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'Empire' recap: 'What Remains Is Bestial'

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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

This week, Lucious is a vampire, Anika is a boss, Cookie is an angel, and Mariah Carey is a kind-hearted diva queen, who finally made her Empire debut — and who does not, in case you were wondering, have any sort of face-off with our true queen, Cookie Lyon.

We open with a whopper of a scene, as Lucious does his best Mark Zuckerberg impression, sitting in a room and staring at screens, willing Empire X Stream’s subscription numbers to go up. (Or is this really an impression of Jay Z at the Tidal offices?) Anika comes in, bored to death at being a prisoner in her new home, and asks about Cookie needing a new head of A&R. Lucious gets a weird expression on his face, and Anika panics: “Are you okay? Do you need me to call a doctor?” But then… a woman comes up from under his desk, and Lucious laughs. She just… couldn’t find her earring. Very classy, Lucious. Right in front of your wife!

Meanwhile, with his ex-wife, Lucious tells Cookie that he needs five new songs to premiere exclusively on Empire X Stream — and he’s giving a new car to whoever has one ready by Friday. They fight again about Jamal’s Black and White Album, and Cookie says she’ll talk to him — after her date with smooth Angelo.

Andre is already getting out of jail, but that doesn’t mean this is going to be smooth sailing following his terrible assault by two bad-egg cops last week. “It was a simple misunderstanding,” he says at first. But when a reporter goades him with comparisons to his parents (“Are you a gangster now, too, Andre?”) he turns back to the microphone. “What happened to me is what’s happening all across America right now,” he says firmly. The Ghost Rhonda shows up. “And what’s that? Hey babe, answer her… We both know none of this would have happened if I was still here.” Is she being helpful or antagonizing? I can’t quite tell…

Across town, Jamal is trying to deal with his own trauma by attending a PTSD support group. But the fellow members are less than supportive. Instead of letting him share what happened to him, another group member exclaims that they all saw it on TV. The (super hot) group leader follows Jamal after the meeting to apologize, telling him that his fame is an additional barrier to his recovery. Jamal is like, “I’m good.” Hot Man (perhaps a new love interest down the line?) says Jamal’s PTSD is just as significant as his own — and he was a soldier. To which Jamal says, “Yeah I just came here to test the waters and now I’m healed. Thank you. Good-bye.” This is going great.

Back at Empire, Cookie and Lucious are worried (finally) about Andre. “I should have been smarter about it,” Andre says. But they won’t hear that. Lucious says it’s just because he was born black. Cookie and Lucious want to “fight fire with fire,” maybe have Thirsty look into things. But Andre reminds them he’s both a CFO of a publicly traded company and a Wharton graduate, so he can’t exactly set things on fire right now. This only makes Cookie and Lucious more worried.

Later, everyone’s at Leviticus for a new Tiana performance, when — surprise! — they realize she brought her new rapper boyfriend, Graham, out to perform on the track with her. I miss Tiana! Where has she been? Bring her back! Anyway, they perform, and Hakeem is furiously jealous. I don’t even think he remember’s Laura’s name… has he mentioned her once this season? Is he burying his pain or did he literally just forget he was about to marry the love of his life? The best part of this scene is a Lucious line: “Damn, son, you look worse than when I was dying from ALS!” Oh yeah. Remember that whole plotline?

Lucious tells Hakeem that if he’s got something to say, he should let the world hear it, not just Graham and Tiana. (Great advice, Dad!) So he heads to the studio to cut a track with Shyne and Nessa. Problem is, Nessa isn’t comfortable with disrespecting Tiana — that’s Hakeem’s beef, not hers. I already liked Nessa, but now I love her. And I think Taylor Swift is about to make a squad opening for her? Shyne, though, is not happy with this, and straight up chokes her out for her attitude. Hakeem tries, in his own way, to stop it, saying “Yo, man, chill!” and “Wow, really?” to Shyne when she walks out the door. I love him even more for not being comfortable with domestic violence — maybe those days of broom beatings with Cookie made him a caring person. Or maybe he just wasn’t insane to begin with.

Either way, he goes to tell Lucious, who tells him it’s not his fight. “The way I see it, Shyne was trying to give me something that I need, which is a hot song,” Lucious says. “So instead of running in here and ratting him out like a little bitch, you need to be taking notes.” WOW. Is it just me, or is Lucious even more evil than usual this week? This Empire X Stream stuff is really bringing out the worst in him. Hakeem says he’s not about choking girls, and Lucious says, well, your song won’t work without a female vocal, so…

There’s someone else who’s trying to get a female vocal for his track, too: Cookie pulled some strings and got Kitty (a.k.a. the great Mariah Carey) to consider doing a song with Jamal. First Jamal says yes without knowing what he agreed to, but then backs out. “I’m not really performing right now…” he says. In a deliciously awkward pause, Kitty is like, “Um… kay? I’m gonna… go back to rehearsal…” This is not a woman who is told “No!” And this time won’t be the first. Cookie talks some sense into Jamal and tells him that she’s gotten half as many live performance requests for him as she used to, so he really needs to give his fans something to cling to. He agrees and Kitty is pleased, and then she puts her arms out for two burly men to raise her back onto the stage. Amazing.

Jamal is still fighting Lucious about the Black and White Album, but Lucious pushes on, and I will transcribe the scene here because it was weird and kind of great: “Empire X Stream happens to be a ravenous beast that is the lifeblood of this company,” he says.

“Okay, we get it,” Jamal says. “You’re a vampire.” Jamal leaves.

Cookie and Lucious bicker about crunching numbers and getting more subscribers.

Cookie: Jamal was right, you are a vampire.

Lucious: So why don’t you let me suck some of your blood?

Cookie: Drop dead, Luscious.

Lucious: I can’t. I’m a vampire.

WHAT WAS THAT? Don’t answer that. I don’t care. I think I liked it.

NEXT: Boy, Bye!

[pagebreak]

Time for Cookie’s date with Angelo DuBois, but he’s not exactly happy to see her. Okay, he’s furious, because Lucious is trying to tempt Zeah, the MIT-bound kid from WOKE, into an Empire recording contract with a new car. “The world doesn’t need another rapper!” he says. Cookie explains that Lucious only did that out of jealousy, so Angelo would be pissed at Cookie (which worked). He tells her she needs to undo it and then calls her a hustler — disdainfully — right to her face. “Boy, bye!” Cookie says, and Beyoncés her way to the door. But Angelo apologizes, then takes her to another room to show her what he means. (NO, not like that!)

He takes her to a Black Girls Code seminar, where Zeah is teaching a group of young girls computer programming. “This is the future right here,” he says. “This is how we rise.”

And then… there’s a more troubling vision of the future. Hakeem and Jamal join Andre in support at court, and they’re shocked to hear all the false charges the judge slaps on him. Aggregated assault, felony battery, trespassing (in his own apartment)! The judge is cruel, and there’s no question whose side she’s on. Worst of all, Andre’s lawyer, who is such a close friend he was in Andre’s wedding, seems so afraid of it being Andre’s word against cops’ that he thinks they should just plead out and cut a deal. “I’m not going to lie about being guilty!” Andre says. “I was in my own home!” Seriously… can’t he just show them a gas bill or something? This is the biggest question for me. But I guess this kind of situation isn’t rational from the very beginning. Ugh.

The conversation doesn’t quite finish, because Lucious picks up the boys in the family minivan — a.k.a. a chunky Empire X Stream limo. (He really does have a new passion in Empire X Stream, huh.) Lucious drives them to their old neighborhood, and when Hakeem tries to say they never lived there, Andre says, “Yeah we did. You were a baby.” Lucious makes a grand speech about how he tried so hard to shield them from everything, but that might have been his biggest mistake.

“I thought the problem was that you were biopolar, you were gay, and you were just spoiled,” he says to the three of them (we’ll let you figure out who’s who). “But then I realized, y’all don’t know you’re black.” He tells them when they step outside their walls of privilege, they’re basically moments away from becoming a hashtag, and mentions Trayvon, Philando, and Freddie. (I’m shocked that Lucious actually watches the news.) Eventually he alludes to Rhonda (who still hasn’t had a funeral, for all we know), and Andre leaves the car with Jamal following after him. Hakeem stays — and tells Lucious to head straight to the studio.

There, he decides to run Tiana’s vocals from the performance with Graham over his own track. It works as a diss — and the rights are owned by Empire already, so it’s all above the board. “That’s the monster I’m talking about,” Lucious says.

Then Lucious gets called home, where Mama Leah is peeling an apple and laughing. I really don’t like seeing her with a knife. Anika’s in the office where Lucious was before, watching the numbers rise. “Almost… Higher… Yes! Yes!” she says as Lucious walks in the room.

“You sound more excited than me,” he says. Then Anika pushes her chair back, and her hot UPS guy from earlier stands up. DANG, GIRL! She’s up against Lucious in the big leagues! Lucious grabs a gun and then taunts the UPS guy as he flees: “Why you runnin’ out?” Anika just laughs. Hello, Lady Macbeth!

“I only wanted to remind you that when you push me, I push back harder,” she tells Lucious. He tries to remind her that she’s his wife so no man is going to touch her, but then she reminds him that she’s only married to him for his sake, and so her baby wouldn’t grow up without a mother. “I am going to do what I want, when I want, or we both go down in flames,” she hisses. “I like to call it mutually assured destruction.” Well, okay then! I guess we know where the power lies right now! Season 2 Anika gave me the creeps, but I’m starting to like Season 3 Anika.

Jamal is also ready to confront his demon: Freda Gatz. He visits her in prison, but he’s really jumpy. She’s excited to see him and find out what’s up with him, but Jamal is here for a different reason. “The Jamal Lyon you knew… you shot him,” he says. “Now I’m ruined. It’s your fault. You’re the one that did this.” She’s confused and tells him she didn’t mean to hurt him — which she truly didn’t! But that doesn’t change his feelings. This is a hardened, and I think quite scared, Jamal Lyon now.

He heads to the studio, where the recording session with Kitty gets off to a rough start. But he pops one pill and then another, and gets himself under control. Their duet sounds great, and everyone’s happy — but I can’t imagine these pills are going to help in the long run. He doesn’t seem to be managing anything nearly as well as he’s trying to let on.

In Lucious’ office later, Zeah is about to sign his Empire contract. He admits that he’s nervous, when Cookie strides in and says, “I’d be nervous too, if I was signing my life over to the devil!” She tears up his contract and tells him that she sees more than a future multi-platinum selling artist. She sees a brilliant mind, and he needs to go to college where he belongs. On top of that, if he’s serious about music, he can come back to Empire after he graduates. Everybody wins! Except Lucious.

So Lucious makes his own play — he releases his half of Jamal’s album without anyone else’s consent: The Black Album. “All we had to do was get rid of the songs that you produced,” Lucious tells Cookie.

“This has nothing to do with Empire X Stream, does it?” Cookie realizes. “This is personal.”

“Yeah, it’s personal,” Lucious says. He feels like everyone’s been judging him, and Cookie asks if he thinks he’s the only one around here with feelings. Cookie reminds him that half of Empire belongs to her. “That’s the piece you like to forget,” she says. So he tells her he’s retaking control of Empire.

“Don’t forget I have the board on my side,” Cookie says. “You try to kick me out, this means war.” And just like that, Cookie and Lucious are back on opposite teams, battling for their legacy.

In the final scene, Tariq catches up with Andre, who realizes Tariq may have had something do to with his run-in with those cops. He says he didn’t… “I just made sure I took advantage of the situation.” He tries to level with Andre, saying he was a black sheep, just like he is. But Andre says Tariq won’t get him to inform on his father. “You’re a Lyon,” Tariq says. “Prize game…” So many Lion King vibes from this scene as Tariq and Andre traded hisses of “Uncle” and “Nephew” — but I can’t tell who’s Scar and who’s Mufasa. Is Tariq the good guy since Lucious is Lucifer? Or is it the other way around? All I know is I’m never really rooting for Lucious. Maybe Cookie and Kitty can run Empire together?

Episode Grade: B+

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