Ugh, kind of a disappointing episode all around. I’m disappointed in the characters, in the songs (honestly trying to remember one right now), and in the more tired plots, like Lucious being a horrible father. Why does anyone expect anything from Lucious anymore? Why does Cookie always have to save the day? (And on that note, why is she not just running Empire herself already?)
But before I rattle off any other questions, let’s get on the same page. Rhonda is staying with Anika after Anika offered at the end of last week, but Rhonda says things are looking up because Andre’s reverend agreed it was okay to recalibrate Andre’s meds, and he no longer thinks someone pushed Rhonda down the stairs. There’s no way that attack is going to be swept under the rug, but it’s sure taking longer than I expected for the truth to come out. Anyway, Andre comes over to talk to Rhonda, and they talk about renting an apartment and getting back “on the same team” again. Turns out Andre hasn’t even been going to church: He’s been “wrestling with some issues spiritually that I didn’t think the Reverend would understand.” Rhonda admits that this makes her relieved, and they agree that they were the happiest when they were excited about their future — i.e. plotting to take over Empire.
Anika interrupts their reunion with the sound of violent puking from the bathroom (that must have been planned, right?). She pretends she just “can’t” tell them why she’s really sick after what they went through but eventually drops the bomb we already know: She’s pregnant, and it’s Hakeem’s.
Meanwhile, Lucious is meeting with the majority shareholders of Empire, all of whom are impressed that he’s got the music world buzzing after his “Dwight Walker” video (I don’t remember if someone commented on this last week or I saw it on Twitter, but all I can hear now is “White Walker” when they say his name, too.) Lucious pretends he doesn’t necessarily want to be back at Empire like the majority shareholders say they want but says, “If the board calls on me to serve, I will consider it.” Consider. Ha, ha. Cookie drops by at the very end of the gathering and warns him to tell her before he does something against Hakeem. She also brings up the connection she only just made between Freda Gatz and the late Frank Gathers and says, “I don’t want that dangerous b—- near my boys.” Harsh, Cookie! Freda calls you “Miss Cookie” and respects you! Just…don’t get on her bad side?
We see another side of Freda, too: Jamal meets her at the barbershop where she works and tells her he now wants her on two different tracks on his Black album. She’s thrilled, but after Jamal leaves, Freda pulls a gun on a guy who’s been whining that the Frank Gathers memorial — with a chair no one’s allowed to sit in — has been up for too long.
Back in the studio, Jamal plays his songs with Freda to everyone in the boardroom, and the crowd is loving it. Cookie, however, is not impressed. “It’s all right,” she allows. But if everyone’s still talking about Lucious’ video, Jamal needs to step up his game.
Young mogul Hakeem is leading a meeting with Jamal — stocked with a mouth-watering plate of donuts (‘Keem, are you hiring?) — when Andre walks in and says he’s on board for the big shareholders meeting and gives Hakeem advice about how to handle the shareholders and which of Empire’s projects Lucious might choose to attack. Hakeem says the Antony and Cleopatra line means the most to him, so Andre says that will probably be the one to go. (But wait — isn’t Rhonda now in charge of that line? Shouldn’t Andre be more worried?) He also breezes past his reunion with Lucious after last week when he said he was ashamed of Andre for being bipolar, which I have to say seems incredibly lazy on the writers’ part. That was a huge, and frankly traumatic, scene last week. I can’t imagine Andre would just let it slide by because he wants things to go back to normal.
But anyway, Andre was right about one thing: Lucious’ shady lawyer Thirsty is seen in the next shot stealing all the clothes from the Antony and Cleopatra showroom just before the big deal with Saks can close. Thanks, Lucious.
When Hakeem confronts his “father,” Lucious plays coy, as usual: “Of course, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Hakeem says if Lucious doesn’t give the clothes back, he’ll send security footage to the police. “I wrote a song in the joint about people like you,” Lucious purrs. “It’s called ‘Snitch B—-.'” Hakeem says he won’t ever bow to Lucious, no matter how he treats him, but Lucious takes that as seriously as a kitten swatting at a, well, lion.
Turns out Lucious didn’t just steal the clothes: He also planted drugs on the Mirage a Trois tour bus so all their equipment got confiscated, and he screwed up the Swift Stream release, which was supposed to bring Empire some much-needed profits. Basically, Lucious ruined everything. As usual.
Cookie has some plans of her own, but they’re at least wrapped in a nicer package. She gets Stacey Run-Run — a high-profile, chart-topping female MC from the Lil’ Kim/Nicki Minaj school of diva — in to work with Jamal. The catch? She’ll only appear on a track if she’s the only female rapper on the whole album. So Jamal has to choose between this star and scrappy rookie Freda Gatz — just like Cookie wanted.
When Jamal breaks the news to Freda, she’s incredibly understanding — and even seems a little happy for Jamal. “I get it, Stacey Run-Run’s spit game is hot,” she says. “You can’t choose me over her.” Jamal promises they’ll work together after he’s done with this album, but Freda brushes him off. “You don’t need to make promises,” she says. “Do you, and win.”
Andre and Lucious (I still can’t get over this stupid mysterious make-up they had) are in a graveyard, where Lucious shows Andre his grandmother’s headstone. Lucious tells Andre that it was difficult living with his mother because he never knew which side of her would answer him — the terrifying, abusive one or the one who “could make the sun come up at midnight.” Andre tells Leah Walker’s tombstone that he wishes he could have met her and that “medical science has made things more hopeful for people like us. You could be whoever you dreamed of becoming on your good days.” It was moving and really makes you think about how much better things are for people with mental illness than they used to be — and how far we still have to go.
Lucious says he wishes she could have met Andre, too, and Andre says, “Whenever you say things like that, you have an agenda… I won’t go against my brothers.” Lucious says he understands Andre can’t go against his faith — and Andre confesses that he’s been wavering. Lucious takes the opportunity to remind Andre that he’s the best man for the job of CEO — and don’t they both want their Empire to be great?
NEXT: Anika’s big announcement
That night, all the Lyons gather together, and Rhonda and Andre make an introduction. “There’s someone here with something important to say,” Rhonda says — and invites Anika into the room. “I’m pregnant,” she says, to which Cookie immediately asks, “SO?” Cookie is furious at Hakeem, who wonders how Anika knows the baby is his, but she swears he’s the only other man she’s been with after Lucious. Rhonda says she actually convinced Anika to keep the baby (oh yeah, like Anika was going to get rid of her only leverage!) because Empire needs an heir.
“This family uses the word ‘heir’ like we’re in a Shakespearean play,” Jamal says — honestly, a little too on-the-nose for a show we all know was inspired by King Lear and which tosses off more Shakespeare references than there are jewels on a crown. Jamal reminds them if they want to find the true heir, they’ll need to revisit his own daughter, Lola — but Thirsty already did that at the beginning of the episode, and DNA testing revealed that Jamal is not the father, after all. Anyway, what does Anika want for having this baby? Not money, just for her child to have a family. She recognizes that she’s played her part in the Lyons’ drama, but family is “almost priceless,” and she needs it for this kid.
Later, Lucious shows up at Anika’s house unannounced and offers her money or a trust fund for the child. They both accuse each other of having cheated, but Anika swears she never slept with Beretti, and Lucious swears he would never have left Anika for Cookie. Lucious tells her to take the money before it gets ugly, but Anika threatens to tell the FBI all the juicy stuff she learned about him while living and working with him for five years. “If I didn’t know better, I would say you’re threatening me,” he says. “You know, a lot of women don’t survive childbirth.” LUCIOUS! You used to love that woman! Would he really kill another of Hakeem’s exes — especially if she’s his own ex, too? Will he stop at anything?
Finally, it’s time for the big shareholders meeting/concert. Only Tiana performs, and it’s a snooze of a song, too, but then it’s time for Hakeem to take the stage. Shareholders ask why he hasn’t released new music, and he explains he’s been busy making money for the shareholders. But then Lucious — who’s somehow disapparated from Anika’s house to the meeting — takes the audience mic and asks Hakeem a question of his own. “What are the five biggest challenges facing the music industry over the next 10 years?” At first, Hakeem seems stumped, but then he lists some good ones with smooth confidence. But Lucious is prepared, and he flips the tables. Hakeem thinks live shows are important? Then why did he just scrap an entire tour? Hakeem tries to say that it’s Lucious’ fault (just like Cookie told him not to do), but Lucious keeps interrupting him and bringing up more and more failings — like Swift Stream, which Hakeem had just told the shareholders was doing well. Was this Andre’s betrayal?
Eventually, the crowd starts chanting Lucious’ name, and Mama Bear has to step in and remind them that, while Lucious is a legend, Hakeem helped her start Lyon Dynasty from scratch. The Lyons will fight together to make Empire great, she promises. Everyone cheers (despite just being told about all the ways they’re losing money), and it seems okay — from the outside.
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Of course the next day, the board votes Hakeem out, and Lucious is back on his throne. “You did the best you could steering this mess of a ship,” Cookie tells Hakeem. But Lucious can’t help taunting his son still: “You can tell your kids you ran Empire for all of 10 minutes!” If there’s anything that irks me more than Lucious, it’s a gloating Lucious. Step up and be a dad, man!
Meanwhile in Jamal’s studio, it turns out hotshot Stacey had to run off to Tokyo, but she pre-recorded her verse. Cookie tries to convince him this is what the superstars do and it’s fine, but Jamal hates it and thinks it’s incredibly disrespectful for Stacey to just leave without working on the song. He runs back to Freda at the barbershop and says Stacey was fine, but if he has to choose between anyone, he’s going to choose Freda. He even sings her part of the bridge for their song and asks if they can record it that night, but Freda is noncommittal. “I’ll think about it, alright?” Is her cool, calm, collected attitude a front and she’s really fuming and plotting inside? Or is she really just rolling with the punches and trying to weigh the odds of a Lyon burning her again? I don’t know what I’d do in her situation — it’s hard when everyone’s looking out for No. 1.
But the most interesting twist of the week happened back in Lucious’ home state of Pennsylvania. Thirsty goes into a nursing home and asks about Leah Walker — Lucious’ mother, who supposedly shot herself right in front of him. The lady at the front desk says, “You want to say hello to Miss Leah?” But Thirsty quickly brushes it off, saying that as long as everything’s fine, he doesn’t need to bother her and drops off an envelope. He leaves, and the camera pans over to an old woman in a rocking chair humming a song about “Mona Lisa.” In a quick flashback, we see young Leah and little Dwight, and she’s singing the same song.
So…Leah’s alive?! Did Lucious seriously buy a headstone and a graveyard plot to fake his mother’s death? Who was sending payment (I assume) for the nursing home before Thirsty got involved? Has Leah gotten any of the modern medicine and treatments that Andre told her tombstone about? But most puzzling of all: How can Lucious be so cold-hearted?!