“Guess that’s that, huh?”
With just four simple words, Empire seemingly said “girl, bye” to the character of Lola, the daughter that Jamal Lyon supposedly conceived with his ex (Raven Symone’s Olivia), but who we learned toward the end of Season 1 had actually been fathered by Jamal’s dad Lucious.
Thirteen months later, though, it turns out that the long unseen Lola could be a loose thread in the tapestry being woven by EPs Ilene Chaiken, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong. You see, Grace Gealey’s Anika is pregnant, and the baby daddy is Jamal’s younger brother Hakeem. That unborn baby’s status as “sole heir” is now the key to an arc in which Anika can flex some power against Lucious (her one-time fiancé), Cookie and the entire Lyon clan.
Thus, just as you’d pluck that loose thread and toss it into the back-alley Dumpster, this week’s Empire sent human cartoon Thirsty Rawlings to a playground to yank out a strand of little Lola’s hair — leading to the least dramatic paternity reveal since Maury Povich rose from the ashes of 100,000 contested births. As the Lyons gathered around and heard Anika’s news, this is the conversation that ensued:
Jamal: Technically, if we’re talking about heirs, we need to find Lola.
Lucious: No, we don’t. You’re not the father.
Cookie: How do you know that, Lucious?
Lucious: Had a DNA test done. Her daddy’s name is a Marcus Jones. Sorry.
Jamal: Guess that’s that, huh?
Ummm, what? The last time the subject of Lola came up, Lucious claimed he was the one who “put the baby in [Olivia].” (Ewww.) Granted, Olivia’s psychotic boyfriend was holding everyone at gunpoint at the time, but the look on Olivia’s face all but corroborated the tale. So how is it that Jamal was back to thinking he might be the bio-dad? More importantly, though, Jamal was positively smitten with the little girl — writing songs for Lola and breaking up with documentarian boyfriend Ryan after he said he didn’t want kids — rendering wholly unbelievable his shoulder-shrug response to Lucious’ latest DNA test.
I wouldn’t be so bothered by the sudden and random fumbling of the Lola storyline were it not part of a larger trend of sloppily dropped arcs that’s been plaguing Empire in Season 2, and dragging down what would otherwise be an enviable batting average.
Two episodes back, Fox’s ratings juggernaut offed corporate raider Mimi Whiteman — and her wife Camilla — so quickly and haphazardly that I actually called my colleague Vlada Gelman to confirm that my episode screener wasn’t somehow missing a crucial scene. (Wait, how exactly did Lucious sneak into the hotel suite and videotape Camilla poisoning/drowning Mimi without getting spotted?!) I get that Marisa Tomei and Naomi Campbell are probably pricey and might’ve had scheduling issues, but given how the entire first half of Season 2 built toward their takeover of Empire Entertainment, it seemed inconceivable that both of them would take dirt naps just two episodes later.
How about Alicia Keys’ diva Skye Summers, who hooked up with Jamal (despite his being gay) and then disappeared like a ketchup smudge in a sink full of Dawn Ultra?
Oh, and remember when the feds declared Uncle Vernon’s death a suicide — even after he showed up decomposing in busty Roxanne Ford’s passenger seat — because… hmmm… some sketchy logic that allowed the writers to call the whole thing off?
I could go on (is Adam Rodriguez’s Laz dead or just missing?) and on (is Gutter Life still becoming a Christian imprint?) and on (Courtney Love’s Elle Dallas, where are you?), but you catch my drift.
Look, I still enjoy the heck out of Empire most weeks. The Lyon family infighting continues to compel. The inner dealings of the music biz are a nice break from the standard-operating legal/medical/crime-fighting/superhero network fare. And I’ll never grow tired of Cookie, even if 23 years from now, Dick Wolf has taken over as producer and redubbed the show Chicago Music.
But for all of the outrageous addictiveness they’ve created, it’s time for Daniels, Strong and Chaiken to demand better of themselves and their writing staff. Empire‘s one of the few cultural phenomena on the network primetime schedule, but they owe it to their massive viewing audience to stop introducing arcs they can’t see through, and to properly handle the ones already in play.
As Cookie tartly said to Jamal about his new track this week, “Fine, fine, you got it all under control. But you need to tweak that, ’cause it’s not 100, baby!”
Do you think Empire is suffering a sophomore slump? Did the Lola DNA and Mimi-Camilla storylines end too abruptly for your taste? Hit the comments and sound off!