This week, we aren’t just reflecting on Lucious’ past: We learn about Cookie’s time in prison, too. She’s been thinking about it because Lucious keeps trying to figure out what he did to each member of his family to make them hate him. He’s stuck on two particular things: the “trash can story” Hakeem alluded to about Jamal, and the mysterious (to him) reason Cookie was gone for 17 years.
Mrs. DuBois has each member of the Lyon family in her thoughts in a different way, too. As she tells her minions/family members, she thinks of their little game as an “inverse Wizard of Oz” — they’re going to deprive each Lyon son of the thing he cherishes the most. For Andre, that’s his brain. Jamal, his heart. Hakeem they don’t say specifically, but process of elimination says it’s his…courage? We’ll see how hard they stick to this analogy. The only DuBois not really involved is Angelo: He’s a bit of a drunken mess these days. “It’s time for you to put this self-pity to rest,” his mom says. “Find a place in the universe, and create a role for yourself.” It’s good advice…if she weren’t such a demon!
Lucious’ amnesia has left him with infant-levels of music knowledge, apparently, so he starts asking Jamal all about songwriting. “What’s all this?” “That’s sheet music.” “How do you get it to be on a record?” “You have to go into the studio and record it.” Is this really how amnesia works? Regardless, Jamal is perfectly patient with him, explaining things and even sneaking him into a studio to explain what Lucious used to do. The problem here (aside from Lucious completely losing the skills that made him rich and famous) is that now he’s coming into contact with more people — like Thirsty and Shine — who have to see that Lucious doesn’t remember any of them.
Elsewhere, Cookie still has all her skills, and she and Becky lead a meeting about Empire’s 20 for 20 initiative. Cookie gives Shine one album of the 20, but he isn’t having it, and later comes to her office to negotiate for more. They both play a bit of hardball but arrive at five albums for Shine — and he gets to use the famous “Studio 3,” which is apparently lucky because Lucious recorded a bestseller there in just 72 sleepless hours. Shine seems impressed with Cookie’s business sense and negotiating: Seems like she should have been CEO on her own all this time.
In a flashback, we see how Cookie starts to get her toughness. She arrives as a newbie in prison, where a guard has warned her to keep her head down and trust nobody. So when she’s sitting alone writing what’s probably a song and a woman comes up to talk about being from Philly, Cookie is on the defense. She barely answers questions, and when the woman reaches behind her, Cookie punches her in the face. “Crazy bitch!” the woman says. “I was just trying to give you some shower shoes!” It’s heartbreaking for them both.
Back in the real world, Andre and Cookie are at a bank trying to get a loan to finance Empire’s 20 for 20 project, but the lender shoots them down before they even open their mouths. He’s smug about it, even after Cookie reminds him that Empire has had steady growth for the past 20 years. “You’re not sorry. You can’t wait to tell your friends you declined Empire,” she says. “I’d call you a bougie coward, but I’m the chief executive of Empire Enterprises. So I’ll leave you with ‘good day’…bitch.”
Speaking of Empire, as Jamal is showing Lucious the studio, Shine walks in. “Moonshine!” Lucious greets him. Ahh, his full name! (Something about having a nickname on a nickname is really killing me right now.) Apparently Lucious calling Shine “Moonshine” is like your mom using your middle name, because Shine is like, “We on it like that now?” Lucious is cheery as ever. “Moonshine and I have been friends a long time. We made rap music together!” Shine senses something is off and goes along with it. He reminds him about the block parties they used to throw in Philly, and Lucious wonders why they never made a song together. “I don’t know, brother,” Shine says. “It’s all good. We’re here now.” Shine puts on a song they’d worked on together (which Lucious eventually took for one of his own B-sides), but the violent track gives Lucious a bunch of flashbacks to the bad times: drowning in the tub, Cookie smashing his awards with a bat (although that’s a great memory for me personally)… He freaks out and starts screaming, “No! No!” Shine wonders what’s wrong with him.
Later, Lucious tells Jamal he could tell “Moonshine” was a violent man from looking in his eyes. “I could see that we had a history,” he says. He asks if that violence is what drove his music and says it seems like the Lyons are trying to protect Lucious…from Lucious. He asks Jamal for the third or fourth time about the trash can story, and Jamal finally tells it. “I was intolerant?” Lucious asks, aghast. “That’s a nice way of saying it,” Jamal says. Lucious apologizes profusely for rejecting Jamal and for not being able to see him for who he is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love this sweet new Lucious! I would never have expected the show to go in this direction, but I’m really into it.
Things are heating up for Andre and Pamela, the NYPD detective he almost slept with at the bar (but couldn’t). He tries to explain to her that Giuliana is hiding because she’s afraid of Lucious, but Pamela isn’t easily threatened. Later, she shows up in Andre’s office to remind him the NYPD isn’t backing down as easily as the “Vegas po po” does. And she adds one more thing as she leaves: “Earlier today, when you heard uniforms coming around the corner, were you afraid we were going to get caught? Well, I wasn’t…it made me hot.” Oh! So she’s still interested like that… (Recap continues on page 2)
Over at Hakeem’s, he’s laying down a track while Tiana plays with Bella. The song has some gunshots that scare Bella, but Hakeem doesn’t quite realize — just applauds himself for not cursing in front of her. Anika comes to the door to take Bella for the night, but Hakeem tries to fight it. “She has a playdate tomorrow! She’s on a routine now. Babies is supposed to be on them. Right, T?” Interestingly, Tiana seems to take Anika’s side in the matter — or at least, she seems to know when to defer to her. But in the end, Bella crawls back into Tiana’s arms where she’s comfortable.
Meanwhile, Cookie is at some sort of photoshoot for rich women (Mrs. DuBois is there, naturally), and it keeps triggering more flashbacks. In the next one, the woman from Philly comes back to give her a second chance, saying she “should have known how a new jack would respond to a gift like that.” She explains more about where in Philly she’s from and points out the whole Philly crew. She offers her supplies and gifts so she can be taken care of until her own commissary comes in, and reminds Cookie how many more years she — and all of them — have left on their sentences. They have to stick together: They’ll be here together for decades. Oh, and there’s something else, too: They’re almost all in prison because of their men.
Back in real life, Mrs. DuBois had been bitching (loudly) about Cookie to the other women, so the photo shoot is extremely uncomfortable. But Cookie decides to be the bigger person. “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta say something,” she says. “It’s no secret there’s bad blood between us, but I’d like to put that behind us because I have so many other things to be concerned with.” She tells everyone about her awful experience at the bank, and that she really has to go find a bank that understands how well she knows music.
One of the women pipes up: “The same thing happened to me,” she says. Her husband had a heart attack, leaving her to care for two teenagers. “All I needed was a loan, and I got turned down because I don’t have an appendage between my legs. Cookie, I’m going to spot you $10 million.” The other women chime in, talking about how the guys on Wall Street don’t have their backs, so women have to support each other. Reader, I cried. I don’t care how unrealistic it is that someone would just offer up $10 million (actually maybe it’s plenty realistic, but these are not the circles I run in), but this is one of my favorite Empire scenes of all time now. Women helping women is my weakness!!
Even Mrs. DuBois is affected (in some way): “I’m impressed,” she tells Cookie. “You were clearly the better woman today. And you’re right; it’s time we put these hostilities behind us.” Cookie smiles back at her, but I think — I hope — she realizes she still can’t trust her. You may have other things to worry about, too, Cookie, but you still have to worry about this one.
Afterwards, Mrs. DuBois gets into the car with the banker from earlier, who, of course, is another DuBois cousin. How many conniving cousins can one bougie family have?! The loan was denied on Mrs. D’s orders. Of course.
Later, Andre stands on his balcony while Pamela surveys him from an office across the street. But this isn’t normal surveillance: They’re on a call on speakerphone while they each do a bit of a striptease for each other. How is this going to play out?
And over at Jamal’s, Warren is asking why Jamal has been so cagey about his dad. “Are you embarrassed of me? Are you embarrassed of your father?” He pulls the “wow, I can’t believe you don’t trust me” card, which of course makes Jamal appease him by telling him about Lucious’ brain injury. Is this going to have a She’s All That-type ending where Warren realizes he really does love Jamal and wants to get out of this cruel game, but Mrs. D won’t let him and then Jamal finds out and they can never be together? I’m tired already.
Back at the Lyon mansion, Cookie comes home to find Lucious painting directly on the wall. He said he’s using Bella’s paints, but is this child painting with professional-level supplies?! Actually, I wouldn’t put it past the Lyons. His painting seems kind of beautiful to me, but I don’t know if that’s the point. Are we supposed to be annoyed and shocked that he’s painting on the wall, or are we realizing that Lucious’ injury gave him a major talent in another area? Is he starting a late-in-life portrait career like George W. Bush and Ronnie Wood? Anyway, Cookie decides it’s the right time to tell him that the reason she was gone for 17 years was because she was in prison. “Was it because of me?” Lucious asks. Cookie changes the subject for a second, but then relents: “Yeah, Lucious. It’s because of you.” He tells her he wants to know everything — the whole story.