In the months since its hiatus, Empire has left us wondering: How will Lucious take losing his spot as CEO? What’s Camilla’s plan? And most importantly, what will happen to Rhonda? Fortunately, this week gave us a few answers — from the most obvious (Lucious is clearly not going down without a fight) to the least (I don’t understand anything about Camilla, honestly).
So let’s get started. We open with Rhonda lying in her foyer, bleeding, as her assailant steps over her and walks out — wearing red-soled Louboutins. She eventually crawls to her broken phone, but when Rhonda realizes it can’t make any calls, she has the brilliant idea to lob it at the front door, cracking the glass and setting off the alarm so someone can finally find her. But while she’s on the ground, she prays that God saves her baby — she doesn’t even care whether she dies or not.
Later, at the hospital, they get the terrible news that she’s lost the baby, which devastates Andre (along with the rest of the family). But Rhonda might be taking it worst of all: She decides that since her prayer wasn’t answered, there must not be a God after all. The funny thing, though, is she swears she doesn’t remember anything about her accident, and keeps insisting that she must have slipped and fallen down those stairs. Does she really not remember, or is she going to try to figure things out on her own? When a smug Anika visits Rhonda in the hospital, promising, “There will be another heir,” it sort of feels like Rhonda’s onto her, but if she is, she doesn’t let on.
When Andre and Rhonda return home, Rhonda is adamant that she doesn’t want to sleep upstairs for a long time, but when Andre goes to fetch her some water, she attempts the ascent alone, but doesn’t make it far before she has a flashback and gives up. Perhaps she’ll keep having flashbacks until something triggers the memory of those red soles? Privately, Andre grieves alone in the nursery, whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” to the baby’s stuffed animals and bassinet. It’s a heartbreaking scene — and even Cookie’s admission that she once had a miscarriage herself and went on to have three healthy boys doesn’t fully cheer him up just yet. At least Andre and Rhonda always have each other.
Meanwhile, Lucious isn’t taking his dethroning well. First, he breaks into his office and sits there while Andre and Thirsty plead with him to leave (news of Rhonda’s accident is what finally gets him moving), then later, he sits in his room loading a gun. “I’m going to take my company back,” he says to Cookie. “I don’t know how our son turned out to be so rotten.”
“Well, maybe the apple don’t fall far from the tree,” she reminds him, before telling him to put the gun away. (Of course, Cookie’s already had her own meeting with Hakeem, in which she beat him with a broom and then her purse — just like old times!) She tells Lucious she has a plan to take Empire back from the inside, but he needs to give her two days to put it into action.
But Camilla has a plan, too, and it involves placing Hakeem at the head of the table as the new CEO — something he’s all about, aside from the fact that Camilla wants him to get rid of Laura… you know, the girl he’s told both Anika and Camilla that he’s in love with (so basically, everyone but Laura).
Jamal tries to convince Hakeem that being CEO brought out the worst in him, and he should be wary of suffering the same fate, but Hakeem loads up with a gallon of liquid courage at the bar and goes to see Mirage a Toi’s rehearsal for their performance on “Tiny Desk Concert.” “Why are you being lazy?” Hakeem spits at Laura. “You’re holding them back.” Laura isn’t going to sit there and take this — though neither are her bandmates, who leave and presumably quit. “I knew your little virgin a– was going to dip anyway,” Hakeem says, and that’s the final straw for Laura. “I was so stupid,” she says on her way out. Now nothing stands between Hakeem and his throne.
Well, there is something: the other board members, who could potentially run for CEO of Empire themselves. But Lucious and Thirsty enlist their band of thugs to “visit” the board members in contention for the position. “Nothing illegal, like murder,” Thirsty instructs. “But everything else is fair game.” In a gutting sequence, Lucious plays a chilling piano ballad while scenes of the board members meeting their fates are interspersed: One unlocks his car only to have the unlock button trigger an explosion, while another finds her lifeless cat hanging from her ceiling. Now nothing stands between Hakeem and his throne.
NEXT: The new era begins
At the board meeting to vote for CEO, those affected keep their heads down. “It has come to my attention that all CEO candidates have withdrawn their nominations due to personal reasons,” Camilla says at the meeting. Only one member, badly beaten in the previous sequence, contests, “No, it’s more than personal.” He calls Empire a sinking ship and leaves the room, while Hakeem jumps on the table and convinces everyone that this is his birthright, and he’ll bring Empire into the future. “Make some noise for the new era of Hakeem Lyon, y’all!” (Ah, so now he’s ready to reclaim his last name.)
No episode of Empire is really complete without a new hit from Jamal, so at an ASA nominee performance, he debuts a new hit about sexual freedom. Jameson and Cookie both got on Jamal’s case for his tryst with Skye (gay or not, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep with Alicia Keys?!) — though while Cookie’s was a playful “Choose a side!”, Jameson reminded him that in 10 countries, you can still be executed for being gay. If news of Jamal and Skye gets out, Jameson warns, the politicians who argue that being gay is a “choice” will just get more fuel for their arguments.
But in response, Jamal performs a funky, Justin Timberlake-esque track with sexy male and female dancers and lines like, “I got a brand new perspective, and I don’t give a damn who knows.” Jameson seems convinced — and so does the audience. No one can solve a serious problem with a catchy tune like Jamal Lyon!
Cookie can solve them in other ways, though, and with Jamal and Andre’s help, she confronts Hakeem in his new office, where Camilla is feeding him as he lounges in a ridiculous suit. Using Jamal’s album — jointly produced with Empire and Lyon Dynasty — as collateral, the Lyons explain that if Hakeem doesn’t agree to their terms, they can release Jamal’s album on Lyon Dynasty or just leak it, which wouldn’t be a good look for his first move as CEO. Instead, if Empire acquires Lyon Dynasty but agrees to give them full autonomy (like Rockafella had at Def Jam, Andre notes), everyone wins. Empire keeps Jamal’s fire album, and Cookie gets to be head of A&R — of all of Empire — like she’s always wanted. And deserved. To Camilla’s disappointment, Hakeem agrees, maintaining that he never wanted to hurt the family by voting Lucious out — just Lucious. “I took my dad out because he lost his way,” he says, “But I did it for all of us. So let’s just come back to Empire and be a real family again like we was before.”
Now that Hakeem has everything else where he wants it, he realizes what he’s still missing: Laura. She performs — and kills — her “Tiny Desk Concert” all by herself, and it inspires Hakeem to rush to her house and apologize, which she accepts. They go up to her room to hook up, and Hakeem asks if she’s sure she wants to do this. “You promise me we’ll really be together?” Laura asks. “Promise,” he says — but then just before, he says, “I don’t think we should do this.” She tells him otherwise, then whispers, “I love you,” while they’re in the act. “I love you, too,” Hakeem whispers back. And then the camera pans up to the crucifix over Laura’s bed. Hope Hakeem can live up to her standards.
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In the chilling final scene, Lucious makes Hakeem meet up with him at the waterfront — the same waterfront, he spells out in very clear terms, where he shot his best friend Bunky because Bunky threatened him. “That’s how much the empire means to me,” Lucious tells him. “And if you think you’re going to be the CEO of my company, I will stop at nothing to take it back.” Since Hakeem’s his baby, Lucious says, he’ll give him something: a gun. “Now is the time for you to decide how far you’re willing to go to have the empire,” he says. “You want to be king? Kill your father and sit on his throne. It’s life or death, so if you don’t shoot me right here, I promise that the next time I see you, I will take your life.”
Hakeem puts the gun to his head, and Lucious keeps coaxing him to shoot. He even turns around so Hakeem is facing his back, to make it “easier” for him. “Pull the damn trigger,” Lucious says. “Is that what you want?” Hakeem asks. “Pull the damn trigger!” Lucious says. But Hakeem puts the gun down and starts walking away. “I ain’t gotta do what you want,” he says.
But Lucious, of course, can’t let him leave without getting the final word: “Watch your back, baby boy. I keep my promises.”
So, what do you think? Would Lucious really shoot Hakeem? Will Cookie’s plan to take Camilla out from the inside work? Will Hakeem end up making an amazing CEO?