Some of that Mad Men magic must have rubbed off on Danny Strong thanks to his time acting on that show. As both writer and director of “The Lyon’s Roar,” he managed to crank out an episode rife with big and little moments of drama, while maintaining a bit of Lee Daniels melodrama to boot.
He connected this week by sticking to a theme of entropy, this feeling that everything that comes together must surely also come apart. It was like watching a slow motion earthquake as the cracks in the facade started to grow bigger and more dangerous.
The familial love that Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, and Hakeem were experiencing when recording a song together, slowly dwindled as the two brothers fought over who was singing the final verse and the former husband and wife attempted to rekindle the flame and got burned in the process. Andre’s tenuous grasp on sanity was finally cut loose after the board of directors at Empire rejected his ploy to become interim CEO should anything happen to his dad, and his wife finally decided she was through with being a sexual pawn in his attempt at a power grab. And while the relationship between Lucious and his fiancée aimed at reconciliation, even after Anika admitted she saw her betrothed and his ex getting it on, completely collapsed, sending her to the front door of rival hip-hop impresario Billy Beretti at the episode’s end. Nothing gold can stay in the world of Empire.
Strong turned nearly every scene into a Big Moment for someone in the Lyon family. None bigger, though, than Jamal finally coming out of the closet in a public way. It was the final nail in the coffin to this big legacy album and documentary that Lucious wanted as part of their IPO victory lap and as a moment of harmony to send him off as he starts to buckle under the weight of his ALS diagnosis. Instead, the patriarch was just mad, while the rest of his family cheered the young man on. That they had to do a flashback to the awful cross-dressing/toss in the garbage can moment from episode one was unfortunate, but it still made for one of the series’ best scenes thus far.
In entropic fashion, the empire is falling to pieces at an exponential rate. Lucious serves to lose most everything at this point. Cookie wants no more to do with him. Anika is on her way out the door. Hakeem and Jamal would much rather back one another up than their vengeful, homophobic dad. And Andre, playing Russian roulette in the studio towards the episode’s end, could wind up turning that pistol on the people closest to him before this season wraps up in a month. Something or someone is going to bring it all back from the brink, but until that reveals itself, all I can see in my mind’s eye is the slow collapse of Empire’s ivory tower.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.