Does Empire have a villain? The very title of “The Devil Quotes Scripture” implies that it might, but once again, the show’s proving to be simultaneously more clever and literal than you expect with its Shakespearean sources. Consider the quote the title riffs on:
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
– Antonio, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 3
If you take the most basic reading, Shakespeare’s just arguing that evil people mask their plots in good intentions, something Empire depicts well. Lucious killed Bunkie for the good of the company. Andre’s just making sure an actual businessman takes the helm. But if you take the quote in context, the meaning becomes devilishly complex. In the scene in question, Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, tries to explain why he lends money at interest—which Christians aren’t supposed to do—by citing the Bible. Antonio’s quote, then, is more an example of discrimination than clear thinking. The Christian merchant’s saying that no matter what Shylock says, he’ll always believe the Jewish moneylender has the worst intentions.
When Lucious and Jamal finally face each other at the end of “The Devil Quotes Scripture,” this is the sort of thinking that’s probably running through Lucious’ head. You can say all the right words, you can do all the right things, but if someone doesn’t trust you to be who you are, it’s no use—they’ll still see you as the devil. Jamal tries to communicate to Lucious in terms of love and family, but Lucious can’t see past his sexuality. As Jamal says about Lucious’ abuse, “You beat me because you hate me, and you always will, because I’m always gonna be who I am.”
So does that make Lucious the villain? I’m not sure. This week, Lucious did his fair share of shady deeds. In the episode’s first few minutes, he starts to push Hakeem toward a relationship with the now full-Rihanna “oh na na na na”-crooning Tianna. To do so, he foregrounds Tianna in Empire‘s latest shirtless-man soaked music video at the expense of her co-star, Veronika (you remember her from the pilot). This, in turn, makes Veronika’s manager threaten Lucious with violence through what sounds like gang connections, and Lucious then decides to deal with the threat rationally. He pulls the manager into his trailer and beats him up.
Lucious is a violent, often brutal man, but everything he does seems to be for the good of the label, which is to say for the good of appearances. After a confrontation with Cookie—who has decided, for once, not to make a scene—he recommits to planning Bunkie’s funeral. In order to make everything look right, he books Gladys Knight (yes, Empire has that power) to sing at the ceremony. And, also in order to make everything look right, he has Andre do some investigation into the eyewitness to Bunkie’s murder the police have just discovered. Meanwhile, there are other threats to the label. After Lucious dropped him last episode, Kid Fo-Fo signed with Creedmoor records. And Anika’s hired a private detective! The private detective took photos of Cookie and Agent Carter, and now Lucious is worried that his ex-wife is snitching about his involvement in her crimes to the feds.
Empire likes to saddle Lucious with all the crime plots, but “The Devil Quotes Scripture” started to clarify why all those little crimes matter. As Lucious reveals when he confronts Cookie over Bunkie’s body in the funeral parlor, he takes every act against his company as a larger betrayal of himself. Cookie would never snitch, but because she’s turned Jamal against him, Lucious has trouble trusting her. At Bunkie’s funeral in Philadelphia, we then move one megalomaniacal step further—from Lucious, the brand, to Lucious, the church. This celebration is as much about Empire Entertainment as it is about Bunkie, and Lucious’ lesson to the little boy he meets outside the church who wants to rap is like a parable from the Lyon bible. He hands the boy some money and offers up the only advice he understands: “Men don’t cry,” men don’t admit that life can be terrible, or look for support after making the wrong choices. Mid-memorial service, Lucious forgets his own advice, and tells the truth. “I feel responsible for my friend’s death,” he says. Of course, everyone thinks he’s speaking figuratively, so the confession goes unnoticed.
NEXT: Mother issues and horse riding (but not at the same time)…