The TV Room: Empire Season 1
There’s an episode from the second season of Lost that ends with Jack sitting on the beach with Ana Lucia, turning toward her with grim intent and asking, “How long do you think it would take to train an army?” The screen cuts to black. It’s the kind of bomb-dropping, paradigm-shifting cliffhanger for which Lost came to be known. Except, in the episodes that followed, the paradigm stayed the same. No army was trained at all. Perhaps that was due to the evidently hasty decision to write Ana Lucia off the show. Or perhaps it was because the writers were more interested in an “oh, shit” moment than in actually following through on it.
Empire has about three to five “oh, shit” moments per episode. Fox’s gargantuan hit is part of a new wave of shows bringing the soap back to the nighttime soap genre. It often seems to be attempting to cram the full week’s output of its daytime brethren into each hour. But are the plot explosions that pepper Empire followed by real payoffs. Or is each of them another one of Jack’s imaginary armies?
As Sterling Archer would say over on Empire‘s sister network, its a little of column A, a little of column B. Seemingly major story developments, like Tiana’s homosexuality or Cookie’s paying to have a man murdered, are forgotten about. But, unlike on other Fox shows such as Glee or the currently floundering The Last Man on Earth, Empire is mostly dedicated to its characters’ psychological consistency.
This is what lifts Empire above its own faults. Each character on the show wants something. The things they want are never in question for the audience, nor is the intensity with which they want them. Respect, acceptance, money, credit… These are major desires and the show’s operatic and shock-filled methods only emphasize the larger-than-life scope of the motivations.
Empire‘s success almost certainly means that Fox will order more episodes for the second season. That’s a daunting and discouraging proposition. It seems risky to ask a show that operates at this pitch to sustain it for too much longer. Then again, they do dream big over at Empire.