Free from jail, Lucious is back in control. But Cookie has her say at dinner.
Let’s face it: You’re not reading this recap because you want a lofty deconstruction of the symbolism and philosophy behind Empire. You’re reading because you just watched the latest over-the-top episode and you thought, “What the hell was that?!?” as a billion GIFs exploded in your brain. So every week, instead of a traditional recap, we’ll give you the latest edition of Empire: How Crazy/Awesome Was It?, in which we rate this week’s episode in terms of relative genius/insanity. Add your own ratings in the comments below.
How crazy/awesome was he? Mostly just awesome
What the heck happened with him this week? He organized a family reunion that Vito Corleone would’ve loved — the kind where you keep your enemies close and the honey-roasted ham closer.
For a while, rumors hinted that Terrence Howard’s real-life “personal drama” might require Empire‘s writers to downscale his role, and for the past two weeks, some of us were afraid that might be true. With Lucious in jail, Empire was missing one thing that makes it so compulsively watchable: those dysfunctional Lyon family dinners where everyone’s steak knife is drawn. So it’s a huge relief to see “Fires of Heaven” begin with Lucious busting out on bail, upstaging Roxanne’s press conference with the news that he’s back at Empire (even though legal complications prevent him from setting foot in the building), and arriving home just in time to break bread with the people who plotted to destroy him. Gulp. Maybe he should’ve served up Cannibal Chris Rock‘s body as his main course.
Thankfully, this week’s dinner scene brings back the old-school, hold-my-diamond-drop-earrings drama that Empire fans live for. Cookie and Lucious’s banter is just as delicious and filled with cheese as the spread on the table. There are food metaphors aplenty. Cookie accuses Lucious of poisoning the family, literally and maybe also figuratively. Lucious tells Hakeem that he can’t build a brand with the girl group he’s “cooking up.” After demanding that Cookie dismantle Lyon Dynasty, Lucious gave her one last chance to eat her words. “I know y’all can’t eat without me, ’cause all y’all got is pride. And it’s chewy, and it’s hard to swallow,” he purrs. But Cookie isn’t having it. “You got me twisted, OG,” she says. “I’m always gonna eat, just not with you.” Then she pulls the whole feast off the table. Poor Lucious. When you’re using food to fight a woman whose very name is edible, you can’t win.
Speaking of names, remember when Lucious said he changed his from Dwight because “Lucious Lyon” sounded like an immortal god? Well, I smell symbolism. This week, he’s acting like a god: omnipresent and all-knowing. He somehow knows the exact time and place to show up and prevent Freda (played by real-life rapper Bre-Z) from shooting the guy who one-ups her in a freestyle battle. Lucious acquires Apex with oddly prescient timing, allowing him to steal Valentina from Lyon Dynasty just minutes before her big debut on Sway’s show. (More on that later.) And, thanks to a tip-off from Becky, he rolls up behind Jamal just as the junior Lyon is about to make amends with Cookie. (Yes, there’s another one of Empire‘s famous roll-down-the-window-of-this-town-car-so-we-can-have-a-little-talk moments. Take a swig for your Empire drinking game.) Jamal says he’ll stay with Empire, but only if Lucious makes him the No. 1 priority. Lucious says Jamal needs “a god” to produce him. I like to imagine that, just after Empire cuts to a commercial, massive avenging-angel wings sprout from Lucious’s back as he bellows, “…and that god is ME!”
Most tweetable quote: “I want you guys to eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we war.”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Calling Anika “dirty” while sucking on a cherry so suggestively, he makes food porn sound literal
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COOKIE AND HAKEEM LYON
How crazy/awesome were they? Him: Crazy enough to give a French name to a girl group that’s fluent in Spanish. Her: Crazy enough to make you drop and give her 20
What the heck happened with them this week? They put Mirage a Trois through boot camp. Knees up, ladies!
From the beginning, Hakeem hasn’t been doing the best job developing his girl group for Lyon Dynasty. First, what branding genius thought it was a good idea to call an all-Latina girl group Mirage a Trois? Didn’t Hakeem consider any names that sounded better in Spanish? Second, why didn’t he check Urban Dictionary to make sure the name didn’t have unintended significance? And that’s not even touching on his management skills. Mirage a Trois haven’t even recorded their first single when Hakeem schedules them to perform on Sway’s Apex show, and Valentina’s already devoting so many overtime hours to losing her drawers, someone oughta call HR.
Luckily, bad news for Mirage a Trois is good news for Cookie, who’s always at her best when she’s cat fighting. She’s all kinds of wrong when she’s accusing Valentina (or “Guadalupe,” as Cookie calls her) of “livin’ la vida loca” with Hakeem — an slam that only Cookie could get away with. But it’s so much fun to see Cookie play Sheryl Sandberg in her post-feminist version of Lean In, by forcing Valentina to prove she’s not just sleeping her way to the top, then pushing Mirage through a dance routine that’s so hardcore, Cookie probably earned a teardrop tattoo for choreographing it. Too bad they’re losing Valentina to Empire. The girl can do a pop-star push-up like nobody’s business.
The Mirage single is actually pretty catchy. I’m still singing “Where you at? / Come get it! / Just do it!“ in my head, and doing a little sassy, Valentina-inspired head-nod. Timbaland, who oversees Empire‘s music, added Ne-Yo to his songwriting staff this season, and the songs sound so much fresher than they did before. I loved Hakeem’s new single, which he performed at Empire’s own party, thanks to a coup staged by Cookie and Anika. (Please let these two mortal enemies collaborate more often in the future!) Interrupting Jamal’s duet with Pitbull, Hakeem introduced the world to Lyon Dynasty with a diss track that took shots at both his dad and his brother. Bold! It’s hard to say who was braver: him for burning the bridge that leads back to Empire or Cookie for stealing Empire’s spotlight so gloriously, she deserves her own “Imma let you finish…” meme.
Most tweetable quotes: Hakeem: “I’m the Lyon; you the cub!” Cookie: “I doubt if Jesus Christ himself could save you without burning his hands.””B—-, sing the song!”
Most GIF-able moment: Hakeem: Bum-rushing the stage with his microphone in hand. Cookie: Yanking dinner off the table with a swift tug of the tablecloth
NEXT: The other Lyons
How crazy/awesome was he? Apparently, way too crazy-awesome for any A-list producer to work with
What the heck happened with him this week? He struggled with favorite-child syndrome.
What happened to Jamal? He used to be the nicest, sweetest, most-relatable character on this show, and now he’s turning into a diva fast, which is evident from the evil-villain score that Empire uses any time it cuts from Jamal to a commercial. He keeps dismissing the producers Lucious sends him, deeming them not worthy of this talent. His attempts to get Hakeem back to Empire feel half-hearted, maybe because he doesn’t need the competition. And when Lucious suggests that Empire needs to do whatever it takes to sign Freda because “she means everything to me musically,” Jamal’s rolling his eyes hard enough to break. No wonder he lets Freda walk out the door, leaving Becky to give Freda the hard sell by bonding with her over their shared Brownsville roots. “My dad says, musically, she’s his everything,” Jamal sulks. “Where the hell’s that supposed to leave me?” Well, it leaves you back at your piano, writing another sad song.
To make matters worse, Lucious won’t stop pitting the brothers against each other. “Keem would’ve signed her,” Lucious tells Jamal. When Lucious reveals his plans to bring back Gutter Life Records, he can’t resist asking if reserved, buttoned-up Jamal can handle the “raw sound.” By the end, Lucious agrees to make Jamal the No. 1 priority, but the whole thing raises the question: How many times can Lucious insult his sons before they stop forgiving him? Why don’t the Lyon brothers do what normal kids do and gang up against their dad?
Most tweetable quote: “Can’t stop a king from speaking to his subjects“
Most GIF-able moment: Giving Hakeem the death-wink after little brother disrupts his Empire performance
How crazy/awesome was he? Not crazy enough to be awesome. Not awesome enough to act crazy
What the heck happened with him this week? Sigh. The same thing as last week: He appealed to both Cookie and Lucious before having a tearful breakdown. Right now, it seems like Empire doesn’t quite know what to do with Andre. He has minimal screen time and even less character development beyond helping us see a deeper side of Lucious. The episode begins with another desperate let’s-make-a-deal moment: Andre offers to sign with Apex so that Empire can control almost all the urban content in broadcast radio. The only catch? Lucious would have to rehire him. When that approach doesn’t work, Andre takes Cookie’s advice and reveals that he’s going to be a father, believing that Lucious will rehire him just to expand the family’s legacy. But Lucious rejects that strategy, too. “You’re breaking my heart the way that you’re using this right now, to get what you want,” he tells Andre. Cue the flashback to Lucious’s mother, singing Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You” in the midst of what looks like a bipolar episode. Lucious is terrified that his mother’s illness might have already been passed down to his son — and, now, to the grandchild as well.
How much more can Empire possibly punish Andre? The poor guy earned a Wharton degree for this? The fact that “Fires of Heaven” ends with Lucious announcing the Apex deal should land Andre back at Empire, which would make for a much more interesting storyline. For now, though, I’m just praying that this troubled man doesn’t end up in a mental ward somewhere, la-la-la-la-la-ing himself into a Minnie Riperton-induced psychosis.
Most tweetable quote: “Why’d you ask us here, Jamal? So you can kill us all together, instead of having to do it one at a time?”
Most GIF-able moment: Giving Lucious an angry, what-do-you-want-me-to-do-here? shrug after being brushed off for the billionth time