'Empire' recap: Coming out and respectability politics

'Empire' recap: Coming out and respectability politics
Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), left, and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) record a legacy album in the "The Lyon's Roar" episode of "Empire." (Chuck Hodes / Fox)

The brothers of "Empire" are all over the place, for better or worse. In the latest episode, Hakeem, Jamal and Andre each take important steps on their personal journeys.

With Hakeem, we can put the brooms away; he's finally acting his age, not his shoe size.


While in the studio, working on a Cookie-produced legacy album for Lucious, Hakeem throws a fit when his mother calls him out for rushing his rap. Lucious lays the smack down, rejecting his normally passive role for one more authoritative (more lion-like, if you will). Playing Dr. Phil, he forces his son to speak candidly about his anti-Cookie feelings.

In one of the rawest moments of Hakeem's storyline to date, he says he felt abandoned during Cookie's stint in jail and jealous of her love of Jamal. It's the first time he's been able to articulate his emotions -- signs of a changed but still barely legal man.

But if you thought this apparent maturity was self-motivated, think again. Pulling the strings is Camilla, his cougar (played by the legendary Naomi Campbell). Though I'm still perturbed at Hakeem dealing with his mommy issues in this way (even Cookie called her on it), if he continues to address his anger like the man he claims to be, I won't complain (much).

As for the brother I'm gawking over, just when I got tired of giving him the side-eye, Jamal garners enough courage to live his truth.

In a regal, white robe (which I want, in every color), Jamal takes center stage at the record label's white party and performs a remix to Lucious' hit "You're so Beautiful." Replacing some of the lyrics with same-sex references, he comes out through the performance, answering every viewer's wish (or maybe just mine).

But, even better than Jamal's choice to let the world into his life is the unbounded support of family that surrounds him: Cookie screams her love; Andre raises his champagne glass; Vernon clenches his fist against his heart; Hakeem applauds Jamal's bravery.

And then there's Lucious, stewing in anger. Though he encouraged Jamal to tell his story through music before the performance, he retaliates to the disclosure by canceling plans for a legacy album that would feature the whole family.

Because, of course, haters have no choice but to hate.

Lastly, in this episode, Andre's battle with bipolar disorder takes on new levels.

As we know, he and Vernon are plotting behind Lucious' back for what looks like an eventual coup. When presented with the choice at a board meeting to establish Andre as interim CEO if (when) Lucious becomes incapacitated, Lucious votes against the idea.

Following the foiled plan, Lucious unleashes a bevy of unbridled shade at the pair. He questions Vernon's loyalty (because apparently we're forgetting that Vernon protected Lucious, the murderer of Cookie's cousin) and states he doesn't trust his son anymore.

But, for this episode's most jaw-dropping moment, Lucious attributes his distrust of Andre to his son marrying a white woman. It's in this scene that Andre embodies the principles of respectability politics, or the concept of self-policing in order to be respected or accepted by mainstream populations.

Andre talks of going to school and being smart as a form of fitting in, but his father brings him back to a reality all too many people of color come to realize: that no matter how many degrees he gets or white women he marries, others will still see his black skin.

Lucious' anti-respectability diatribe is ironic, however, considering his soon-to-be wife is as fair as they come.


Unable to handle the pressure again, Andre is shown under a spotlight in the studio. Lifting a gun to his head, he plays Russian roulette. I hope he gets help soon.

Other moments of note:

--I'm going to need Cookie to get it together. Her desire to mend the relationship with Hakeem is clouding her judgment as Jamal's manager.

--Dearest Anika: In the words of Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost," "Molly, you in danger girl." This meeting with Lucious' rival record label won't end well.

--And for the second week in a row, I ask, where is the paternity test?

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