Lucious' dark deeds catch up to him — but it's Jamal who pays for them
Credit: Chuck Hodes/FOX
S2 E17
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With just one more episode to go in season 2, the Lyons begin to fall apart — until an act of violence brings them back together.

As “Rise by Sin” opens, it’s the night before the ASAs, and Lucious has gathered his band for a midnight practice — he needs to make sure every musician’s performance is spotless for the biggest event in the industry. He’s just perfecting his Whiplash impression when Cookie drops by and orders him to stop avoiding his mother. He hasn’t been home to see Leah in three nights, ever since she brandished that knife at him. (It seems death-by-cake wasn’t Lucious’s fate after all, Matilda fans will sadly note.) Maybe he’s right to steer clear: Back at his house, Grandma Walker is flipping through channels, when she stumbles across the “Boom Boom Boom Boom” video. Let’s just say she takes to it less favorably than ASA voters.

The next morning, Carol comes to Cookie’s office, happy as a clam because she saw Tariq (Morocco Omari) last night, and they’re going out again today. Cookie tells her to be careful of “Tariq the Freak,” but Carol is off the wagon and in love, so there’s no reasoning with her. Later, Cookie has Thirsty investigate Carol’s new boo, and just as she suspected, Tariq is now a federal agent.

Andre visits with Leah, who turns her little old lady act up to 11 for him. She tells him she’s hurt that the family (who never met or knew about her until last week) didn’t turn around and invite her to the most important night of their careers. Sweet, dopey Andre comes clean, telling her that if the press found out she’s still alive, it would ruin Lucious’s credibility. After filing that tidbit away, she waves his concern aside, promising to keep her identity a secret — now we know where Lucious learned all his conniving from.

Back at Empire HQ, Anika tracks down Rhonda and asks her why she’s been so distant recently. (Can we all agree: Anika is truly awful at attempted murder. She badgers her victim for attention, and she didn’t throw out her murder outfit! That’s like Manslaughter 101!) Rhonda bites back: Maybe she’s been avoiding her “friend” because she suspects Anika pushed her down a flight of stairs.

Those two aren’t the only ones quarreling. Hakeem and Laura have also hit a rough patch after Hakeem tactlessly tells his fiancée her career is dead in the water. Laura pouts for about a second and a half, then tells Hakeem her new dream is being married to him. So…yay feminism? She says she’s cool with playing the sidekick, but that act has to wear thin eventually.

NEXT: Lucious crosses a line

After learning the real reason Tariq is courting her sister, Cookie crashes their date before Carol arrives. (Side note: Cookie’s wearing leather gloves, complete with gold talons in this scene, and they are so amazing, it’s a little distracting.) Cookie tries to suss out Tariq’s motives, and they exchange a few verbal jabs. But Tariq goes for the KO when he informs his old friend that Lucious killed her cousin Bunkie. She smiles and pretends not to believe him, but you can bet all hell is about to break loose. Later that afternoon, Carol returns from her date and picks a fight with her sister for getting on her new man’s case. She busts out a bunch of hurtful insults, including accusing Cookie of riding Lucious’ coattails her whole career. Cookie disinvites her sister from the ASAs, in one of the most authentically angry moments we’ve ever seen from her.

Mama Lyon is not happy, but Jamal having a grand ol’ time, flirting with D-Major (Tobias Truvillion) in the recording studio as they listen to his new track. That is, until Lucious accidentally walks in on them. D-Major springs away from Jamal and goes on a spiel about how Jamal’s advances aren’t cool and Lucious needs to control his son. The kicked-puppy look in Jamal’s eyes is enough to break your heart (and here I had hopes their relationship would make it at least until the finale). D-Major rushes out, and Lucious just laughs: He knew the producer was on the DL the whole time. He warns Jamal not to get entangled with a man who has a reputation for “turning rich young men into little bitches.” Jamal tries to explain it’s not like that with them, but Lucious won’t hear it. Once again, his disgust at Jamal’s “choices” overcomes him, and he screams at his son to keep his private life out of the studio, where anyone could have walked in on him making out with another man.

But Andre was right last week when he said Jamal has grown stronger in the face of Lucious’ homophobia. Instead of running away, he turns the tables: Considering Lucious is too afraid of his own mother to even look her in the eye, maybe he’s not in the best position to be calling anyone a “little bitch.”

With that, Jamal leaves the studio and goes to find Cookie. He wants to tell her Lucious has finally crossed a line, and he has no interest in working with him ever again. But Cookie cautions Jamal that he needs to lay low and not stir up any drama right now: the feds are still investigating them. Jamal doesn’t care because the FBI is only interested in Lucious. But then Cookie explains: She’s the one who snitched on Frank Gathers, and then Lucious finished him off in prison. With this investigation going on, if Freda ever found out, no one in their family is safe. Now is not the time for internal conflict.

NEXT: Boom boom boom boom

Cookie may be all about keeping the Lyons together, but Lucious has less noble intentions. Andre tries to hustle his grandmother out of the house so she can attend the ASAs, but Thirsty and a handful of meatheads stop him at the door. On Lucious’ orders, they throw both Andre and Leah in the house’s panic room and lock the door behind them. That’s what you get for ruining someone’s juice cleanse!

Cookie is departing the office for the ASAs (donning a golden face mesh and two fur boas), when Lucious asks her to be his date to the event. She flashes back to all the good times they shared as young lovers and says yes. (Why is Empire re-treading this relationship for the hundredth time? The only time watching Cookie is not enjoyable is when she’s making mistakes she’s too smart to make.) Once at the show, Jamal, still seething, tells a reporter on the red carpet that he’s shelving the Black and White album and this is the last time they’ll see him perform onstage with his family.

Cookie told Carol not to come to the ASAs, but Carol is drunk and mad, so she showed up anyway. Furious, Cookie banishes her. On her way out, Carol stumbles into Freda and gets into yet another heated tiff. She spills the beans that Lucious killed Frank Gathers, before walking off, oblivious to the mess she’s left in her wake. Freda is stunned but only for a moment. After thinking back on how Lucious wormed his way into her life after her father died, she goes ballistic. In a fit of rage, she grabs a security guard’s gun and goes for Lucious. At the last moment, Jamal sees her and steps in front of his father, taking the bullet for him.

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The entire family — including Andre and Leah, who escape the panic room after watching the shooting on the ASA TV coverage — races to the hospital, and Jamal is rushed into emergency surgery. (After half a season of hype, turns out we never get to see the ASAs or the fabled Lyon family performance. Hours later, the family watches on TV as Song of the Year is awarded to a non-Lyon nominee we’ve never heard of.)

In the chaos of the emergency room, no one notices as Leah slips out of the hospital and into the parking lot, where a scrum of reporters pounces, eager for news of Jamal’s condition. The episode ends just as she’s about to reveal Lucious’ secret to the world.

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