in a moment, not for a length of time. As great as Empire was, it will turn into Lost: a show of epic proportion that tripped on it’s own D I C K.

    • Jennifer

      “As great as Empire was, it will turn into Lost: a show of epic proportion that tripped on it’s own D I C K.”

      Shoot! Lost had us watching through 6 seasons cuz the producer said he KNEW how the show would end. Nah, he just knew what his last shot would be. *eye-roll*

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Exactly. That show died after season 2, and if they had just left it alone, it would have been one of the most extraordinary pieces of visual art ever produced.

        What is it now? A real good show that stupid as fuck the longer you watch it.

  • I thought the guy the kidnappers paid the G to just let Hakeem out after the ransom was dropped in the garbage can next to the welder in the park?

    As for Andre going full zealot I’ve met a lot of newly saved folks act that way.

    Freda seems to have awfully thin skin for a rapper. It’s kind of meekmillian in a way because she previously pulled her pistol on a guy in a freestyle battle.

    • miss t-lee

      Very thin skin. She ain’t gon’ make it.

      • I’m like toughen up. If I may quote that great American philosopher fool-a** Lawrence Taylor “This ain’t no tennis match!”

        • miss t-lee

          Yeah, she definitely needs to.

    • QuirlyGirly

      meekmillian- is that a word now? LOL

      • Yes.

        • QuirlyGirly

          Can we get a definition? Since you already used it in a sentence.

          • meekmillian – adj – Repeated actions displaying a somewhat needy and malleable self-esteem and emotional state which are contrary to ones perceived persona or actions of ruggedness.

More Like This