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BRISKET OR PATTY MELTS: EMPIRECAP 1.9

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BOTH ARE DELICIOUS, EXCEPT WHEN THEY AREN'T

Mark Davis/Getty Images

This is the best analysis of Empire's writing.

Nothing about Empire is simmering. If Mad Men is slow-cooked brisket, Empire is a patty melt - throw the ingredients together, crank the heat, and don't let things get soggy. That's less criticism than it is differentiation; both foods are delicious when prepared well.

Whether Empire's making a good patty melt is a different question entirely. If you're going to keep the plot running at this pace nonstop, you'd expect that the state of affairs would be very different from Episode 1 to Episode 9. That's the advantage of treating your show like a soap opera - characters can wind up in jail, or in a coma, or serving in the Spanish Army under an assumed name, or trapped in an undersea science station without a lot of fuss and backstory getting them there. Most of Empire's characters, however, haven't seen their situation change drastically.

The major exceptions are the two main women, Cookie and Anika, who've sort of switched places. Cookie started the pilot as the unproven outsider nobody was sure they could trust, while Anika was one of the company's most influential employees. A proposal, two instances of cheating, and several hit singles later, Cookie's the one with an important place at the Empire table, and Anika's the traitor trying to show Judd Nelson she can contribute beyond just exposing Lucious's secrets.

(Andre's arguably been given a more drawn-out arc, with his struggle with mental illness building up over time until he suffers a breakdown in this episode. That said, I'm not super confident Empire's going to handle that situation in a, um, sensitive manner.)

CRUMBLING EMPIRE IMMINENT WARNING

(The running cheat sheet about who hates who has been updated for your convenience.)

3. Lucious. I have no reason to believe Lucious is faking ALS, but the show has a fun habit of using his illness as a prop instead of a characteristic. Sometimes Lucious is very ill and struggling physically, and other times he has no apparent symptoms whatsoever. Science!

Also, and maybe this is my old lawyer-self talking, shouldn't Lucious be furious with Vernon right now? Empire's losing artist after artist to Judd Nelson, which suggests that they're either a) violating their contracts with Empire or b) the contracts were easy to get out of. You should either be dragging some people to court or firing whoever writes these weak contracts, Vernon.

2. Anika. Wait, is she really not telling Judd Nelson that Lucious has ALS because she's worried her father will get busted for fraud? HAVE HIM GET OUT IN FRONT OF IT AND SAY LUCIOUS PAID HIM OFF OR WHATEVER. You're not even betraying right.

1. Andre. Yeah, so, other people were around for that GIF above. Security dudes only, sure, and maybe they wrote it off as the wild ramblings of someone who was bound for the psych ward, but still probably not ideal. Andre's careening towards the old shot-by-the river treatment.

COOKIE'S WEAPON OF CHOICE

Her indomitable liver! When Cookie finds out one of Empire's artists is being wooed by Judd Nelson's boys down at Ghetto Ass Studios (again, the real name of a place in this universe), she rolls down there and convinces them to settle this the old fashioned way: by seeing who can drink the most. She gives them the Marion Ravenwood treatment, because apparently going to prison gives you a super high alcohol tolerance.

A SCENE THAT I IMAGINE WAS CUT FROM THIS WEEK'S EPISODE

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's weird that Lucious Lyon hasn't called in a while.

WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: Well, I'm sure he's just busy, sir.

OBAMA: I know, but he's always made time before. I just wonder if something's the matter.

STAFFER: Sir, would you like me to send him another ascot?

OBAMA: (pauses) Yes.