Though the latest episode of “Empire” offers plenty to talk about, I must highlight Jamal’s newly revealed (and increasingly complex) storyline -- which had me shaking my head and picking my mouth up off the floor at the same time.
Last week we were introduced to Jamal’s instant club-banger “Keep Your Money,” his not-so-subtle way of throwing shade at his father. It serves as his musical manifesto: Dangling money to buy his silence about living life as a gay man just won’t work.
But as Cookie makes things happen to launch his career, Jamal has got to deal with the seams of what appeared to be a perfect relationship with boyfriend Michael busting wide open like a Coke left in the freezer far too long.
Perhaps the most poignant moment is when, in an interview with radio personality Sway, he’s asked if there’s a special woman in his life. Though we (or maybe just I) expect him to grab the rainbow flag in one hand and black liberation flag in the other, Jamal says no and that his only love is music. (This is where my head began shaking.)
Though many will see this solely as Jamal’s way of breaking up with Michael (in the most coward and shadiest manner possible), what we really have on our hands is someone who has been chased into the closet by the prospect of fame. And my heart couldn’t weep more.
This moment should be familiar to anyone who has had to lie, even if only by omission, about an integral part of his or her identity. The little black boy who'd scheme to make sure his white friends at school didn’t know he lived in the projects. The little white girl who’d try her best to hide any wear and tear on her second-generation hand-me-downs. Or me, the self-professed child prodigy who knew from an early age he was more of a Southern belle than a Southern gentleman.
As Jamal coyly danced around the question, I hoped this scene would be the one in which his ability to assert his identity in the face of a hyper-masculine father would stand the test of the limelight he craves. I longed for that Frank Ocean-esque experience in which Jamal’s talent would overshadow his sexuality.
But alas, everyone can’t be Sam Smith.
Jamal’s storyline gets even more complicated in the episode’s last moments when a random woman from his past named Olivia (played by Raven-Symone; “Cosby” reference anyone?) shows up, daughter in tow.
In true “Maury” fashion, Jamal is the father. And here is where my mouth dropped.
As Jamal’s character continues to develop in the episodes and seasons to come, hopefully we get a glimpse into his life between being thrown into a trash can as a kid and the present day. It’s the only way to add the needed and necessary context as Lee Daniels’ art continues to imitate life.
Other Moments of Note:
* It has been the year of the backside and Cookie’s can now be added to a growing list. Victoria’s Secret has nothing on her. But hopefully her romantic energy is reciprocated, if not by Lucious, then by the handsome new head of security, because there's nothing worse than unrequited love.
* Hakeem’s got some issues going on. His fervent anger toward Tiana troubles my spirit, but not more than his unexplained infatuation with women of a certain age. And his hate toward Cookie is painful to watch.
* Vernon and Andre apparently have a secret alliance of sorts. I’m not sure what the scene in the bathroom was all about, but surely their characters will be center stage soon. Lucious should watch his back.
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