Caution! Spoilers about Empire's Season 3 premiere below!
Damn Rhonda, (Kaitlin Doubleday) damn!
Another pivotal Empire character bit the proverbial dust in the Season 3 premiere, falling victim (sorry) to Anika's (Grace Gealey) deadly shove off the balcony at Hakeem's (Bryshere Y. Gray) wedding. (Seriously, Rhonda's ghost, you really need to watch your back around these people if you like, ever got reincarnated or something.)
With that mystery solved, "Light in Darkness" set the table for the season. That's a cheap cliché of course but also fitting because that dinner scene, in which this bizarro family is gathered around an exquisitely lavish dinner table, is a strong visual and emotional metaphor for what's happening now and what's to come.
Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) is furious at Lucious for... well, what isn't she furious about? And she's helping Lucious (Terrence Howard) maintain the charade of Anika (Grace Gealey) as Mrs. Lyon in order to keep Lucious' half-brother Tariq (Morocco Omari) from exposing Empire for the half-criminal enterprise it really is. Poor Andre (Trai Byers) is simply in between outbursts; Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is struggling with post-shooting PTSD and revulsion for his father while still defending his family; Luscious' mom Leah (Leslie Uggams ) is equal parts dementia and demented and Hakeem is silently thinking about a way to express his jumbled feelings about having a baby momma/step-mom and niece/sister -- no doubt in a super emo rap song.
I think it's fair to say that if you get an invitation to a Lyon dinner party, send your regrets. Better yet, move away and don't give a forwarding address.
But was the episode, good? Eh. It was OK. True to its soap opera steel-o, this episode had silly dialogue (i.e. when Hakeem taunts Cookie with, "Or what? I don't see no brooms around here," re-hashing the beatdown Empire already re-hashed) and painfully obvious interactions, like Leah Walker's ominous threaten to Anika with a knife. Also, can we talk about that curly wig on Jamal's head that thankfully disappeared? Where'd it go though?
All that said, Empire is all about a slow build as we know well from enduring -- and then thoroughly enjoying -- the back half of Season 2. Trust, this first episode is simply setting up a web of storylines that start to get more complex, believable, dark and emotionally riveting -- and that begins as soon as next week. Shine (Xzibit) gets increasingly sinister; Tariq isn't going away anytime soon; a new love interest for Hakeem could lead to his downfall; flashbacks from Lucious and Cookie's past explain why she just can't quit him and there are a host of new characters on the way too. What we saw Wednesday was a decent appetizer; the main course, it seems, is still being prepared.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Fox.