While this week’s episode starts out crazy enough (I’d love to interview some people with synesthesia to see if anyone actually “writes” symphonies via abstract painting), by its end, it almost feels like we’re back in the old days of Empire, where it’s Lyons against the world and Cookie and Lucious will cut anyone’s throat for their cubs.
We begin with Lucious and Jamal in the studio, where, as mentioned above, Lucious is trying to translate a painting into musical notes. He goes as far as to put dabs of paint on the actual piano keys. Is he re-teaching himself how to play here, or is he just trying to help show Jamal his vision? Either way, it’s obviously a beautiful song…it’s just hard for me to keep a straight face during these savant-like scenes with New Lucious. Later, Lucious works on the song even more while he’s alone, and more scenes from his past come back to him. So nice how this happens!
Elsewhere in the studio, Becky and Porsha are watching Tory Ash record a new track for hours, as dictated by Cookie’s new special assistant (and board member) Eddie Barker. Everyone’s yawning, and the engineer, Calvin, is falling asleep and pressing the wrong buttons. I thought it was because they were so bored by the song, but it turns out they’d been up all night and were dying for a bit of sleep — something Eddie has no patience for. Privately, they start grumbling, and Calvin tells Porsha he’s working them way too hard. Oh, and by the way, he thinks she needs to stand up to Cookie for the way she treats her.
Meanwhile, Hakeem has been spying on Bella when Anika and Angelo take her to the park, pretending to be a beautiful, perfect, bougie family. Thirsty stops him from doing anything crazy, but later, the family agrees they need to get Bella back. Yes, they’re all still a little pissed at Hakeem for the things he said about them on Diana DuBois’ tapes, but it seems like they haven’t totally cut him out (big change from the way last week’s episode ended, but oh well).
Lucious goes to Anika’s by himself and says that if she’ll share custody of Bella, he’ll make her an equal heir to Empire along with Jamal, Andre, and Hakeem. She says she’ll think about it, and Lucious asks for the family to have a visit with Bella as a show of goodwill — while she’s thinking. Reluctantly, she agrees, if it’s one time and in a public place.
Back at Empire, Porsha tries to warn Cookie that the engineers and studio musicians are getting increasingly disgruntled at the brutal hours they’ve had to put in to make Empire’s 20 for 20 plan a reality. But Cookie shrugs her off when Lucious arrives and says he’s put Eddie in charge to deal with it. He reminds her he has her back, which triggers a prison flashback for Cookie: the time he sent her divorce papers while she was still locked up. “You haven’t always been there for me,” she says. He promises to do better in the future…and reminds her she’s looking pretty comfortable in that CEO’s chair.
Jamal, Warren, and Chicken are at a gay bar (an excited Chicken thanks Jamal: “I can never do this with Hakeem!”) when Warren suggests the two of them pick up a third for a little ménage à trois. Jamal balks at the idea and says it isn’t for him, but Warren pushes so hard that he eventually relents.
But later, when a handsome young guy is planted on their couch, Jamal is back to his original stance: He really doesn’t want this. “You wanted it, I didn’t,” he tells Warren. So Warren tells the third to please leave because he’s in love with Jamal and has to fix his mistakes. (I think this was said out of Jamal’s earshot, to show us that Warren really loves Jamal now…but it was hard to tell.) Once he leaves, Warren gets serious. “No matter what happens from here on out, who says what, remember that I love you,” he says. “I need you to know that this is real, and that I love you.” Jamal, after everything you’ve been through — a speech like this doesn’t trigger any sort of concern or suspicion? Really, none?
Andre, meanwhile, has been freaking out because he can’t get Pamela to answer his calls. He heads to Empire, where Porsha also tries to warn him about this impending strike, but he’s just caught a glimpse of a news story where he sees that Pamela was involved in a shootout — and he has no idea how she’s doing. (Recap continues on page 2)
After he frantically searches hospitals all over the city (and pops pill after pill after pill), Pamela shows up at Andre’s door looking…pretty put-together. He presses her for an explanation, but she says she doesn’t want to talk about it. He puts his “cards on the table”: He knows she doesn’t trust him, but this whole thing has made him realize he doesn’t want to lose her.
So Pamela opens up: A guy threw shots at her and she shot back, then when he went for his gun, she fired the fatal shot. Andre tells her it’s clear she didn’t have a choice, but she goes on…that’s the story she told after the fact. But actually, she planted the gun to make her shot look justified. “It was wrong, and I’m going to get away with it,” she says. But then she tells Andre, “Now you know something about me that could put me in a cell for the rest of my life. Do you still believe I don’t trust you?” Touché, Pamela.
Calvin, the engineer leading the proposed rebellion at Empire, butts heads with Eddie and Cookie. He tries to tell Cookie they think enough is enough, and that he will kick off the strike, but he’s trying to talk to her first. Eddie gets fired up, though, and grabs Calvin’s phone, sending the strike email for him.
Cookie is shocked and looks to Porsha, but Calvin — whom she’s apparently dating? — calls her over. Porsha reminds Cookie she wakes up for her at 4:30 a.m. every day and has given up her life for this job without even a thank you from her name-calling boss. And with that, she heads out not just to join the strike — but to lead it.
Who else gets involved? Shine and his group of thugs. “I’m rolling with the 99 percent,” he tells Cookie, to which she reminds him, “You do realize you own 25 percent of the company.” Doesn’t matter — he goes out to join the masses. Then good ol’ Tory Ash joins up, too, telling the crowd she’ll sing for them, not for the man! It’s a nice sentiment, but like…can we please, please kill her off already? She does absolutely nothing for me, or for this show. Thank you.
Back inside, Eddie tells Cookie they have a bus coming with other engineers — scabs — who can do the work while the others strike. And Thirsty, ever scheming, says he’s already started digging up dirt on every single striker. But Cookie tells them both to stand down — she’s going to take care of this like a woman, because men screw everything up. (Amen!)
So she calls a meeting with the lead strikers, and Lucious remembers all his old employees by name, which is a good start. Cookie reminds them of everything great Empire has done for them — paid leave when family members were sick, paying their kids’ tuition, paying for vocal rehab — because they’re a family. Then she tells a story about helping her prison nemesis through a difficult (and secret) pregnancy, because she realized they were all in it together in there. (This becomes a story within a story: shown as a flashback while she “tells” it to the meeting room, but then in the flashback, she tells her enemy another story. Inception!)
In the end, she doesn’t say she’ll let up on the engineers and musicians at all, but just asks them to be there for Empire like Empire’s been there for them. It’s a good strategy…though it feels a little flimsy? But whatever: Porsha tells Calvin they should trust Cookie, and Cookie apologizes for not thanking Porsha and for calling her stupid. And they all lived happily ever after!
Just kidding. Now it’s time for the Lyons to head to their Bella visit, with Andre promising that he’ll bring Pamela to meet his family next time — just not this time. On the way in, Jamal tells everyone he’s going to have Warren move in with him. But then…they get to the restaurant, and who’s there in Bella’s place? Diana DuBois, of course, and with her, Warren sits with his tail between his legs.
It becomes clear to Cookie before it does to Jamal. “So I guess this is a setup?” she asks.
“My nephew Warren can provide full details,” Diana sneers. Unfortunately for Warren, before the Lyons arrived, he was trying to get out of this scheme. But she said she already expected it — which is why Anika was pulled in to help with her grand plan.
So, just like the She’s All That story line this whole scenario was pulled from, Warren tries to say to Jamal, “I was going to tell you!” Then Diana tells them that Warren’s orders were to take videos of Jamal and himself having a threesome, then post them on the internet for everyone to see.
But instead of Jamal yelling, “Am I a bet? Am I a stupid bet?” like Laney Boggs, he knocks Warren to the ground and starts violently punching and kicking him. It’s harsh treatment, but honestly, WARREN HAS BEEN A SNAKE. A snake working for an even more venomous snake!
Of course, Diana gets her viral video after all, because everyone in the restaurant pulls out their phones to film Jamal Lyons’ violent meltdown. They leave, and when Cookie and Lucious are alone at the car, Lucious tells her he wanted to slam Warren onto the table and stomp his head with his prosthetic leg. “Yeah, I know,” Cookie says. This triggers flashbacks of Lucious’ most violent moments, which happened when he was trying to save her. “The old Lucious would have.”
Hmm…is she saying that in the hopes that violent Lucious will return? Or praising his self-control? I have a hunch it’s the former.