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 of face slaps and decapitated heads 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.
How crazy-awesome was she? Crazy like a fox. A crazy fox wearing an ape costume, apparently for symbolic reasons.
What the heck happened with her this week? Can you say “hostile takeover”? If so, you’re not the only one. So many members of the Lyon family say the words “hostile takeover” in the season premiere that if you could took a swig of your Drip Drop Champagne™ every time someone utters the phrase, you would be drunk enough to want to be a shareholder in this company. But no one works harder to seize control of Empire than Cookie. First, she stages a #FreeLucious concert, featuring performances by Sean Cross and Swizz Beatz (and, of course, Jamal and Hakeem) in order to raise awareness about Lucious’ plight behind bars and the mass incarceration of black men. She even dresses up as an ape and rattles her cage to make a point about the justice system “treat[ing] us like animals.” Or maybe, y’know, to prove that she looks good in rubberized faux-fur.
Of course, the Lyons know that Lucious is guilty. Cookie cares less about politics than she does about raising $250 million dollars to save Empire. Is it wrong for Cookie to exploit this issue for her own means? Well, that depends: Is it wrong for the show to do the same thing? Maybe we should ask Al Sharpton, who shows up at the rally to proclaim, “Mass incarceration is such an important issue!” with his eyes fixed on Cookie’s low-cut fishnet-and-peacock-feather get-up. Or maybe we should ask Don Lemon and André Leon Talley, both of whom are gracious enough to make guest appearances in the episode, only to have Empire take digs at them. (“He did mess up the n-word,” Cookie tsk-tsks about Lemon.) Ask Cookie, though, and she’ll only insist that she’s doing this for the good of the children. What a coincidence! That’s our motive for watching this show, too.
So, yes, it’s for the children that Cookie pays half-naked women to make out with one another and frolic in hot tubs at a party she throws for Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), a lesbian billionaire who might just cough up $250 million for the cause. And it’s for the children that Cookie forces Anika to grind with Mimi on the dance floor — and maybe also in Mimi’s bedroom, on her kitchen floor, and in the shower later that night, too. Cookie scores the money from Mimi, hoping to remove Lucious from power, but Mimi double-crosses her with help from Jamal, convincing Lucious to let Mimi help run Empire. Did we mention that Cookie also finds a head in a box? We’ll get to that later. The point is: Hostile takeover! Drink! Cookie, we’ve missed you.
Most tweetable quotes: “Your father is a tampon.” “You can’t even dyke right!” “Why are you over there, cryin’ like Tammy Faye Baker?”
Most GIF-worthy moments: Wearing an ape costume. Gagging over a severed head. Slapping Jamal—twice.
How crazy-awesome was she? Her name is Whiteman, for goodness sakes. You know how crazy a white man can get!
What the heck happened with her this week? With her unapologetically predatory come-ons and her high-end fashion, she became an instant gay icon. And with her inside knowledge about Lil Wayne — does she have street contacts that might connect her with Lucious and Cookie’s past? — she’s also the perfect addition to Empire. It’s hilarious that when Lucious first sees Mimi on television, he immediately asks, “Who’s that lesbian bitch in the red suit?” What tipped him off that she was a lesbian? Was it the menswear-inspired suit, which looked like she’d folded origami trousers and a matching jacket out of Christmas wrapping paper, topping it off with a black ribbon tie? Or was it the fact that Cookie was whispering lasciviously in Mimi’s ear, and he knows Cookie better than anyone? Mimi might spend the episode flirting and dancing with Anika, but I suspect that, eventually, Cookie will use that black ribbon to tie Mimi to her bed. Hostile takeover! Drink!
Most tweetable quote: “Don’t you worry your pretty little weave about that.”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Spinning around in her chair and slapping the boardroom table. Making Anika’s butt shake.
NEXT: The rest of the Lyons…[pagebreak]
How crazy-awesome was he? Crazy-awesome enough to sign your daughter and shag your ex
What the heck happened with him this week? He’s still in jail, but jail doesn’t look that bad. It’s the kind of luxury hip-hop jail that lets prisoners Skype into Empire’s boardroom meetings, Fed-Ex a severed head, and watch the news on a gold-plated TV. While Lucious watches Cookie and Mimi get cozy on screen, Jermel tells Lucious that Frank (Chris Rock), a drug lord from Lucious’ old drug-running days, is back behind bars. Some background: Jermel killed one of Frank’s men back in the day, and in order to save his standing with Frank, Jermel tells him that Cookie snitched on him. So Frank gets back at Cookie with a Godfather-worthy gangster move: He sends her a dead man’s skull, gift-wrapped in a box — the perfect present for moments when you care enough to send the very best. And just to be extra-classy, Frank eats the rest of the body, with a plastic bib tied around his neck. Burp.
When Frank tries to make nice with Lucious afterward, Lucious proves his loyalty to Cookie by threatening to sign Frank’s daughter and sleep with her mom. Oh, and by killing Frank. But really, when faced with the prospect of your beloved daughter getting a major-label contract and a shot at massive success, who wouldn’t choose death?
Lucious’ showdown with the prosecutor on his case also yields one of the night’s greatest insults: “You think that being a black bitch in cheap shoes who took down hip-hop, that’s your way to victory? Well, let me share something with you, Mrs. Clarence Thomas… You ain’t never gonna be nothin’ but a black bitch in cheap shoes to me.” Those shoes are Tom Ford, by the way. That’s cold, Empire writers. What did Tom Ford ever do to you?
Most tweetable quotes: “Game over, bitches.” “Why you look like Mr. T?”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Chris Rock’s whaaaaaaat?!? expression when he realizes he’s gonna die
JAMAL AND HAKEEM LYON
How crazy-awesome were they this week? Jamal: mostly just awesome. Hakeem: crazy enough to keep dating his dad’s ex-fiance.
What the heck happened with them this week? Lots of sulking and sibling rivalry. Having taken over Empire, Jamal — suddenly a multi-tasking workaholic — is so busy with business affairs that his album has dropped to #22 on the charts. He’s not performing live often enough to boost sales, as this record was evidently placed in a time machine and released in 1997. (Do album sales even matter anymore?) But when Jamal’s boyfriend puts together an LGBT party and headliner Miss Lawrence asks Jamal to perform a duet, Jamal declines, hoping that a donation to GLAAD will make up for his absence. He’s also feuding with Hakeem, who thinks Jamal is blocking the littlest Lyon’s album release. Between Hakeem’s whining and Cookie’s hostile takeover (drink!), Jamal’s so frustrated with the family that he kicks everyone out of the house for betraying his father, punctuating his anger with some minor crying and some purposeful walking into a different room. The drama can’t last long, though. Remember that this family is so close, they once sang “You’re So Beautiful” together. (“You’re so beautiful / Give the world a show / Go up-down up-down up-down!”) When you’re bonded by a song that appears to actively promote public incest, the love’s gotta be forever, right?
Most tweetable quote: “I deserve to be the king!” —Hakeem, doing his best Joffrey Boratheon impression
Most GIF-worthy moment: Miss Lawrence, serenading Jamal with a perfect red-lipsticked mouth
How crazy-awesome is he? Not good-crazy. Sad-crazy.
What the heck happened with him this week? All of those stern close-ups of his handsome, sweaty face can only mean one thing: stress. He’s mastered that male-model expression that suggests he’s just lost his car keys. Andre really needs to close a deal with Apex radio. He’s also having nightmares about Rhonda burying Vernon. Rhonda asks if Andre told his pastor about Vernon, and Andre… pauses for way too long, then denies that he told anyone. (Dude, could you be more unconvincing?) “This deal is going to go through and this company is going to be yours,” Rhonda tells him. “There’s no way anyone would leave a half-million dollar investment to Cookie and Hakeem.” Famous last words.
Most GIF-worthy moment: Walking in slow motion down Empire’s hallway with Cookie and Anika, ready to take down Lucious
Most tweetable quote: Nothing too quotable here, but did anyone else catch that Rhonda was wearing a black-ribbon tie in this episode, just like Mimi? Share your conspiracy theories in the comments below!
WATCH: EW’s Sam Highfil confirms Empire has the world’s fanciest prison: