After a shaky second season, this episode really feels like Empire is getting back on track: It had laugh-out-loud moments (mainly from Cookie, obviously); truly heartrending scenes; and some seriously gasp-inducing drama pulled both from the show’s soapy universe and 2016’s terrifying real-life race issues.
We’ll get to the meaty stuff eventually, but the episode starts off light, as Cookie gets bombarded with increasingly lavish deliveries to her apartment: Jimmy Choos, a gold espresso machine, even a lion sculpture. “Hell no!” she says. “Out! Take it out, all of it!” Of course, it’s all Lucious’ doing. He’s trying to win her back after she shut the door on their relationship in last week’s season 3 premiere, but he’s going to have to try harder. She does keep one thing, though: A gold pistol. And later, when Lucious says, “I see you kept the gun,” Cookie delivers my favorite line of the night: “Bye, Fe-Lucious. I ain’t got time for your mess.”
Anika, on the other hand, is trying to care for Bella on her own and is having a rough go of it. But when she tries to interview nannies without Lucious’ permission, he storms in, furious, and sends them away, worried about having strangers in his house amidst a federal investigation. He overreacted, obviously, but I think it’s a fair point. It’s just not Anika’s fault — it’s Hakeem’s. Maybe if Bella had two parents looking after her, Anika wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, Jamal is on Power 105 trying to repair his reputation after his unfortunate breakdown at Empire X Stream’s launch. He’s on air with a local city councilman named Angelo (the always-suave Taye Diggs), who convinces Jamal to spend time with WOKE, an organization for inner-city kids. Cookie, like Lucious, is trying to avoid involving strangers — especially government strangers — in their lives, but Jamal won’t let the kids down. The scene also yielded another amazing Cookie-ism: “I don’t trust polite people, stupid!”
You know who’s NOT polite? Shyne, who knows he has the power now that his sister, Nessa, blew everyone away at Empire X Stream. Lucious offers her the world, and Hakeem zips in and says he and Nessa want to make a “living album” like Kanye did with The Life of Pablo. Lucious shuts him down and reminds him he has responsibilities at home (read: Baby Bella). Nessa and Hakeem head to the studio anyway and have a great time, bonding and vibing off each other to create a song that will make people remember their names (and really missing an opportunity to sample Irene Cara’s masterpiece from Fame). But then Hakeem wordlessly gets a bit freaked out when Shyne punches someone in the face just for looking at Nessa.
Cookie and Lucious meet to chat business (though Lucious wants to talk more than that), and they argue about Jamal’s Black and White album, which he no longer wants to release. Lucious pushes back — Empire X Stream needs content, and Jamal needs fans to forget about “his little fainting Justin Bieber moment.” Yikes. Lucious finds his content soon enough, as he offers to host the WOKE Summit at Empire and pay for it.
He still can’t find a way to get to Cookie, but he’s getting closer. He plays her a track he ostensibly bought for Jamal, which samples Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” — which, you’ll remember from last week, is the song Lucious was singing when Teen Lucious and Teen Cookie first saw each other. We flash back to last week’s flashback, and this time watch as Teen Cookie saunters up to Teen Lucious and dances into the middle of their circle. When we return to the present day, she says, “When I first saw you rap, it changed my life. I knew right then and there—”
“That we were meant to be together,” Lucious tries to finish.
“—that I was meant to do music,” Cookie says. “I need you to understand that I am done.” He doesn’t understand.
NEXT: Can Jamal still perform?