In something of an eerie coincidence (considering “My Fault is Past” was shot months before the embattled actor’s alleged attack on the streets of Chicago and subsequent dismissal from Season 5), the episode’s plot found Jamal enduring crises on multiple fronts.
“I don’t know if you’ve been reading the blogs, but it’s been kind of a tough week,” Jamal lamented to an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd at his high school alma mater after wrapping up an impromptu performance midway through the episode. Pre-scandal, the line would’ve breezed by like a speck of dust. Post scandal, however, the line — and the moment that surrounded it — packed a discomforting punch, the unintentional parallels impossible to ignore. (Smollett himself headlined a similarly intimate comeback-themed concert in the immediate aftermath of The Incident.)
The triumphant display arrived in the in the wake of Jamal discovering that the Lyon family’s arch nemesis, Jeff Kingsley, is actually Lucious’ son (and thus his long-lost half brother). And it preceded his presumed breakup with fiancé Kai, who stormed out after Jamal refused to put his lover before his lineage. Standing alone in the apartment, the weight of the loss suffocating him, Jamal broke down.
To be fair, Jamal was not the only member of the Lyon clan having the worst week ever. The news of Kingsley’s parentage gave Andre a brain hemorrhage. It also sent Cookie into a bit of a spiral, leading her to confront the ailing crack addict who birthed Lucious’ bastard child from hell. But instead of feeling anger toward “White Tracy,” Cookie was overcome with empathy. She saw in Kingsley’s ma something of a kindred spirit: another woman wronged by Lucious.
“Empire was built on drugs, Lucious,” Cookie tore into Lucious, her epiphany taking shape before her eyes during the episode’s closing scene. “On people’s pain. My pain. Jamal’s pain. My sister’s pain. And we keep coming back to it over and over and over again like a junkie chasing that first high… We did bad things Lucious. And it’s coming back.”
What did you think of Empire‘s first episode of 2019? Were you able to separate Smollett’s real-life drama from the reel drama? Hit the comments!