Well, it was only a matter of time before someone hacked Empire — Lucious has been relying on Empire XStream as a financial and emotional savior ever since it started, and we all know how safe “the cloud” is.
This week’s episode opens at Cookie’s place (come to think of it, it feels like they always start at Cookie’s place) as Angelo brings her some coffee. Turns out they haven’t done the deed yet, because Cookie wants to wait until after he announces his run for mayor. But to placate him in the meantime, she emails him a naked selfie: “Just a little reminder that you have my vote,” she says.
As he leaves, though, her phone starts doing something strange. Tiana’s new single (the one everyone hates, including Tiana) starts playing on Cookie’s screen and she can’t turn it off. We cut to Jamal in the studio with Derek, and the same thing happens to his phone. Over in Bella’s nursery with Anika and Lucious, the same thing happens on Lucious’ laptop — except he also has a personal message: “Lucious Lyon… You got got.” Well, this hacker may know computers, but their vocabulary is a bit lacking, no?
Andre hires a top cybersecurity expert named Piz (who is not, unfortunately, the same beloved Piz from Veronica Mars) to look into the incident. Lucious, Thirsty, and Andre try to figure out who could have done it. Vaughn, who tried to buy Empire XStream a few episodes back? Tariq, who has multiple bones to pick with Lucious (and, uh, has the FBI’s resources at his disposal)? Shyne, who might still be bitter about being forced to sign Nessa to Empire?
Speaking of Nessa, she and Hakeem are in the studio working on a new track. Hakeem is still trying to convince her to leave Andre: “Me and you got something you and Dre are never gonna have,” he tells her. “Music.” Dre comes in, Nessa leaves, and Dre hisses to Hakeem, “You better fall back, boy.”
Then he heads to Lucious’ office, where Vaughn (French Montana) awaits his interrogation. Lucious says if real men have issues, they don’t hide behind computer screens. “Do I look like I be hacking email?” Vaughn asks. He says he was working with LiveNation and trying to help Empire, but he just got fired. Before the story can go any further, though, Fake Piz runs into the room. “If you’ve gotten any emails, don’t open them!” he warns, as everyone’s phone screens start flooding with emails. Again, Lucious gets a personal message: The hackers want $1 million wired to an offshore account every hour, on the hour. Of course, there’s no way Lucious is ready to pay that kind of money to “some punk in his mom’s basement.” But he does get a printout of every email that mentions him by name, so he can figure out which employees are loyal. (Terrifying.)
The board calls an emergency meeting — for which Cookie has to leave Angelo’s press conference — because the emails revealed someone had been laundering corporate funds. Andre mentions it was dead Vernon who used to pay for prostitutes with Empire’s money, so he covered it up, and the board calls for his resignation. Then Andre notes Vernon wasn’t the only person who’d done that and points fingers at multiple sheepish-looking people around the table. Looks like Andre’s position is safe after all!
Cookie leaves the meeting to go comfort Tiana, who’s distraught after her boyfriend — well, ex-boyfriend — Graham posted a Snapchat rant dissing and presumably breaking up with her. “You’re wack in bed… Your singing’s mediocre… You and Empire can kiss my ass,” he says. Jeez, Graham. What did she do to you?
NEXT: Cookie and Angelo discuss their future
Down in the Empire lobby, employees are instructed to turn in their useless phones for new ones — but with the crowd gathered, the hackers take advantage. They plaster emails all over Empire’s massive screens and add another treat: Cookie’s selfie she sent to Angelo that morning. Ouch. Lucious throws a chair into the screen, while Cookie shouts, “What the hell y’all lookin’ at? They’re perky!” (Side note: Why is it hackers on TV always put demonic cartoons on the screen? Do real hackers actually do this? Don’t they just take your stuff and leave and not bother with the theatrics? Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, Shyne comes in for his meeting with his new A&R, Anika, and says he didn’t do the hacking either. “I may stomp a hole in somebody, but I ain’t no Internet thug,” he says. “Plus, I have no desire to see Cookie’s cookies.” Hey, watch it, mister! They weren’t for you anyway!
Elsewhere in Empire’s offices, Xavier is freaking out because everyone hates the Tiana song Cookie made her record. He begs Becky to fix it, and she agrees on the condition Xavier finally gives her the credit she deserves. He swears, but I’m 1,000-percent sure he had his fingers crossed behind his back. That Xavier is a scoundrel and I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. Becky, you are smarter than this!
Jamal is in the studio with his sexy PTSD counselor man, who’s worried all the homophobic threats against Jamal that came out in the hack might cause him to get back on his pain meds, which he’d stopped taking. “This hack feels personal,” he confides. “It’s like they’re picking off one Lyon at a time.” Hmm… Before he can continue, Derek comes in and nudges Philip to leave so they can get to work — but not without a solid heaping of jealousy. With Philip gone, Derek starts to play Jamal the redesigned track he’s made, but then Tiana’s little demon-cartoon face (the hackers’ logo of choice) starts deleting everything off the screen. GREAT. And again… These hacker graphics are great for TV, but I can’t imagine real hackers wasting their time. Derek is pissed, but Jamal thinks it happened for a reason and decides it’s maybe a sign to “go analog, do some old-school stuff.” Derek says Jamal should get back on his pills because he’s losing his mind.
Cookie, meanwhile, tells Angelo his campaign manager wouldn’t let her talk to him and thinks the naked picture ruined his campaign. Angelo immediately shoots off an email firing him, and though Cookie is impressed, she’s worried her history might continue to negatively impact his campaign. And since she knows he could do great things as mayor, she decides to break things off with him. He protests, but she asks him to please leave so she doesn’t have to cry in front of him. This BREAKS MY HEART! I love Cookie and Angelo. She deserves a stand-up guy for once.
Lucious and Andre are still trying to catch the hacker, and they find a clue when cyber man realizes the person left a thumb drive in a computer in Tiana’s studio. They head down and Tiana realizes that well, yes, Graham is actually a great hacker, thinks Lucious is a dinosaur, and said he’d humiliate everyone… Oh, you don’t think this is information you should have shared earlier, Tiana?!
Lucious and Andre are waiting for Graham when he comes home, and Lucious is burning sage in Graham’s house to cleanse it. They accuse him of the hacking, but he denies it and says he would never be so sloppy. But they’re already convinced, so Shyne and his thugs come for Graham as Lucious and Andre leave, laughing. Cold. Hearted. Lyons! And somehow, this feels too easy…
To celebrate, they head to Leviticus, where Andre is named President of Empire XStream, and — shocker — Xavier is named head of A&R. I TOLD YOU, BECKY! Becky is understandably furious, but Thirsty holds her back. “I’ll teach you a little something about true payback,” he says. I’m actually excited to see how Thirsty and Becky put Xavier through the ringer. I HATE HIM! I can’t believe I care more about this story line than any other right now, but here it is. #TEAMBECKY!
NEXT: The hacker is revealed
While the other Lyons are together, Jamal’s home alone, drinking and pounding out new songs on the piano. He starts to freak out and calls Derek, saying he’s going to take one of the pills but asks him to please come over when he can. The glass in his hand falls to the ground and shatters. When Derek arrives a bit later, Jamal is playing a gorgeous new song, but something about him is off. He’s talking a mile a minute about his new album, the idea for which “hit me like a bolt of lightning!” He wants to make it about the family’s secrets — and not just the bad ones, but the good ones, too. Um, the Lyons have GOOD secrets? Who knew?
Anyway, they get busy and it’s very romantic, but when Derek wakes up in the middle of the night, he can’t get Jamal to do the same. Freaking out and worried the blogs will get ahold of the news if he calls 911, Derek calls Phillip. Turns out Jamal didn’t overdose, but he did black out — so Phillip carries him into the shower, where the cold water zings him awake.
Over at the FBI, Tariq and his colleague are poring over the Empire data, not finding much…until Tariq finds an email from Lucious to Andre authorizing payment of $53,800 to “MM” and $94,452 to “BK.” The email was sent two days after Frank Gathers was murdered — so it’s only a matter of time before Tariq solves this case.
Meanwhile, Cookie’s alone in bed, watching a beleaguered-looking Angelo surrounded by reporters on TV. They keep asking about Cookie and he stays mum, until he finally confesses he was trying to date her but she broke up with him because they screwed it up. One of the reporters asks, “You don’t think the invasion of a woman’s privacy is important?” This sets him off. “You know what,” he says, “You’re right… I’m gonna put myself out there, in solidarity.” And then he proceeds to strip down to his skivvies, live on TV. “Take it off!” Cookie gleefully yells at the TV. “Love you, Angelo,” she says to the air — and then freaks out when she hears herself.
Finally, Andre brings Nessa to a dilapidated warehouse he calls “Chateau Andre” and tells her he’s going to show her how much he trusts her. While she hides, he goes down to meet with…VAUGHN, who earlier so vehemently denied to Lucious’ face that he was involved in the hack. “Everything went more or less exactly as planned,” Andre says to him. “Except for that part where you leaked a nude selfie of my mama.”
“I thought it would add a little layer of plausible deniability,” Vaugh says. “Nothing personal.”
Andre seems to agree and hands him a bag of money. He says he’ll get Vaughn the next installment once the streaming service brings in its billions. “Always trust a Lyon,” he says, and Vaughn says that’s why he’s there. WHAT THE HECK?!
Proudly, Andre goes to Nessa and explains he created a void only he could fill, knowing Lucious would put him in a position of power. Now he just wants to combine Nessa’s musical strength and his own business acumen to make them powerful together. His rationale is interesting and shows just how much he was affected by that run-in with the corrupt cops a few months ago. “No matter how much I try and play by the rules, the world’s always going to see me as a well-dressed thug, son of a gangster,” he explains. If that’s the way the world sees him, he’s going to meet their expectations.
Knowing Andre, he’ll probably exceed them: He seemed quite at home in the role of broad-shouldered head honcho this week. Did Andre find his true calling? Also, I feel like we need to acknowledge how quickly he’s moved on from Rhonda. Is Nessa just a rebound, or did he really find his queen so fast?