They say don’t mix business with pleasure and yet it was an accurate statement for ‘Full Circle’. If the season opener of Empire was a taster, ‘Full Circle’ kicked everything into gear.
Unlike ‘Noble Memory’ where it was heavily skewed (for obvious reasons), this episode presented a better balance with its characters. The interactions were brief but to the show’s credit, it is sticking to its strengths with its dramatic performances. With Lucious’ condition remaining the same, the space that he clearly once dominated has opened the door for advantageous people.
Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) is certainly one individual taking the risk. With Cookie running Empire in Lucious’ place, Becky has been promoted to interim head of A&R. It has been a long time coming for Becky, rising through the ranks with high aspirations at Empire since season one. Her character has been integral even if her contribution has been under the radar. Just like the episode title, Becky does come full circle and it is about time she got centre stage opportunity. However it is at a small price.
‘Full Circle’ showcases the growing divide in music between the corporate responsibilities and the artistic creativity which brings Becky into direct conflict between Jamal and Hakeem. There is a difference between being a supportive friend to artists and running a department and both Hakeem and Jamal react to the creative changes. Hakeem records his own music despite Becky challenging him to do another pop track like ‘Drip Drop’. Jamal takes criticism and Becky’s actions to personal heart when Jamal’s opportunity to score a track for a feature film is derailed.
It is a harsh lesson for Becky knowing that tough decisions are part of the job. However small this moment is, there is potential for Becky to thrive because people underestimate her abilities. It’s up to her to prove that and win the musical respect from Jamal and Hakeem.
‘Full Circle’ also uses the opportunity to deal with Anika (Grace Byers) who is incarnated and falsely accused of murdering Lucious’ half brother Tariq (Morocco Omari). Empire has this way of quickly getting a character out of a tight situation to progress the story and this was a missed opportunity to really flesh out if prison changed Anika. When Cookie served seventeen years in prison, Empire occasionally flashed back on her life in the early seasons. They always highlighted a personal struggle which became motivation for Cookie to act on. Anika is not given that same opportunity. She makes demands wanting out of prison and like magic (thanks to Andre Royo’s Thirsty) she’s out without further development. It is still early days in the season which will definitely include her daughter Bella but that is one area that needs improving.
The emotional strength of Empire is once again explored through Lucious as he confronts his past. There is a conflicting battle between Claudia (Demi Moore) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) over his treatment. One is cautious and safe, trying to control Lucious’ environment and the other tries to force the issue, even going as far to move into the house. Cookie and Claudia are so determined in their mindset in how to deal with a vulnerable Lucious that they don’t see it from his perspective. Wondering how his life is going to be, he takes a bold step to find out on his own. He reconnects with his friend Eddie (special guest star Forest Whitaker) who shares a story about Lucious’ nature.
That in itself sums up the twisted dilemma for Lucious. To anyone he interacts with he carries around a legendary perception that goes against his current state, particularly if the story deals with a threatening violence. Even his bi-polar suffering mother calls him a monster, trying to exorcise an evil out of him by almost drowning him in his bathtub. It compounds his belief that maybe his past is not worth the pain, especially if it continues to make his condition worse. His emotional dependency on Claudia is interconnected, the questions are automatically raised. Is Claudia really turning Lucious against everyone because she has feelings for him or is she genuinely concerned for his welfare in a strict doctor/patient role.
Empire raised the bar this week. With so much now at stake with everyone feeling the pressure of Lucious’ absence, something is bound to crack.