Black Girls Night Out: Cookie Lyon & Anika Calhoun

Apologies for the delay with this post, but I’ve been really distracted…ya know, with moving to the Middle East and all.  Now I’m sorta caught up.  Because of the nature of the way I have to watch TV now, these posts will combine episodes every two or three weeks.  I don’t plan to do episode recaps as much as analyze what I’ve seen overall.  

Spoilers, obviously.

This is a gorgeous family.  Casting director is the very definition of NAILED IT!
Note: This review covers Episodes 1-3.

So far, we’ve got Lucious in and out of prison, a failed takeover of Empire (which includes a hilarious Marisa Tomei playing a lesbian corporate raider with hideous fashion sense), the creation of a spinoff company, Lyon Dynasty (*snerk*), Jamal trying to be both an artist and a boss, Hakeem trying to find his own way, and Andre desperately wanting to be ensnared in the same dangerous web that nearly killed him last season.

I’ll be perfectly honest.  I enjoy watching Empire, but I think I enjoyed it more when I binged S1 last spring.  But even then, there were serious issues with the pacing of the show and Lee Daniels has not corrected that huge storytelling flaw.  Bingeing the show does smooth out the rough edges because you don’t have to wait to how plot elements unfold.  However, watching it ep by ep is problematic and annoying because with each ep, too much happens and then not enough happens and then subplot threads go nowhere.  I'm still waiting on resolution from last season (or at least for Derek Luke to come back and continue fauxmancing Cookie, but don't get me started on that).

Problematic Elements: 

1.  Frank Gathers.  I don’t know about y’all, but I never got the impression last season that Frank Gathers was a highly respected and heavily feared gangster/dope dealer.  In spite of Cookie’s so-called fear when she thought he put a hit out on her for snitching, that fear did not translate to the audience…at least not to me.  And then that particular subplot was buried under the other shenanigans that took place. 

So when this season opens with Lucious chillin’ in prison and word comes through the yard that “they’re bringing in Frank Gathers,” I was like, “So?”  And then to add gut-busting insult to knee-slapping injury, the so-called “ruler of the streets” was played by Chris Rock.

Fuckin' Pookie, yo.

How is this bruh gonna run anything???

Needless to say, this was my reaction:

Chris Rock doesn’t inspire anything in me except giggles (sometimes).  So to make him a supposed badass doesn’t work in a role like this.  They barely even try to make him intimidating (unless it's all supposed to be a joke, at which point they succeeded).  Sure, he has Jermel beat up and cuts off his head, but it did not ring true to the character.  I’m wondering if they tried to insinuate that he ate part of Jermel, and if they did, I’m going to laugh even harder (because once again, such viciousness doesn’t translate).  And then Frank goes down at the end of the first episode easier and faster than Robert Muldoon in Jurassic Park.  Complete and total miscast.  Fail.  Epic fail.

2.  Jail Time.  Lucious was supposedly in jail for three months.  Why so short?  Why are we in such a hurry?  Things take time in the real world and honestly, this could have worked better if he were in jail the better part of a year.  Just like with S1, Daniels shoved three episodes’ worth of story into the first episode.  Frank Gathers was in jail long enough to beat up Jermel and ship out his head, which felt like about two days.  No tension was built up and so we don’t believe it when Cookie fears for her life and the lives of her family members.  She asks Lucious for help, which he immediately provides.

The chemistry between these two is amazing.  

All this shit goes down in Episode 1 (which opens with a concert in which Cookie was dressed as a gorilla; the side-eye regarding that nonsense was strong with me) and it simply doesn’t work.

3.  Lyon Dynasty.  It feels like they started this business in five fucking minutes.  And, as is pointed out by Sway, they’re doing it with Empire artists.  The only good idea was had by Hakeem (with a clever assist by fine-ass Andre) to produce a girl group; something Empire didn’t have.  Hakeem is still understandably salty about not inheriting Empire (and he doesn’t deserve it, imho) and about losing Camilla, so his efforts in trying to get out of his father’s shadow are commendable.  He’s grown up significantly since the early S1 eps, but as is evidenced by his bratty album-leaking-jumping-the-gun-on-Sway behavior, he still has a lot of growing up to do.  His relationship with Cookie has also improved, which I love.  But Lyon Dynasty is doomed to fail.  As smart as Cookie is and as Andre is (but in all fairness, his heart really isn’t in it), I would have expected her to come out of the box with fresh ideas, not Empire Lite.  And of course, Lucious shuts that shit down in the way only HE can.

"See, y'all keep acting like you don't know me..."
Speaking of Andre...Trai Byers is doing a great job with the character.  His overwhelming need to be accepted by his father practically ekes out of every pore.  I personally do not understand why Andre is so hellbent on needing the one person in his life who can destroy him.  Bipolars with a handle on their emotions practice self-care, which means staying far away from triggers like Lucious.  But Andre desperately needs his father’s approval and uses his unborn child (to be fair, Cookie encourages this) to obtain it.  It backfires spectacularly because Andre doesn’t realize that Lucious is to blame for his condition (something I called last season).  I’ll be interested to see how this little gem plays out, especially with Kelly Rowland playing Lucious' emotionally disturbed mother.

Jamal is back with his adorable boyfriend Michael and he’s owning it now.  Good.  However, he is struggling with the balance of trying to run an empire like Empire while being true to his artistic nature.  He isn’t handling it well and is alienating almost everyone.  When the Frank Gathers issue is resolved, he orders Cookie out of his Lucious’ house.  I can’t, for the life of me, really understand why he is so angry with her.  I get that he thinks she set up his father, but for the better part of S1, Jamal and his father were at odds and Cookie has always been in his corner…and it feels like he forgot that.  Lucious consistently reminds Jamal that he isn’t a priority and yet Jamal valiantly defends him and continues looking to him for support.  A friend remarked that Jamal is coming off as a petulant Mary Sue and I believe that the S2 characterization of him is inauthentic.

Lucious is, of course, a master puppet master and knows what strings to pull on his boys to make them dance.  Hakeem is the only one where this is no longer the case.  But Jamal and Andre dance and dance and dance.

...and dance...
...and dance.
Tyra Ferrell makes her entrance as Prosecutor Roxanne Ford, who is, for whatever reason, hellbent on taking Lucious down.  I am curious as to why she’s so pressed.  It clearly is above and beyond her job description to hate him the way she does; it seems personal.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Lee Daniels pulled a backstory out of his ass about Lucious and Roxanne, because her hate seems so…extra.  Ludacris’ hate by comparison actually makes sense.

"Tom Ford, muffucka!"
Pictured: Hatin-ass hater.

Here is the BGNO portion of the review.

Cookie Lyon.

Question: Why the hell did they tone down Cookie?

First season Cookie was a force of nature; a woman on a mission to reclaim her family and her company.  She was assertive, confident, fiercely stylish and gave absolutely no fucks when it came to her boys.  She was loyal (detrimentally so) and just an all-around fun character we could identify with and root for.  We wanted her to get her hands back in Empire. We wanted her back with her boys.  We cheered her on when she out-drank a bunch of bruhs at Ghetto Ass Studios.  And we absolutely didn't mind it when she got some well-deserved lovin' from Mr. Sexy Chocolate Derek Luke. 

(**Miss me with the falling-in-love BS tho**)

But this season, she’s been toned down significantly.  The fire that Cookie had last season has tempered, but it doesn’t make sense in the light of trying to form a new company.  It would seem that the same passion she showed last season trying to find her place at Empire and with her family would carry over into the new legacy she is trying to build for her sons.  I mean, yes, she is excited, but it is not at the same level as it was last season.  She is noticeably...lighter.

I also do not like what they’ve done with her hair and wardrobe.  Last season, there wasn’t much that this phenomenal woman wore that detracted from her beauty, power, and the overall essence of her character.  This season, they’re dressing her in furniture fabrics, ostentatious jewelry, and horrendous hair.  First season Cookie sported animal prints like a fucking champ, but second season Cookie sports outfits that look like my mother’s couch, peacocks on crack, and a bustier fresh out of Mr. T’s Starter Collection.  Her hair ranges from fabulous to what the fuck???

Bad wig, ugly jewelry, terrible furniture-fabric outfit.  FAIL.

No.  Just no.  Hop the train to Nopetown.
I don’t understand what happened.  I really do not.  Give me S1 Cookie, stat!

Anika Calhoun.

Question:  What the hell are Anika's motives?

I like Anika.  I always have.  I think she wasn't treated fairly in S1, and in S2, I am seriously like, "WHUT?"  Anika comes from money; this was established early on in S1.  She's talented and she can do anything she wants, so I literally do not understand why she is running around after Cookie and her boys, looking for a place at (hahahahaha) Lyon Dynasty just to clap back at Lucious. Why isn't she still at Creedmore?  Where is Creedmore?  Did Empire's biggest rival get blown up by the C4 Chicken scored last season???  It would be interesting as hell to have Anika at Creedmore and Cookie at Lyon Dynasty, coming at Lucious and Empire from two directions.  Pissed-off exes can accomplish A LOT when they have the same focus.

I mean, Cookie doesn't trust Anika and flat-out says so, so why she's so pressed to work for her is beyond me.  I'll be damned if I work for someone who doesn't trust me.  

Another thing that had me all like, "HUH?" was when Cookie ordered Anika to sleep with Marisa Tomei's character.  While I can appreciate the fluidity and multiple flavors of sex, I simply cannot believe that Anika would have whored herself for Cookie like that and that easily.  It would have come off more believable had Anika done that on her own and informed Cookie of it later.  

When Anika told Lucious last season that she wasn't the woman he had reduced her to, I believed it.  I believe she's better than she's being portrayed.  I also think her jumping to Creedmore near the end of S1was rushed (pacing issues once again) and then jumping to be a part of the hostile takeover of Empire at the actual end made dick amount of sense.  She wasn't under contract at Creedmore?

It's like she's not her own woman and they're looking for a reason to keep her around so that Cookie has a foil.  Can we please give Anika some backstory and flesh her out so that she's a real character and not a throwaway joke?  Boo-Boo deserves that.

Pictured: A woman who deserves better.


  1. First of all ,congrats to your move to the Middle East.May your days there be prosperous and worthwhile.

    Anyways..it seems that a couple of online mags are singing the late B.B. King song " The Thrill Is Gone".
    While I'm not saying that the show completely sucks, it's not the Empire that we know from the past.

    I must agree about Taraji's character, Lee should have let her be who she was on the first season of the show. Maybe the fans said something about it..idk,but some things are better to be let alone and in the case with Cookie, let her be. You're so right about her hair. I hare to say this but the hair style that have been given to her doesn't fit her like her wearing her hair in bang. To me , she doesn't look right in it. It make her just look cheap for some reason.

    Now I like Tyra Ferrell's character of the prosecutor,but like you I have to wonder why is she so bent on bringing Lucious down. Could it be sexual tension or maybe,just maybe she could be his mother. I doubt it because she seems like she out to be around his age. I wonder if his mom still alive or dead? I admit, looking at Chris Rock playing the role of wasn't suited for him and you had lots of company who shared you sentiment. He just look odd playing that role, like I couldn't take him seriously on there.. I guess because he has that comedic look about him .


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