Let’s face it: You’re not reading this recap because you want a lofty deconstruction of the symbolism and philosophy behind Empire. You’re reading because you just watched the latest over-the-top episode and you thought, “What the hell was that?!?” as a billion GIFs exploded in your brain. So every week, instead of a traditional recap, we’ll give you the latest edition of Empire: How Crazy/Awesome Was It?, in which we rate this week’s episode in terms of relative genius/insanity. Add your own ratings in the comments below.
How crazy/awesome was he? Crazy enough to pull a gun without dropping the hammer, according to Lucious
What the heck happened with him this week? He was kidnapped by thugs with longhorn tattoos on their backs. And (gasp!) Cookie’s new boyfriend, Laz Delgado, happens to have a longhorn tattoo, too. But don’t worry, it’s probably just a coincidence. Maybe Laz was a frat brother at the University of Texas?
Anyway, it’s hard to tell why anyone would mastermind this kidnapping plot, whether it’s Laz or Empire‘s writers. Once again, this week’s episode sets up a major dramatic arc with a lot of potential — Hakeem’s life hangs in limbo, which might have the power to unite the warring Lyon family — only to watch the writers forget about the whole story line just a few minutes later, when they’re distracted by another crazy twist. Hey, look! There’s Becky, hooking up on the roof. GET IT, GIRL!
Lucious calls Hakeem’s kidnapping a “smash and grab,” because the thugs only asked for $40,000 in exchange for his freedom, and I’m beginning to think that Empire is playing smash and grab with our attention spans, too. One minute, Hakeem is moaning with duct tape over his mouth and an eye that’s beaten into a purple pulp. The next, Lucious is negotiating his release and Hakeem is back to hooking up with Anika. Because nothing puts a guy in the mood like a) narrowly escaping death and b) crossing paths with your sweaty girlfriend while she’s crying on the phone to her mom. When the doctor examines Hakeem afterward, it’s hard to tell if the scratches on his back are marks of torture or scratches from Boo Boo Kitty’s claws. Either way, he doesn’t want Cookie to see them.
Luckily, Hakeem has some Wolverine-level healing powers, because his eye clears up surprisingly quickly, though his mind is still a mess. When he performs with Mirage a Trois — or as Cookie calls them, Destiny’s Problem Child — he chokes on the verse he’s supposed to deliver and rages against everyone in the room. Bryshere Gray pulls off an emotional performance as Hakeem struggles with PTSD, especially when Cookie forces him to “man up” and confront his kidnappers, which results in him pulling a gun. It’s refreshing to see Gray bring such depth to this character, since Hakeem often doesn’t often get the chance to feel much beyond what’s under the latest R&B ingénue’s hot pants. His anger at Lucious is palpable when Daddy Lyon tries to lure him back to Empire with a new song, “Boom Boom Bang Bang” with “no strings attached.” (No strings, except the fact that he offered the same track to Freda.) And Hakeem is like a bruised puppy when Andre gives him an inspiring pep talk about surviving the Lyon family. However, he eventually triumphs at the Big Apple Jam with the best rap performance of the night. He’s such a strong presence on stage, Anika’s even lured to the after party, showing up just in time to catch some shade from Laura, who’s been warned about Hakeem’s wandering eye before.
Will next week’s episode find Hakeem spontaneously cured of PTSD and ready for love with Laura? Or will we still be guessing who kidnapped him? It can’t just be Laz, can it? Maybe Cookie’s new man is working for Thirsty, who’s out to blackmail Lucious? Maybe Laz is actually working for Roxanne Ford, who’s looking for some payback? Or does every bad deed ultimately circle back to Lucious? At this point, I suspect everyone, including Whoopty Woo. That dog always had a cagey look in its eye.
Most tweetable quote: “Can’t be worse than the nightmare of bein’ your son.” —Hakeem’s response to Lucious calling the kidnapping his “worst nightmare”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Breaking the mirror with a punch straight out of Street Fighter
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How crazy/awesome was he? Crazy enough to insist that he will only represent the most virtuous artists…on a label that’s called Gutter Life
What the heck happened with him this week? He trusted that a Bible-quoting preacher’s kid could have major street cred.
Okay, it was funny to see Andre tell a room full of record label execs that they should stop thinking about numbers and start thinking about the “character” of their artists. (I laughed out loud when the business lady with the glasses nodded her head, like, Hmmmm! Character! $$$$!) But there are so many reasons to love Andre’s new protege, J-Poppa, the only artist who survived Andre’s interrogation sessions about whether hip-hop loves women and what about the art form should be changed. It’s not just because J-Poppa loves Becky, though that’s fantastic. It’s not just because he’s a preacher’s kid who confounds the usual expectations about the kind of rappers who might sign to a label that Lucious describes as “raw.” It’s also that he’s bound to bring a ton of drama to a show that’s already rife with it.
Lucious has a problem with Andre championing J-Poppa due to the Christian content of his lyrics, but that’s a funny complaint, coming from a guy whose artists perform in a club called Leviticus. And it looks like J-Poppa might be a natural rival for Freda, who’s a massive liability to Gutter Life, considering her affinity for beating people up on a whim. But the best thing about J-Poppa is that his real name is Job, which suggests that he’s about to put Andre through hell. Soon, Andre won’t just be talking to God anymore. He’ll be talking to the locusts crawling out of his bathroom sink.
Most tweetable quote: “You can reach a lot more people with the light than you can with the darkness, brother.”
Most GIF-worthy moment: That nuh-uh look on Andre’s face when Freda kicks her heckler right in the mouth
NEXT: The other Lyons