I can’t lie: Empire was really boring me this season. Even the manufactured soapy drama that I couldn’t get enough of last year is lackluster this time around. I’m still tuning in, but to be honest, it’s become more of a habit than a need, which is not what you want from a television show when there are so many other options. I missed the good old days of Cookie and Boo Boo Kitty going head to head, and Lucious being in prison where he belongs.
And then last night’s episode happened, and I’m not sure I want to continue watching. “True Love Never” had Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) back in the boardroom. She says she loves Lucious’s music “more than life itself.” “Drip Drop” really spoke to her. But she’s worried about the money they aren’t making. She proposes a merger with a streaming service, Slipstream, but Andre would rather have their own service, because it’s going so well for Jay-Z and Tidal. Lucious chooses Mimi, and he wants Andre to go smooth some things over for Freda, who has some gang issues that need some, ahem, clearing up.
photos courtesy of Fox
Meanwhile, Hakeem asks Tiana to help Mirage a Trois’ shy lead Laura make her image more powerful. Tiana struts and instructs: “Think long legs. Lead with your hips. Imagine your knocking down everything in your path and nothing can stop you. Every move you make, pretend somebody is watching you, trying to take your picture or something.” Like so.
That’s about the extent of Tiana this season, BTW. Showing up to help sexify the young, aspiring starlets.
Mimi takes Lucious to meet with the young entrepreneur who runs Slipstream, where Lucious gets in the literal boxing ring with the dude for a spar/business meeting. It doesn’t go well, though, as Lucious knocks him out. “We’ll pay for that,” Mimi says. They visit him at the hospital, and Lucious says “YOU MADE ME SO MAD, I WROTE A SONG ABOUT YOU.” And then all of a sudden, Mimi decides to mess with the guy’s meds so that he immediately becomes cool with the merger, and it works. Just like that! She must have learned that while she was in the hospital with the cancer that inspired her to live the rest of her life in a “more fun” way.
The crooks celebrate at the club, where Mimi tells Lucious “brought him a present. “Is it my birthday?” Lucious asks, and then when he sees women filing in: “Oh damn, it’s Christmas.” Everyone knows when you’re a power lesbian, women just follow you and do whatever and whoever you want. After dancing and drinking, Lucious declares he likes “baby girl in the green.” Mimi knows her name (!!!). It’s April, and Lucious says “Spring is in the air!” Mimi wants to “fight” Lucious for her….but Lucious says, “We don’t fight. We’re partners. We share.”
This is where I start to get really nervous. Ilene Chaiken wouldn’t do this to us, would she? WOULD SHE?
So this is completely disgusting. Mimi and Lucious treat April like a toy they are going to take turns using, and she sits there, half-naked, ready for these rich record execs to do whatever they please. Thank the Goddess Mimi is interrupted by a phone call. It sounds serious, and Lucious asks “Is that your wifey or girlfriend?” Lucious steals the phone and starts screaming that whoever is on the other line has to treat her with respect and love, like Lucious does with all of the women he knows.
That phone call was only a brief pause to the grossness, though. Mimi and Lucious begin making out and then invite “Springtime” to join in the sweaty, drunk fun. Then Lucious spots a gun tattoo on April’s shoulder and takes another break. He’s so inspired by this tattoo that he calls Freda in to record a dated DMX-style song about gun-toting. (Hear that chamber spinning? THAT’S A REAL GUN ON THE MIC!) Mimi stays with April, but slaps away the woman’s hand from her leg.
At this point, the damage is done, though. I don’t care if they don’t actually have a threesome. Mimi has been positioned as a lesbian from the beginning of this show (from a lesbian showrunner), and she’s so drunk with power and being given a second chance at life that is totally OK with treating women like Lucious does–disposable playthings that are there to serve and observe. We already saw this with Anika, but it was made clear on this episode that Mimi Whiteman is definitely not a feminist, and certainly not a good person.
A show with a lot of queer visibility can handle a lesbian baddie, but my problem is that the queer female characters exist largely on the periphery otherwise. Chicken, Tiana and even Anika are barely a part of this season. Character development is nil, and Tiana’s girlfriend, India, just disappeared without any explanation. And while Freda is supposedly queer, it is not a part of her storyline whatsoever. Instead, her butchness is more a part of her being perceived as hard and from the streets.
While gay Lyon Jamal is a large part of the show, it does not bode well when the sole lesbian-identified character is willing to have a threesome with the worst of men and treats women with complete disrespect. It’s bizarre, especially because it’s a show from out gay execs (Ilene and Lee Daniels). Did we really need a female version of Lucious? Wasn’t one of him enough?
Mimi is back on next week’s episode, so I will reserve further judgment until I can see how the rest of her storyline plays out. I’d like to believe that there is a payoff to this error in judgment (and I’m not even going to start on her “look”), but we deserve better from a hit show written and run by our own people. I was excited about the prospect of Marisa Tomei playing “a lesbian billionaire.” I thought there would be something more to her than greed and lust. I’m holding on to a tiny bit of hope this was not for naught, but that would mean the writers have some creativity they’ve been hiding up their sleeves from the first half of this season.
(In case you are wondering if misogyny fits in elsewhere, the rest of this episode includes Hakeem making Laura sing “I Will Survive” en Español in public, Cookie getting it in with her new man and working with his friends aka the men who captured Hakeem, and Andre continuing to have a crisis of faith/his being a decent person, which includes threatening to frame his female friend who works for the city and is apparently so hot for him, she’ll do anything he asks.)