Empire recap: Can you count on me?
As Empire continues what’s so far been a season of rebuilding, one theme lingers throughout tonight’s episode: opportunity. For better or for worse, our characters all have opportunities facing them. From fame to freedom, revenge to reclamation, everyone is out to take what’s theirs.
After two long years, it’s finally time for Andre’s release from prison. Dressed in (of all colors) angel white, he’s welcomed with open arms by Lucious and Cookie who, despite the realities of Lyon Family Management distracting them, are overjoyed to see their son back in society. Meanwhile, Kingsley has made a return visit to Diana DuBois in prison to continue picking her brain for more Lyons dirt, but she has his number. Having pegged his mission to the humiliation at the Empire “return” party, Diana wonders if Lucious reminds the insecure Kingsley of all his childhood bullies. “You’re the little dipper to his big dipper,” she coos with a laugh. Ultimately, she’s willing to give Kingsley the information he needs to take down Lucious, but what does she want in return? Lotion, of course. Wait, what? Eager to keep up appearances even in lockdown, Diana’s found out about a special lotion rumored to be made of fetal tissue and stem cells. If Kingsley can retrieve this, Lucious’ “Achilles heel” is all his for the taking.
Back in office/mansion of Lyon Family Management (now with air conditioning!), Porsha, accompanied by a set of newly hired interns, shows Cookie video of a female rapper she thinks would be a great addition to LFM. Cookie quickly dismisses her as “Cardi B-minus,” but does take a liking to the background singer on the track. Tagged on the video as Devon, Cookie tells Porsha to find him as she’s certain they can make him a star. When Jamal gets the news that Kai’s missing from his current assignment, Becky wonders if he’s in trouble. Jamal shuts the talk down and tells her not to freak out because he’s not freaking out. We then flashback to the moment they met at a London bar, where Kai comes to Jamal’s aid after his drink is spiked in clear view of paparazzi inside.
Back at the mansion, Andre catches Lucious in the middle of loading his gun and spots his father’s book, which contains a list of his past criminal “backers.” As the now hardened Andre expresses regret that he couldn’t have followed that same street life his father had, Lucious tells him he never expected to have to “collect” again. Though he senses that Andre wants to join him as a backup, Lucious refuses and tells him to stay away. Over at Empire, Kingsley informs Giselle her services as COO are no longer needed, but as we all know Giselle is incapable of taking no for an answer…ever. Reminding her co-worker/ex-lover/nemesis that she has all the music industry expertise he doesn’t, Giselle makes it clear that despite everything in their past, things will be professional between them from now on. And if it isn’t? “I’m going to #MeToo all over your ass,” she says as she grabs her position (and Kingsley’s manhood) as hard as she can.
Great talent takes people to the unlikeliest places; for Cookie and Porsha, that means the junkyard. Having tracked Devon to the lot where he works, they find he’s already being wooed by Becky, who’s there to get him to join Empire. The two factions throw enough shade to cover at least five junkyards, but as Devon leaves with Becky, Cookie implores him not to sign anything until she can show him what she and her company can offer. Meanwhile, Andre disobeys Lucious by trailing him to one of his collection attempts with Sonny, the owner of a boxing gym. On a cold streak with his training prospects, Sonny tells Lucious and Andre he’ll have the money for them but not right now. After the failed collection, Lucious chews his son out for disobeying his request to stay away and tells him not to wear his prison time “like it’s some badge of honor.” Andre responds by telling Lucious that if word spreads in the streets they’re flat broke, they won’t get a dime from anyone.
Kingsley and Becky give Devon the full court pitch at Empire, complete with a “This is Your Life”-style display of all the future hits and accolades he’ll have if he signs with them. Kingsley further schools Devon on the analytics data they have on the average R&B audience and the things they want from him: swag, abs, cars, and women. “We’ll mold you into what every man wants to be and every woman wants to sleep with,” Kingsley says. Devon, however, isn’t sure about all the changes. “We want to put your face on the mountain,” Giselle says, interrupting Kingsley’s analytics pitch. “Marvin, Luther, Teddy, D’Angelo, Devon.”
In the apartment studio with Hakeem, Jamal has another flashback of meeting Kai. This time, it’s the morning after the bar drugging. Waking up to paparazzi photos of him being strolled out of the bar by Kai, Jamal confronts him wondering if he was behind the drugging simply to get press for himself. “If I did, I would’ve hidden my face with my sweatshirt because being caught with a messy, drugged-out American pop star? That’s poison for a real journalist,” Kai responds matter-of-factly. Jamal then apologizes, saying he rarely meets people who aren’t out for something. He then asks Kai out for dinner, promising to be “33% less messy.” Kai promises to think about it before walking away. Back to present day, Jamal is visited by Kai’s assignment editor who informs him that they haven’t heard back from Kai in 48 hours and that, given where he last was and how long he’s been missing, it’s not looking good.
Now over at the office/mansion of LFM, Cookie asks Devon what motivates him musically. Devon is initially at a loss for words and says he doesn’t know, but Cookie digs deeper and gets him to profess that it comes from his heart and soul. When Cookie then presents a contract for him to sign, Devon says he’ll have to talk with his sister before he signs anything. “Don’t take too long now,’ Cookie winks, frustrated at another missed opportunity. On the hunt for dirt on Kingsley, Giselle’s hired a PI to find the skeletons in his game room. While the PI’s found nothing incriminating, she has found out about his trips upstate to the women’s prison. Speaking of Kingsley’s incarcerated bosom buddy, Diana is surprised to find a jar of that super-fetal facial lotion under her pillow, along with a postcard asking, “Did I pass the test?”
Andre and Lucious are on another collection visit, but their latest mark is onto their trail and tells them he’s not giving them a penny. When Andre’s offer to negotiate is further rebuffed, the convict jumps out and shoots the mark in the knee. The father-son duo then asks for the location and code to the safe at gunpoint. When Lucious opens the safe and discovers how little money is there, he asks where he’s hiding the rest. The mark promises he’ll have the rest for them later and the two Lyons leave, promising to return. Back at home later, Lucious confronts Andre again for his reckless approach. “I know that you went in there and you learned a few things,” Lucious says. “But somehow along the way, when they took your name and gave you a number, you’d forgotten your value.” Lucious tells Andre that since he got the fire in his heart from him, it’s his job to help his son control that fieriness.
Elsewhere, Jamal is still daydreaming about his first date with Kai. Over wine, Jamal spots a Latin tattoo on Kai’s chest which translates to “truth conquers all.” When he tries to get the story behind the tattoo, Kai tells Jamal they’re “not there yet” and tries to change the subject to the synthesizer on the living room table. Taking inspiration from his conversation with Kai, Jamal plays around with his synth and comes up with an instrumental track based on his words. “That’s what I love to do with my music,” he says. “Make people feel what I’m feeling.” As the music plays, the two share their first kiss, but Kai turns down the offer of a nightcap as he’s got an early morning. We then move to the studio with Blake and Tiana as they’re recording a new track using the verses Hakeem wrote for him. When Tiana tells Blake she’s ready to cut the record today, he backtracks saying he’s not ready for the world to hear the song. “It’s too real,” he says, again forgetting to add that it’s not his. When Tiana promises to keep the track between them, Blake ultimately falls in line and records the song.
Hoping to get him to sign with LFM, Cookie finds Devon’s address, but it’s his sister Janae who answers the door. Janae reveals that she and her brother have been living alone in the apartment since their parents died. She also tells Cookie that Devon works four jobs so that she can cover the cost of her hip surgery. This is all overwhelming for Cookie, who hurriedly but politely leaves with the contract still in hand. After the visit, Cookie calls Becky to the mansion to tell her she’s no longer going after Devon. “I can’t give him what he needs right now, Empire can,” Cookie says before she and Becky both utter Lucious’ motto: “the artist comes first.” With the reality of Devon’s homelife now clear to her, Cookie urges Becky to promise to get his Empire deal signed quickly because he and his sister need the signing money.
Catching Tiana outside the studio, Hakeem tries to pull her aside to talk to her. When she says she has to go home, he tells her the kids are asleep and the nanny is staying late because he has something to show her: a special meal for two. When Hakeem tries to make a move, Tiana initially resists and says they can’t reconcile. Ultimately, kisses turn to…other kisses as Hakeem says tonight isn’t about him but about Tiana’s pleasure. When Lucious asks Cookie about the progress with Devon’s deal, she admits she let Empire sign him, explaining that she couldn’t face Devon and string him along given their money problems and his family life. Lucious is annoyed, saying that had she given him a month, he could have gotten Devon a major label deal. But Cookie responds that he didn’t have a month and it was her call. They’re soon surprised in the kitchen by Devon, who tells the Lyons that he ultimately turned down the Empire deal and instead wants to sign with Lyon Family Management. Devon says that while Empire showed him a whole other world, Cookie made him and Janae feel like family. Over omelets, Lucious hands Devon a wad of cash hoping to tide him over until he’s making real dough with his music.
Another flashback with Jamal and Kai reveals the meaning behind Kai’s “truth conquers all” tattoo. Back at Jamal’s door in the early morning, Kai tells him that he got the tattoo after finding out he was HIV-positive. “When I was diagnosed three years ago, I thought my world was going to end,” Kai says, adding that he didn’t want to have the conversation while they were kissing. Sharing that he’s HIV-negative, Jamal says that he has no problem with Kai’s status and finds him “perfect.” They embrace again and head off to the bedroom. The memory is interrupted by Becky, who asks if Kai’s been found. When Jamal says he hasn’t, Becky tries to be optimistic about the situation but it falls on deaf ears. Jamal then pulls out a case holding the engagement ring he was planning to offer Kai. “I was going to ask him before he left but we got into a fight,” Jamal tearfully says. “It was going to be so perfect.”
Becky soon calls the entire family to Jamal’s apartment in an effort to reach him because he’s ready to head off to find Kai. Cookie, Lucious, and Andre all try to talk him out of going on his own, while Hakeem is willing to join Jamal if he needs. When Lucious promises to use his connections in the State Department to get answers, Jamal figures out that there’s something his father’s not telling him. “They found his wallet and his cell phone on the side of the road,” Lucious says as the rest of the family tries to reassure Jamal that Kai could still be alive. Jamal, in a state of stoic panic the entire episode, weeps in his mother’s arms.
Giselle pays a visit of her own to Diana, who shades her as “one of Eddie Barker’s many widows” and calls her out about her affair for Kingsley. Once all those pleasantries are out of the way, Giselle goes for what she and Diana have in common: being wronged by those in power; Diana by the Lyons, Giselle by Kingsley. “I need them all to know that I will never let that happen again,” she tells Diana. “And I need your help.” Diana tells Giselle that Kingsley promised to go after the Lyons, and she is ready to help in their revenge any way she can. “They need to know how it feels to put one of your own into the ground,” she says, referencing the death of her son Angelo at the hands of Jamal. We then flash forward to five months later. Lucious is undressing in the bathroom, revealing a bloody dress shirt as he looks in the mirror in sheer panic. As Kingsley’s plan to take down the Lyons evolves into a three-way revenge plot, it looks like we’re inching ever closer to finding out who’s in that darned casket. Alas, we’ll have to wait two weeks for the next episode (darned baseball!).