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'Empire' recap: 'True Love Never'

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Chuck Hodes/Fox

Empire

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
2
run date:
01/07/15
performer:
Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett
author:
8989
broadcaster:
Fox
publisher:
Tor Books
genre:
Drama

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 the characters in terms of relative genius/insanity. You can add your own ratings in the comments below.

COOKIE LYON 

How crazy/awesome was she? Crazy enough to hire her son’s kidnappers to “protect” her family

What the heck happened with her this week? It’s just like Laz said: She should’ve been handling business, not booty.

Maybe it’s fitting that this week’s episode began with Cookie and Laz playing a little game of grab-the-bull-by-the-longhorns in bed, because you can now watch Empire the way some people watch porn. Apparently, it doesn’t make much of a difference if you fast-forward through the story to get to the good stuff. (Here, “the good stuff” mostly means the musical performances, the over-the-top fights, and the occasional threesome.) For the past few weeks, Empire has really lost the plot. Remember that FBI raid? Remember Roxanne? Remember Valentina? Remember that Apex deal? Remember how Porsha got Cookie arrested and yet still remains gainfully employed by Lyon Dynasty? If not, no need to worry. None of this season’s narrative arcs lasts more than a few weeks. The writers don’t even seem to care if the twists make sense anymore. 

In the past, Cookie has always been a savvy businesswoman and a great judge of character. She can always tell when Lucious is lying, and she knows not to trust Anika — though, let’s face it, Anika has been more loyal to the Lyon clan than the Lyons have been to one another. They steal one another’s artists and smother each other with pillows every chance they get. So why is Cookie so quick to trust Laz, a guy she just happened to meet right before Hakeem got kidnapped? And why doesn’t Cookie think it’s suspicious that her new boyfriend focuses all his pillow talk on how she runs her business and wants her to hire Hakeem’s kidnappers for a new music festival called Cookie’s Cookout? Even Hakeem doesn’t think Cookie should have Laz on the payroll, and this is coming from a little Lyon who’s so unprofessional, he once rode a hoverboard-like Segway down the hall to a board meeting.

Anyway, I don’t suspect that Laz will have a long-term story line on Empire. All Hakeem has to do is catch the guy with his shirt off, and the jig is up. But considering how many days Laz spent in bed with Cookie this week, it wouldn’t be surprising if he stayed just long enough to kick-start another insane plot twist. Maybe we’re due for yet another pregnancy scandal? Mid-season finale prediction: Mama Lyon will announce that she’s having another cub. 

Most tweetable quote: “I’m hungry! We ate everything…” [Gives Laz a seductive look] “You ate everything.”

Most GIF-worthy moment: Road testing those satin sheets with help from Laz

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LUCIOUS LYON

How crazy/awesome was he? Crazy enough to play Fight Club with a prospective business partner

What the heck happened with him this week? He made some questionable business decisions.

Is he up for having a threesome with Mimi, even though she’s a lesbian and also one of his top executives, which might pose a problem for HR? Of course. How about trying to broker a merger with the head of a streaming service by literally throwing punches in a boxing ring? Why not. What about drugging that same executive with morphine in order to ensure the deal goes his way? Hey, whatever it takes. Empire is always the most fun when it makes the hip-hop industry seem like a magical place that’s filled with dream logic and Dynasty-level scheming, rather than just another corporate world where contracts get signed. But if it’s going to be crazy — and it should always be crazy — then it shouldn’t even try to exist in the real world, because the smaller details don’t always ring true. 

For instance, Lucious just recently bought Apex, securing control of the urban radio market. So why isn’t he concentrating on building that part of his business, instead of quickly trying to merge with a streaming service? Didn’t he learn anything from Jay Z? It’s also strange that when he needs advice about Freda’s new track, he doesn’t go to a producer who has experience with hardcore rappers. Instead, he goes to Huey Jarvis, Empire‘s equivalent of Quincy Jones, whose living room sessions often lead to Grammy wins. Huey tells Lucious he needs to “dig deeper” for his own verse on the track. What, “boom boom, bang bang” isn’t deep enough?

All of this soul-searching leads Lucious to yet another sepia-toned flashback to his childhood. Kelly Rowland delivers another powerful performance as Lucious’ bipolar mother, but these flashbacks have diminishing returns. We already know that Lucious’ mom has a history of mental illness. We already assume that her suicidal impulses have been passed down through the Lyon family’s DNA, most notably to Andre. So it’s hard to understand why we need to actually see Lucious hiding the bullets from her gun, and even harder to understand why he needs to literally see a gun tattoo on a woman’s leg for this sad memory to trigger a creative breakthrough. (Between the longhorns and the gun, I’m beginning to think that everyone on Empire has a secret tattoo.) Yes, it would be satisfying to hear Lucious improve his rap game, especially with lyrics that have more emotional resonance for him. But the only real change I heard between the original “Boom Boom” and the revised verse was him ranting, “Y’all want some? Come get some!” Surely, there are deeper places to dig.

Most tweetable quote: “We don’t fight. We’re partners. We share.” —Lucious inviting Mimi into a ménage à trois

Most GIF-worthy moment: Making the world’s best guitar face…while playing the sitar

NEXT: The other Lyons

[pagebreak]

HAKEEM AND JAMAL LYON

How crazy/awesome were they? Crazy for Cookie, who gets the Mom of the Year award

What the heck happened with them this week? They listened to their mama.

Even with all the dramatic hook-ups and break-ups on Empire, the greatest love is the one between Cookie and her sons. It’s sweet to see Cookie helping Jamal with a new track, texting him suggestions until he has refined the music into a bona fide hit. When he’s invited to play the song on The Living Room Sessions, they celebrate by getting drunk together, running around the studio like happy teenagers and recording a midnight session together. The result is fantastic — “my whole damn kingdom sittin’ on top of me” might be Jamal’s best line — and it earns Jamal an invitation to Huey’s living room. 

Cookie has even more good advice for Hakeem, urging him to promote Laura himself. (This might be the weirdest thing about Empire‘s vision of the music industry: Publicists and marketing teams don’t seem to exist.) When Hakeem gets Laura to perform in the middle of the street, the stunt doesn’t feel original enough to go viral. People stop on street corners to belt out songs every day in New York. No one would ever stop and stare in real life. But the scene is worth it just to hear Laura’s lovely voice, singing “I Will Survive” in Spanish — and also to see the shocked look on Hakeem’s face when she kisses him.

Most tweetable quote: “Anything needs to be negotiated, I’m the one to negotiate,” says Hakeem. “And you’re in my negotiating chair.”

Most GIF-worthy moment: Hakeem kissing Laura before a massive crowd, like it’s V-J Day in Times Square

ANDRE LYON

How crazy/awesome was he? Still the craziest of them all

What the heck happened with him this week? He got some holy guidance that the Lord might not have smiled upon.

The slightly longer version? Lucious convinces him to sleep with Deputy Mayor Alvarez to in order to get Freda’s gang charges dropped. Surprisingly, that strategy squares with his faith, since Andre’s pastor says he shouldn’t worry about doing “repugnant” things if it’s for a larger good. But Andre ultimately decides against sleeping with Alvarez and blackmails her instead, before heading home with a triumphant smile to his supposedly pregnant wife. Just one question, though, while we wait for next week’s episode: If Rhonda was actually pregnant, would she really push herself so hard on the treadmill like that? Hmmmm.

Most tweetable quote: Sorry, Andre, this one goes to your pastor: “Sometimes warriors have to do things on the battlefield that would be repugnant in any other context.” 

Most GIF-worthy moment: Reenacting his last suicide attempt with a finger-gun pointed at his head

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