The Post-Empire Literary Society is a group of Verge writers devoted to the excavation, appreciation, and analysis of the Fox television show Empire. Every week we will publish a new writing, study, or reflection on this, the best of all possible shows. This is not a recap series; we are merely drawing inspiration from each subsequent episode. We welcome your additional reflections in the comments.
Empire is built on a relentless churn. The Wheel of Plot, like the Wheel of Fate, is always spinning, breaking old alliances and forging new ones.
In the first season, it set Cookie and Jamal against Lucious and Hakeem. Now, it pits Cookie and Hakeem against Lucious and Jamal, pivoting over the course of just a few episodes. Crucially, it's not the result of a season-long arc. It just sort of happened. The old configuration had grown predictable, so a shakeup came, followed shortly by Pitbull.
The Wheel of Plot is always turning
At a moderate speed, that churning would be soapy, but as the wheel spins faster, it becomes almost zen-like. Any alliance could happen at any time (Cookie and Anika?) so every alliance becomes meaningless. What should we feel about Jamal and his father being on good terms again? Surely it's only a matter of time before that disintegrates too. All is vanity. The only things you can hold onto are the costumes and the occasional devastating put-down.
Of course, the costumes and put-downs are usually coming from Cookie. This episode had both a gold suit and an unusually sharp hook on Valentina, Hakeem's latest protege (say it with me, "Find your drawers!"), not to mention one of the greatest exits of the show so far, in which Cookie dragged a large and expensive meal onto the floor as she left. But even Cookie couldn't steal the spotlight from Pitbull, who arrived to play Lucious's return party while hinting at a future alliance with Cookie. Like everyone in Empire, Pitbull is drawn to power, although he does not love it as the others do.
Standard canon theory would tell you that the existence of Pitbull bridges our universe with the fictional world of Empire. (It's all the same continuity, right?) But I would argue that Empire-Pitbull is ultimately more convincing than Earth-Pitbull. He makes more sense within the show, in both his persona and his songs, which feel of a piece with Jamal and Hakeem's likable Timbaland remnants. Under that theory, Empire-Pitbull negates Earth-Pitbull, suggesting some kind of Last Action Hero crossover in which Empire-Pitbull has become powerful enough to enter a higher plane of reality.
You could make the same argument about Sway, who has now established himself as the fundamental arbiter of truth in the Empire universe. (You can lie to everyone, even yourself, but never to Sway.) He missed out on Lucious's prison track, but hosted both Hakeem's confrontation with his father and Lucious's ultimate destruction of the painfully named Mirage a Trois. Will we ever see Valentina again? Thanks to Empire's constant churn, it's impossible to know for sure. Most likely she, like Courtney Love and Estelle before her, will be crushed beneath the Wheel of Plot.
Perhaps that's why Pitbull points. As the Lyons fight and fight, churn and churn, Pitbull understands that we must always look elsewhere for satisfaction. It can never be found in worldly success, but always outside, always out of reach.
So it goes. Dale.