After seemingly walking away from their Empire for good, the entire Lyon clan (in their own ways) have an extra verve to make their newest venture work. After a creatively intense dream of himself rapping again, Hakeem wakes up to find Lucious’ big speech has gone viral for all the wrong reasons. “Lyons Without Pride?” one of the online headlines reads to Cookie’s frustration. But Jamal urges his family to put all the negative press aside as today is the day Andre is finally getting out of prison…or it would have been had he not been sent to solitary confinement for his role in the brawl to protect Quincy. With only walls and the disembodied voice of another prisoner for company, a steely Andre is sure he can survive a few more days away from freedom.
With Andre’s release now delayed, Lucious gathers the family together to announce that Lyon Family Management is off and running with new office space, a new source of capital and its first two artists: Jamal and Hakeem. While they’re both still under contract to Empire, Lucious has found language in their contracts stating that they can be broken without them getting sued. While they’re all sure the current team at Empire will put up a fight, the sons sound ready to battle. Still in solitary, Andre is needled once again by Gusto, who’s been Quincy’s primary bully. “How you gonna come for me and miss?” Gusto asks as we flashback to an earlier brawl between Andre and his crew. It’s here we first see Andre notice Gusto’s focus on Quincy as a target for his aggression. After walking away from a scrap with Andre, Gusto grabs Quincy’s copy of The Wealth of Nations and hits him over the head with it before throwing it on the ground. Andre grabs the book and gives it back to Quincy, no words shared between the two.
Just as Jamal and Kai are starting to make New York City their home, Kai finds out he’s being reassigned to the Sub-Saharan news beat in Lagos. Jamal isn’t pleased by the news, not only because of the fragile state of the area but because Kai’s ex will also be working alongside him. Kai insists he can handle everything the job holds, but this conflict can only last so long: Kai’s flying out for the assignment as soon as possible. With straits still financially dire for the Lyons and their new company, Cookie makes a pitch to Porsha as well as her sisters Candace (Vivica A. Fox) and Carol (Tasha Smith) to serve as the company’s office staff pro bono. All three are very much reticent about the idea, but when Cookie tells them they’d all be backend participants in the venture, they fall into place. When Porsha talks her way into becoming head of A&R (“Ain’t nobody else in that department,” Cookie says as she agrees to the request), Carol asks for a title of her own. “Recovering crack ho,” Cookie snaps back. Ouch. True, but ouch.
With the Lyon sons looking to get out of their contracts at Empire, Jeff Kingsley is left to wonder if Becky is the next Empire lifer to leave. Becky insists she hasn’t received any real offers…just as Lucious is calling her phone. As the former patriarch of Empire rings, Jamal and Hakeem enter the office to meet on their contracts. While Jamal tries to hit an amicable note by saying their exit is simply due to family loyalty, Kingsley is not ready to make nice with any of the Lyons. Bringing up how the three Lyon brothers were once the pillars of Empire, Kingsley dismisses Andre as a prisoner, Jamal as a beggar for his father, and calls Hakeem “broken beyond repair.” While Kingsley is fine with releasing Hakeem from his contract by saying all his value is in his past music, he’s not letting Jamal off the hook so easily. He owes Empire one more album of original music and until he delivers, he’s stuck there.
After leading possible investors on a tour of the empty offices of Lyon Family Management, one of the investors breaks it to Lucious that his current financial state makes him a credit risk, and having Andre involved in the company post-release is even riskier. Lucious lays into the investors for the double standard of not allowing “people like me” to pick up the pieces after a major fall while they (the investor group is all older white men) are allowed to start over like it’s nothing. Lucious insists he’s financially reliable but it all falls on deaf ears as the investors walk out and say no deal.
Having found out about the failed investor tour, Cookie confides in her sisters about her money troubles and tells them Lyon Family Management must work or else they’ll be down to nothing. Candace asks Cookie what else she’s willing to give to Lucious to make their dreams happen, as she’s seemingly given everything but her organs for Empire to succeed. “Not everything,” Cookie replies to Candace’s repeated “no”s. As Carol listens in, Cookie reveals she bought a loft in SoHo at Candace’s insistence when she thought Lucious and Guiliana (remember her?) were going to run off together and leave her broke. Cookie and Candace promised never to tell anyone about the “safety net” or to sell it, but Cookie declares it’s time to sell the loft as they’re now at the financial bottom.
Lucious meets with Thirsty, who in the intervening two years post-Empire has become “the #3 slip and fall guy in all of Greenpoint and the #2 #MeToo guy in Queens”. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Lucious asks Thirsty to join Lyon Family Management and possibly open up his client list as possible investors. Thirsty, who hasn’t spoken to Lucious in over a year, isn’t pleased to see his former ally come over seemingly to just peruse for venture money. Lucious insists that’s not the case, and though the Lyons have had their challenges, they’re ready to rebuild and they want that rebuilding to include Thirsty. Driven by his earlier dreams and fueled by his exit from Empire, Hakeem presents Jamal with handwritten lyrics for a new track that presents a glimpse of where his mind is after his shooting and recovery. Jamal calls the song dark but beautiful and it’s not long before they’re ready to go to work. However, when his continued lung issues lead to coughing fits during the session, Hakeem becomes angry and disillusioned and ultimately walks out.
Shadowboxing alone in solitary confinement, Andre remembers another encounter with Quincy. Seeing more traits of himself in the young man, Andre hands him a copy of Moneyball and says that he could be one of the statisticians in the book. When Quincy responds by saying he doesn’t have much of a future, Andre tells him otherwise. “Most people are who they are, not what they’ve done,” he says, as Quincy shares how he got sentenced to five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. “I missed my high school graduation so I just pretend this is the worst college ever,” Quincy says, adding that he was set to go to Wharton just like him when he got arrested. As we move back to Andre readying for a fight, we now see that he’s fighting for an innocent man’s future.
Continuing to write lyrics despite the session setback, Hakeem shows what he’s written to a visiting Blake and tells him the song’s his if he wants it. When Blake realizes the song is about the shooting, he wonders why Hakeem isn’t recording it himself. Hakeem explains that he isn’t up to rapping due to his lung issues, but says the world still needs to hear it. Even though he was involved in the same shooting, Blake is reluctant to take the song, but ultimately agrees, promising to do Hakeem’s words justice. Kai FaceTimes Jamal from his layover in Paris and things become tense as Jamal feels Kai’s runoff from the life they started for the quickest job he could find. Kai shoots back that the life he was leaving was less theirs and more Jamal’s old life, saying that while he agreed to join him in New York, he never agreed to give up his career for him. With that, Jamal shuts off the computer and goes back to his music.
Lucious bustles through Kingsley’s security to confront him for buying the office space he was planning to lease for Lyon Family Management. When Lucious asks him what his obsession with the Lyons is, Kingsley says it’s simply business. In his eyes, if the Lyons succeed in their new venture, it makes it harder for Empire to compete with them. But it’s all fine and dandy since the new space will be used to record Empire’s newest projects like, say, that album Jamal owes them. Lucious lays out a challenge for Kinglsey, telling him that stronger and hungrier men have come for his throne and none succeeded. “Where I come from, we don’t play black eyes and bloody noses, or schoolyard tit-for-tats,” Lucious says. “It’s life or death.” Ever the Silicon Valley social sweetheart, Kingsley laughs the threats off and goes back to his breakfast.
Cookie is in a panic as the lost office means she has no venue for their planned launch event in one day. Carol suggests using the secret loft as the venue, but after initially brushing the idea off with a “shut your dumbass up,” Cookie has a change of heart. But Candace shares that the loft isn’t zoned for commercial use and that there’s a cash offer for the loft ready for the taking, which Cookie tells her to agree to on the spot. Just as it’s agreed to, Lucious walks into the “gathering of The Witches of Eastwick” and is asked what they should do with the launch. Lucious says they’ll simply do it in the disarrayed hotbox that is the Lyon Mansion. With the sons, Thirsty, and possibly Becky all back in the fold, Lucious says there’s no better place to build the foundation of Lyon Family Management than the house the Lyons built.
Jamal, looking for a way to salvage the sessions with Hakeem and worrying that the lyrical content may trigger Hakeem’s PTSD, suggests breaking up the verses to allow for him to be able to catch his breath. Mixing an incomplete track of Jamal’s with Hakeem’s slowed down rapping style, the two realize they may have something after all. After turning part of the mansion into a more official studio, the Lyons host their launch party joined by a gallery of Thirsty’s very well compensated former clients who are ready to use their court winnings to invest in LFM. When one possible investor with a craving for shrimp cocktail (“the slip and fall queen,” as Thirsty calls her) protests about the company’s new digs, even though it’s in, you know, A MANSION, Cookie commands her to sit down and listen to Lucious’ passionate pitch. He talks about how Empire first started in a living room, like their new company, but that its first and greatest assets were the Lyons themselves. With that, we get Hakeem and Jamal performing their newest track for the investors. Taking his brother’s cues from their sessions, Hakeem performs with the confidence he held in the past and it’s enough to impress the investors; yes, even the “slip and fall queen”.
Though the money is far less than they would have gotten from the venture capitalists, Lucious and Cookie have a celebratory victory lap over the event’s success. They’re soon joined by Becky, who’s so impressed by the shindig she can’t even snark about it. But when Lucious wonders when she’ll quit Empire for their company, she says she can’t give up a likely promotion from Kingsley for an unproven venture, even if she got her start with the Lyons. Lucious slams her for her lack of loyalty to him and his family, saying that she wouldn’t even have the career she has without him and Cookie taking her in. When Becky responds by pointing out how they continuously passed her over for advancement while they were running Empire, Lucious throws her out of the party as Cookie looks on concerned. The next day, Cookie, her enthusiasm seemingly fading, asks Candace to cancel the sale of the loft and take it off the market. When Carol asks what’s making her change her mind, Cookie insists things with Lucious are fine and says she’s simply taking Candace’s advice to appreciate the loft’s value. The sisters, however, share a look that clearly shows they’re not falling for it.
Jamal plays his and Hakeem’s song for Kingsley, saying this and the other tracks he has will fulfill his contract with Empire. But there’s one little screw-you detail in each song; they all have samples of lines from past songs, meaning the royalties for every track goes to the Lyons. When Kingsley insists the samples can be cut, Jamal refers back to his contract, which gives him full creative control of his music. “Go ahead, release the album,” Jamal says as he walks away. “Lyons’ gonna count the coins.” But Kingsley, ever so clever, won’t take Jamal’s contractual tricks willingly and asks his assistant to arrange a visit to a correctional facility. And who’s in a correctional facility right now? Andre, who flashes back to another moment with Quincy. Swollen and bruised after a beating, Quincy insists he’s okay to his visiting mother Teri when Andre interrupts to check up on him. As the mother brushes him off, Lucious comes to visit and tells Andre he feels responsible for his sentence. Andre reassures his father that he’s holding up fine, telling him that he went to Wharton to learn about the business world and that he’s learning about how the streets operate in prison. “I’ve learned to allow people to underestimate me,” Andre says, taking after his father in chilling fashion. “Think they’ve got me boxed in, and that’s the moment I strike. No warning, no threats, pure annihilation.”
As we move back to the present in solitary, Andre is met by a fellow prisoner who tells him “it’s time.” “Get it done,” Andre replies as several prisoners corner and stab Gusto to death in front of Quincy and a completely unbothered guard. As Andre hears the calls of “inmate down” from his cell, the prisoner returns with a “souvenir” to show: Gusto’s crucifix, which was ripped from his neck in the stabbing. “Give it to one of his apostles,” Andre commands. As the sounds of chaos continue to ring from the prison, all Andre can do is rub his palms together and kneel as he’s orchestrated another death for what he sees as noble reasons.
In maybe the seventh cheesiest thing to ever happen over FaceTime, Kai surprises Jamal from Lagos with a rendition of “You’re So Beautiful” done by a children’s’ choir, which seems to be the cure for all their problems as Kai promises to be back in NYC in a week’s time. While babysitting Prince in the playground, Blake recites the lyrics Hakeem gave him. When Tiana walks over with Bella and asks what he’s working on, he tells her it’s about the shooting. Assuming he wrote the lyrics himself, Tiana wonders aloud why Hakeem can’t put his emotions to the page like Blake has (he hasn’t). Blake makes no attempt to give Hakeem credit and tries to leave awkwardly, but Tiana stops him and asks him over for dinner, even though she can’t cook. Blake insists he can whip up a nice dish and the four head home like one big happy family. Cyrano de Hakeem seems to be in full effect.
As Kingsley enters that prison he was talking about earlier, Andre is released from solitary and is ready to go home when he’s told there’s a visitor waiting to see him. When Andre enters, the visitor isn’t Kingsley but instead Teri, who thanks him for protecting Quincy, and tells him he’s a good man even when he insists he isn’t. As Teri reaches for Andre’s wrist the two lock eyes, making an immediate connection over their mutual protection of Quincy. But if Kingsley’s not visiting Andre, then who is he making the pilgrimage to see? None other than Diana DuBois, of course. Phylicia Rashad is back in the Empire-verse and she’s out for revenge. After bonding over their mutual knowledge of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Diana susses out that Kingsley wants information from her. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he tells her, obviously talking about the Lyons.
With Diana DuBois back in the picture and Kingsley ready to wreak havoc on the Lyons by any means necessary, can the family manage to thwart their challenge? Will Diana and Kingsley’s unlikely alliance last given their respective thirsts for power? And when the hell are we gonna find who’s in that casket? Another week, another round of questions left to answer. Stay tuned, Lyons den.