TV reviews

Empire 4×04 – ‘Bleeding War’ – Review

‘Bleeding War’ was a filler this week, reinforcing what we already know so far about the season – Lucious’ condition, Claudia, Empire’s 20 for 20 and the DuBois family and their revenge plan.

‘Bleeding War’ changes tone slightly, disrupting the progressive momentum from the last few episodes.  It’s a light-hearted affair with the episode largely dedicated to an X-Factor style audition for Cookie’s 20 for 20 project and Empire’s tribute to the legendary singer Prince.  At least it allows Empire to showcase some humour with Cookie as Empire’s version of Simon Cowell and hilariously there’s nothing wrong with that!  Plus, she gets to dress up as Prince as part of Bella’s birthday celebration and it was spot on fabulous.

Sadly, there’s a lack of surprise with the story elements this time around.  A lot of it is predictable.  If you thought that Cookie’s pet project wasn’t going to be headlined by a Lyon, you would be deceiving yourself!  It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if someone else got the top spot.  The dynamic certainly would have changed (if it was brave enough).  However Empire is already filled with so many characters to follow and therefore Jamal (Jussie Smollett) was always going to be the frontrunner.

It’s easy to forget how talented Jussie Smollett is as a singer and songwriter and Empire returns to its musical roots.  The episode spends a significant amount of time going through the evolution of ‘Love is a Drug’, from concept to presentation.  Empire’s cross-market appeal between the show and the real music world has always been a key strength.  Some songs end up being better than most songs in the pop charts.  This revelation shouldn’t come as a surprise when you have talented music producers such as Timberland (seasons 1-2) and Rodney Jerkins (season 3 onwards) behind the scenes.  With such a strong musical reinforcement, it allows artists such as Jussie and Bryshere (Hakeem Lyon) to take their music to new directions.  It’s no different from Nashville for example but it helps build a continuous following with its fan base and ‘Love is a Drug’ (an all-male duet with Warren (Terrell Carter)) becomes a signature tune for the episode.

When the humour is dialled down, Empire once again finds its dramatic heart in its centrepiece characters.  With so many unspoken and divided cracks within the Lyon family, ‘Bleeding War’ comes across as a group therapy session with sensitive Lucious (Terrence Howard) spearheading the venture.  His personal mission of contrition opens the door for the family to speak a truth and reveal their own personal stories of grief and pain.  When Empire does this, this is the show at its very best.  It also confirms what we’ve long suspected.  The Lyon family might be finding some light in expressing their secrets but they’re steadily making themselves vulnerable.

The growing suspicion around Claudia continues to rise with Demi Moore giving an underrated and under the radar performance.  There’s an inescapable feeling of Claudia blurring between the lines of doctor/patient relationship and something out of Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Lucious is at a pivotal point in his recovery and Claudia slyly uses an important memory that increases the dependency and could change Lucious’ path altogether.

The only downside to ‘Bleeding War’ comes at the frustration with Anika (Grace Byers).  She ends the episode with the advantage but Empire can’t escape the feeling of her underdeveloped storyline being used as plot for plot sakes.  In four episodes, she has gone from being in and out of prison to sanctioning a custody battle for Bella.  The show is fast paced but on this occasion it feels rushed, ensuring everyone reaches the same point in the storyline.  There’s no mistake that the emotional balance has been heavily focussed on the Lyon family but Anika has been left behind.  Hopefully next week’s episode will elaborate more but the constant missed opportunity is telling because we don’t get to see the emotional insight behind her decisions or her partnership with the DuBois family.

‘Bleeding War’ puts itself in a position as the calm before the storm.  It was fun and breezy, focussing largely on the music.  But this was a chess piece move in order to reveal the bigger picture.

Empire is now airing on 5star in the UK. Let us know what you think of the season.

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