Since Empire's debut, Jamal has been struggling with the decision to publicly come out, while Lucious has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with his son's quote-unquote "lifestyle." One of them got what they wanted in last night's episode.
Jamal decides to come out while performing his own arrangement of his dad's hit song, "You're So Beautiful," at Empire's ostentatious white party (watch it above) where everyone is dressed majestically as extras from Coming to America. Jamal changes the lyrics in the song to, "This the kind of song that makes a man love a man." And in case you weren't clear what just happened, Andre is there to break it down: "He just came out..." Okay, thanks!
The way Jamal does it is proof that while he's a man about authenticity, he also knows the value of showmanship. Sure, it's a giant middle finger to Lucious, but it's more about Jamal putting his personal and creative expression first. The storyline also blatantly pulls from Frank Ocean's real-life headlines (search "Jamal Frank Ocean" on Twitter). Empire's is a dramatized version of Frank Ocean's coming out, which started with music critics dissecting his vague lyrics about loving a man when he previewed his Channel Orange album.
Jamal previously had an opening to come out during a TV interview when MTV's Sway hit him with a dating question. The person who helps convince him to do it is Ryan, the gay director who Lucious hired to shoot a documentary about Empire Records. The conversation happens over dinner as Jamal and Ryan share their coming out stories. Ryan jokes about his dad's disapproval with a loaded statement: "The joys of being the son of a black man." It's too much to unpack, though Lee Daniels' personal views are seeping all into this dialogue. "It's a shame that a gay black director-writer would use his medium to perpetuate the idea that black people are more homophobic than other groups," my friend Michael Arceneaux points out.
The fact that Jamal's coming out happens after he and Lucious have just had another father-son moment means that their screwed up relationship is still very much screwed up. Because of Jamal's revelation, Lucious ends up backing out of the legacy album that Cookie initially persuaded him to record. He's been very slowly shedding layers and softening up, but this is one area where he's stubbornly archaic in his thinking. "He came out to the world and nothing changed, Lucious," Cookie later tells him. "No one cares that he's gay!"
"You're So Beautiful" fittingly recurs throughout this episode as a narrative thread, with all of its different versions highlighting the family's deeply entangled dynamics: from Lucious' original recording (when he and Cookie had it good) to Jamal and Hakeem's remake (their bond is maturing) to Jamal's liberating version. At the end of the episode, there's a flashback to Cookie humming the song while sitting in a prison cell.
Other notable moments from last night's episode:
—Like everyone else, I was waiting for the confrontation between Cookie and Camilla and it was just as gloriously shady as expected. While showing off his bae at the white party, Hakeem makes the intro and an icy exchange ensues. Cookie calls her Auntie Camilla, Yoko Ono, and "cougar bitch" and says Hakeem's mommy issues are glaring.
Nice, however, that Cookie is progressing in repairing her relationship with Hakeem and that he's opening up more. After Jamal comes out, Hakeem visits his brother and tells him, "It's the bravest thing I seen in my life."
—Cookie and Lucious are diabolical equals with undeniable chemistry who deserve each other. But they can't work now. Cookie feeds Lucious' ego by telling him she can make him "immortal," but she wants Anika out of the picture: "You want Cookie's nookie, ditch the bitch," she says. Lucious is still playing both sides and doing a terrible job at it.
—The Andre character is quietly one of the best on this show. Trai Byers isn't super dramatic in his delivery, more silently intense. First, it was the shower scene in the last episode, and then the studio suicide attempt in last night's installment. As "The Great Pretender" plays in the background (perfect soundtrack to this moment), Andre puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. It doesn't go off. He's truly battling demons, and unlike his brothers' issues, his aren't on front street. Earlier he told Vernon, "I feel like I don't even exist in this family."