Star recap: 'The Devil You Know'
In its second episode, Empire, Jr. gets ever-so-slightly better — but it’s still riddled with cliché dialogue and too many empty proclamations about the girls’ (especially Star’s) “talent.” This week brings another pair of real stars in guest spots: Naomi Campbell in the most pitch-perfect casting ever and Tyrese Gibson as a pastor.
The overarching plot of this week is the girls need to record a demo to enter a contest — and if they win the contest, they’ll get to perform in a music festival coming to Atlanta. But to record it, they need money, and the deadline is in two days. We can put a pin in this problem until next week, though, because nothing else really happens here.
Alexandra and Derek are getting hot and heavy — sexually and emotionally. Alexandra tells him she ran away from her father and “a really bad situation,” and her mother’s dead. Derek’s mom is dead, too — and so is his dad, a cop shot in the line of duty. They bond over having dead moms and he tells her she’s going to make him fall in love with her. “Oh, really?” she says. “Yes, really,” he says. That relationship escalated quickly.
In the salon, Star tells Carlotta to work out whatever issue she has with Jahil, but Carlotta isn’t so sure. On the other hand, Simone — the only person in the group who has real issues — is worried people will see them if they win the contest. That’s the point, Star says. But Simone is concerned her rapist foster father will come find her; she can feel he’s not dead. Smart girl. But obviously, Star doesn’t listen to her concerns because she’s too busy plotting their next move.
Jahil is in his apartment doing lines of coke and complaining to his mother on the phone that $200,000 of his money has gone missing. Carlotta knocks at the door and he says, “Look, I’m in the middle of something.” Carlotta punches him square in the face and says, “Now is good!” This is why you hire A-listers! She yells at him for letting the girls perform at his godson’s party, but he argues he has a “gut feeling” about them.
PAUSE. Look — I really do like their pop songs. And yes, they can sing. But I don’t feel like Star has this goosebumps-inducing, stop-the-world kind of voice that just makes people want to take huge risks on her. She just has a good voice, and she’s confident. Maybe that’s enough, but none of her scenes make me feel the way I felt in the first episode of Empire when bald Veronica is in the studio and Lucious keeps making her do another take. I cried and watched it three times. END PAUSE.
Anyway, Carlotta says she’ll tell them how he got their mother Mary hooked on drugs, and Jahil counters and reminds her she had Star and Simone and lost them. They’re at an impasse.
Back in the salon, “Groove is in the Heart” comes on and Alexandra starts dancing. Miss Lawrence starts talking about how they used to vogue to this song, and Alexandra has a flashback of being with her parents — Lenny Kravitz and NAOMI CAMPBELL — in a limo, and her mother, Rose, not letting her dance to it. I’ve been seeing Naomi’s face in Alexandra’s face this whole time, and I’m so glad she’s her TV mom. It’s perfect. Then Star does that thing where there’s a tear in the screen and it’s a performance in Alexandra’s mind. This tearing-through-the-screen effect thing is horrible. Just fade into a dream sequence. We will understand it’s not real life!
NEXT: Surprise! Alexandra has some visitors
When she snaps out of it, her parents are standing in the salon — 100% real — telling her to get up off the floor. Secret’s out: Not only is her mom not dead, but now everyone knows her father is famous singer Roland Crane. So, maybe Star didn’t have to find a manager at a strip club?
Star is, understandably, furious. “Your dad is one of the biggest stars on the planet…and you didn’t feel like talking about it?” Alexandra says she didn’t want to have conversations like this one. As it turns out, they found her because she was contacting Roland’s friends to find out whether Jahil was legit. (Kind of a stupid move when you’re on the run from your parents, but Alexandra doesn’t exactly have street smarts, I guess.)
She accuses her mom of drinking again and Rose just can’t believe Alexandra didn’t even tell her maid she was leaving. (Since the scenes at the salon are almost always better than all the others, this one has some great quips from Star, Cotton, and Simone. If you’re going to watch one scene, make it this one.) When Alexandra tries to argue she’s 19 and they have no control over her, Roland says if she’s still using their credit cards, they sure do. (Um, they also could have tracked her using the credit cards.) He tells her their plane leaves tonight and she had better be on it. They’re staying at the W until then.
Star can’t let it go — especially after Roland asks Alexandra about her music, which she explicitly said he didn’t care about. “If you won’t talk to him, I will,” she says, jogging after his car for about two seconds before giving up (while, ironically, wearing a jacket that says “TRY HARDER”). She decides she’ll get him to produce their demo, but Alexandra says she doesn’t know how much it will cost them. Star reminds her she grew up in foster care. “Stop throwing your foster care story in everyone’s face!” Alexandra says. “It’s getting tired!”
“Like your dead mom?” Star shoots back. “You had to make your story up.”
She leaves, and Derek comes over to Alexandra. “I opened up to you like I never did with nobody else,” he says. “You know what you are? A liar.” Derek is the one I feel bad for in this situation — even if their relationship did progress stupidly fast. Something had to get in the way early.
Meanwhile, Jahil is still trying to get the money for the girls’ demo, so he heads to his godson and the godson’s mom’s house to beg. “Every time we give you money, it goes right up your nose!” she says. He swears he’s clean, though we know otherwise. “These girls are special,” he says for the thousandth freaking time.
“Well, if they’re so special, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble getting the money,” she tells him. WHICH IS TRUE! I don’t think I’m supposed to like her, but I do. Then she spits another tough truth after Jahil leaves, while she and her son consider whether he was right: “A white girl who can sing R&B… Even the mediocre ones go platinum.” Ugh. Yup.
At the salon, Carlotta has a bonding moment with Miss Lawrence, who tells her she has to tell the girls about what happened with Mary. “It’s not about Star, it’s about you,” she says. “They’re gonna be a handful. And I don’t like none of them. Real talk.” Carlotta seems to listen to her, so maybe she will tell the girls what really happened. Then they chat about how crazy it was Roland Crane actually came into the salon. “B-tch, I about threw up!” Miss Lawrence says. “B-tch, I gagged!” I’m dying! She is the best character on this show.
Later, Alexandra FaceTimes Roland, who — after listening to some of her music on SoundCloud — thinks she has real potential if she makes a couple tweaks and drops “that trash,” Star and Simone. Alexandra argues but then says she’ll consider it.
Star goes straight to Jahil to tell on Alexandra and he flips it around. “You’re the only one I care about anyway,” he says. “You drop those other girls and I’ll get you a solo deal.” She says she won’t drop her sister; she told him she was a package deal. “I don’t believe that,” he says. “You don’t believe that either.” Does she? Either way, she’s sick of other people being in control and heads to the W to talk to Roland.
NEXT: Star works her magic
“You sure you don’t have any black in you?” Roland asks Star when she finds him in the hotel bar. She’s sucking on a lollipop that’s lasted like four scenes. The Everlasting Gobstopper of lollipops. He explains he doesn’t want Alex in the business, and Star reminds him the music is “fire.” Then, just when people are starting to snap photos of them, she says they should “probably get out of this lobby.”
Next time we see them, Star is in the bubble bath singing into her phone, and Roland is shirtless on the bed. DID THEY HOOK UP? Would she really hook up with Alex’s father? Rose comes in and both Roland and Star, separately, ignore her. “For God’s sake, she’s underage!” she yells. “Get her out of here before I call the police!” Roland turns the TV up to drown her out; she smashes a glass. What a healthy relationship.
Carlotta heads to church and finds her pastor, who reminisces with her about how great her songs were when she was in the group with Mary. “That song you made was responsible for a lot of babies being born — including one of mine,” he says. So, I guess he’s not celibate? He asks her to invite him into her other world — the world of the salon. Wait, are they together?
Jahil, still trying to get that money, ends up meeting with an old lady named Maggie at the strip club. She throws a bag of coke at him, he begs for the money (it’s awful dialogue), and she says he’ll get it tonight, “along with instructions.” So, there’s a catch. And then there’s another: He has to kiss her on the lips to get it. What the heck? I guess it’s not just Star who has to debase herself a bit to get ahead…which makes it technically…gender equality? Eh…
When Star gets back to the salon, Rose has already told Alex what she saw in the hotel. “You were trying to screw my dad? Really?” she yells. “Are you really that thirsty?” Star tells her Rose came in before anything happened. “I never had a bubble bath before, let alone at the W,” Star says. She was going to sleep with him, she admits, but she didn’t.
“You’re crazy, and your crazy outweighs your talent,” Alex says. TRUE!
Carlotta takes her to her parents, where Rose is drinking a martini and Roland is defensive: “Your friend came on to me, all right?” What a great father. Alex says she’s not coming home and hands over all her credit cards. They’re not happy — Roland even goes so far as to say, “It’s ironic. You give your kids this magical, privileged life so they don’t have to know how black they are…” Hearing this, Carlotta realizes she’ll be a better parent to Alex than either of them, and they leave…but not before Carlotta gets the last word. “You need to stop chasing kids and work on your music — which sucks, by the way.”
Derek finds Alex in the parking lot, where she’s crying. He tells her not to leave and they seem to make up. Just like that, everything is fine! At home, Alex and Star make up, too, and they start working on a new song and dance routine.
Things aren’t as fine with Simone, though: She’s been having nightmares about her foster father. To numb herself, she steals some of Carlotta’s pills and chases them with liquor. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Simone is definitely the most compelling of the girls: She has real problems and is suffering in near silence. Will going to church with Carlotta really turn all that around?
At church, Simone meets the pastor. He and Carlotta convince her to go up and sing, even though she doesn’t know any gospel songs. That horrible tear thing happens again, and the girls perform the same song separately, Simone at church and Star and Alex in the bedroom. I said it earlier, but I’m standing by it: As cheesy as this show can be, the music is pretty catchy.
The performance-fantasy ends when Simone passes out and seems to have some sort of seizure from the pills. Carlotta rides in the ambulance with her; meanwhile, a few states away, Simone’s foster father shows up at the office of the social worker who gave Simone’s address to Star. “Where’s my daughter?” he asks the woman.
Wait — is this guy her biological father? Is it possible that this is even worse than it already seemed?