Empire has always been a show about family issues — that’s literally the whole point. But this week, families tangential to the Lyons’ came into the mix, too: Freda and Jamal bond over their daddy issues, Hakeem has an epiphany after meeting Laura’s loving family, and the Lyons’ dysfunction becomes too much for Rhonda. Is it possible to put your own family behind you and choose another? Or are you chained to a cycle that’s been pre-determined by your genes?
We open at Camilla’s funeral — so turns out she actually did die last week. Rhonda will assume Camilla’s role as creative director of the Antony & Cleopatra fashion line (that was convenient!), and she’s successfully gotten Andre to the doctor and on a new dose of meds — or so Andre says.
Lucious, for his part, takes plenty of glee in rubbing Camilla’s death in Hakeem’s face. “I want to commend you on getting rid of Camilla like that,” he says. “Thank god you killed her.” Hakeem maintains that he didn’t kill Camilla, and Cookie says the state is calling it a murder-suicide — just like Lucious knew they would. But clearly, he’s planning to make Hakeem feel a guilt he doesn’t deserve to feel, and I for one hope Lucious fails.
On a lighter note, Cookie’s about to celebrate her first birthday in 17 years as a free woman. [PAUSE: Are we really supposed to believe that all of Empire’s craziness has taken place in less than a year?!?! What kind of time-slowing wormhole is this?] All she wants is a nice dinner with her family — which might be too much to ask of the Lyons clan, but we’ll see.
The major part of this episode revolves around Lucious’ video shoot. Cookie’s convinced him to do away with the Shakespearean knights and swords, and with protégé Freda Gatz’s verse altogether — which means that the King Richard II plot the video originally had actually came true, because Lucious/King Richard banished Freda/Bolingbroke after all! Instead, they go to Philadelphia and pay homage to the lion statue Lucious slept under after he ran away from home. It takes constant pushing and prodding from Cookie, but eventually she succeeds in her pleas for Lucious to put his “whole truth” into the video. Which means Cookie finally gets to learn the whole truth for the first time: We’ve seen it in flashbacks, but still no one else knows about Lucious’ mother holding him underwater or about her killing herself right in front of his eyes. The memories are understandably tough for Lucious to dredge up, but with Cookie’s help, they get it right, and Cookie, especially, knows just how to direct the actor who’s playing young Lucious. (She is a mom, after all!)
Meanwhile, Jamal and Hakeem head out to Brownsville looking for Freda and have an adorable impromptu freestyle with a little kid. Well, it’s adorable, but it’s also heartbreaking, since the kid raps “I see gangsters hiding guns up in baby strollers / That could be me when I get older.” Eventually, Freda walks up, and Jamal asks if she wants to record something together. Freda refuses, saying if they have beef with Lucious, it doesn’t involve her. She doesn’t know, yet, that Lucious cut her verse from “Boom Boom Boom Boom.” I loved her parting words to the Lyon brothers, though: “Y’all have a safe trip back to Soho, and try not to get jacked!”
Outside of New York, the Tiana / Mirage a Trois tour Cookie organized to get around Camilla’s budget cuts is in full swing, and it’s not going well. Laura and Mirage a Trois are onstage for longer than they’re supposed to be, and Princess Tiana is not happy about it. What’s worse is that the tabloids have picked up on the drama between Hakeem’s once-and-current flames, and it’s making news. As Becky puts it, “This is bad. This is Keyshia Cole vs. Black Twitter bad.”
But like a good CEO (and boyfriend), Hakeem zips down to the next stop in D.C. and convinces Laura to hold back in the bigger cities, but convinces Tiana to let Laura “spread her wings” a little and play one extra song in smaller cities. Not only is everyone happy, but the trio debuts a hot new song (as usual!) to fight off the rumors. Okay, I lied just a bit: Tiana doesn’t seem 100 percent happy. When she sees Laura and Hakeem kissing, she looks a little forlorn. Can’t Tiana find someone to love?
Hakeem meets Laura’s warm, wonderful parents in Laura’s dressing room. “Thank you for believing in our girl,” Laura’s father says to Hakeem. Her mother mentions that Laura’s father can sing as well, but he brushes it off: “There’s nothing better for a father than when his child shines brighter than he ever did,” he says. This hits a nerve for poor Hakeem. “My family ain’t like that,” he says quietly. “It’s nice, though.” Laura’s father follows up with a sweet, “I’m sure your father feels that way, he just doesn’t know how to say it.” But Hakeem knows the truth as well as we do — Lucious won’t put anyone above himself, even his kids.
And after showing up for the “Boom Boom Boom Boom” video shoot and being turned away, Freda learns Lucious’ true colors, too. She heads to the studio, where Jamal’s song has an awkward, repetitive hole in it where he wanted Freda’s verse to be. Luckily, once she’s there, they talk about how their fathers hold them back and they’re trapped in a cycle of hating them and wanting their approval. Freda, for her part, still feels held back by her father’s chains even though he’s dead. Together, they record a nice song (a little weak on Jamal’s part, after last week’s anti-Lucious banger), and Hakeem’s production takes it over the top.
NEXT: Will Cookie get her “peaceful” dinner?
Later, at Lucious’ house, Cookie shows up for her birthday dinner. She’s in a bad mood because Jamal told her he’d have to take her out tomorrow instead — he just can’t stand to be around Lucious. Earlier, Jamal realized that Cookie is falling for Lucious again, but warned her to be careful. “All I wanted was a happy birthday dinner with my family,” Cookie tells Lucious now. “Can’t do that because you managed to piss off all my sons!” But — surprise! — a piano tinkles in the other room, and it turns out the whole family was there to surprise her. Cookie is as happy as ever and decides now is the time to play a rough cut of Lucious’ video — because she’s proud of it, but also because she’s on Team Lucious right now, and thinks that showing her boys his real story might help them understand him.
Well, she thought wrong, at least in one very important case. As a shocked Andre watches the scene in which Lucious’ mother holds the gun to her head, he jumps up and turns off the TV. “Was my grandmother bipolar?” Andre asks. “I don’t know. I ain’t no doctor,” Lucious answers coldly. Andre keeps pushing, saying if everything in the video is true, if she really shot herself, then was she bipolar?
“Back then, we didn’t have a name for it,” Lucious concedes. “But yeah, I guess you could say she was bipolar.”
“You knew. This whole time you knew,” Andre says, seething. “You made me feel like I was some freak you didn’t even recognize.” At first Lucious tries to say that he didn’t see how Andre knowing his grandmother killed herself would help him at all, which is semi-valid, but then he turns into the monster he usually is.
“The truth is, you’ve got mental issues,” Lucious says. “I sent you to all those fancy schools, let you marry Rhonda… The truth is, my mom was a nutjob. I was embarrassed by her. Same way I’m embarrassed by you.” It’s so cruel, but not out-of-character for a guy who can’t seem to figure out how to love his sons at all. “To hell with you, Lucious,” Andre says as he storms out. So much for a peaceful birthday dinner for Cookie, right?
All the drama and hate is just too much for Hakeem, so he flies straight to Laura’s next tour stop and meets her at the stage door. “I thought you were at your mom’s birthday!” she says. “It made me want to come be here with you… I had fun with you and your family,” Hakeem says. “With my family, everyone’s always at each other’s throats… I want to build my own family as beautiful as yours.” He gets down on one knee and proposes! Laura obviously says yes — and I have to admit, I really, really love Hakeem and Laura. Cliché as it is, she makes him a better person, and I like the way Hakeem is when he’s with her. The only person who’s slightly hurt by this is Tiana, who sees the aftermath of the proposal, and all the fans screaming for the couple, while she’s left in the shadows. I’m curious to see where Tiana goes from here: Will she find a new love interest? Try to get revenge on Laura? Leave the label for good?
Hakeem isn’t the only one left at the end of his rope after that dinner. Rhonda, too, can’t take it anymore — so she calls Anika to come get her. “I feel like I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life looking out for [Andre],” Rhonda says. “I just need a day or two to look out for myself.” Anika, all sweet and friendly, says Rhonda can stay with her as long as she needs. “Thank you,” says Rhonda. “It will be nice to be around someone sane for a change.” Oh Rhonda, I hope you’re not making a huge mistake. Will she find out that Anika’s pregnant while she’s staying there? Does Anika plan to hurt Rhonda further?
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In the final scene, Jamal and Freda are recording their song with production from Hakeem, when Cookie comes in and declares it a hit. Jamal asks if she still wants to produce his album — he replaced her with Hakeem when Cookie decided she needed to focus on Lucious’ video — and Cookie says that Hakeem’s doing great work and should continue. They mention his engagement and seem to approve (but also Cookie doesn’t seem to care that much?), and Freda is also unexpectedly sweet, calling Cookie “Miss Cookie” and being super polite. They go back in the studio to finish the verse, where Freda name-checks her father, Frank Gathers. If you have a short memory, that would be Chris Rock’s cannibal character from the season 2 premiere, who, Lucious also finally told Cookie, this week, was the one who got Lucious started selling drugs at an incredibly young age. Frank sent Cookie that lovely severed head way back when, which is one of the reasons Lucious had him killed in prison — another reason being that he was going to have Lucious killed, so…
Anyway, apparently Cookie didn’t realize that Freda was Frank’s daughter, and after Freda mentions that she wasn’t going to stop until she figures out who killed him — because the cops clearly don’t care — Cookie excuses herself to go into an empty room and hyperventilate. Let’s hope Freda’s too busy cranking out hits to crack down on the case for now…