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 the characters in terms of relative genius/insanity. You can add your own ratings in the comments below.
How crazy/awesome was she? Relatively sane, considering that she conducted business in a gorilla costume last week
What the heck happened with her this week? She did a little T.C.B. and got a new J-O-B, my sweet boo boo kitties. The episode begins with newly fired Empire execs Andre, Cookie, and Hakeem walking out of the office with all of their belongings in hand. Gold records? Check. Important files? Check. Severed head in a box? Uh… HR might’ve confiscated that one. “We don’t need this place,” Cookie insists. “We’ll start our own company!” Before you can start fantasizing about these three running their own gluten-free bakery, they’re already scheming to launch a rival record label.
Most of the planning is accomplished over three-way conference call and split-screen scenes. Were you anxious that these scenes might devolve into dirty Down With Love-style split-screen jokes? Not to worry! Director Dee Rees mostly used the device to show us that, no matter what Cookie and Andre are doing, Hakeem is pretty much always working out. “Let me develop my own artists!” he demands while doing sit-ups. “We just need a dope name!” he insists while doing bicep curls. They discuss whether to steal Tiana and Anika from Empire. Meanwhile, somewhere off-screen, a sweat-slicked Hakeem collapses in the corner of his home gym, trying to ward off a heart attack.
Getting back to the question of the “dope name,” Cookie urges everyone to think big, reminding them that Empire wasn’t always as ambitious as that word suggests. “You ain’t born with your name,” she says. “You grow into it.” It’s good advice, especially for a woman whose own name might’ve been chosen by the Keebler Elves. Soon, Cookie and Hakeem are sweeping out the new label’s headquarters, a building formerly occupied by the Vizhnitz Dynasty. “Dynasty! That’s a dope name!” squeals Cookie. And any dope who watches soaps can guess why Cookie likes it. Empire creator Lee Daniels once called this show the “black Dynasty.” It’s only a matter of time before Lyon Dynasty brings out the ’80s-inspired shoulder pads and lily-pond catfights.
Most tweetable quotes: “Did your daddy drop you on your head?” “Anika knows marketing! She made a whole career selling her ass.”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Saluting the Vizhnitz Dynasty with a “Mazel tov!”
How crazy/awesome was he? Well, he’s about to get a whole lot crazier if he can’t get his prescription.
What the heck happened with him this week? He basically starred in Footloose 2: The One Where Music Gets Banned in Jail. Turns out Lucious wants to record a single from the inside. “I’m actually thinking about doing a Lucious Lyon joint from the joint!” he tells Jamal. There are a few minor obstacles to Lucious’s plan. A power-hungry prison guard (played by Ludacris) keeps interrupting Lucious’s freestyle sessions and insisting that Lucious won’t get his prescription unless he’s “a little more cooperative.” Cue the dramatic music Empire reserves for truly evil characters. If Officer Luda could grow a longer mustache, he’d twirl it. Problem No. 2: Lucious needs someone to smuggle recording equipment into his cell, so a purple-suited man named Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo from The Wire) offers his services as a lawyer-slash-smuggler. Next thing you know, Lucious is standing in a room filled with equipment and rapping with his crew: “Snitch bitch! / Snitchin’-ass bitch! / And you know it / And you know it / And I know it / And you know I know it.” Don’t we know it!
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Officer Luda catches him and threatens to turn him into “another dead rapper,” but Thirsty intervenes by arranging for thugs to crack Officer Luda’s ribs and then bribing the judge at Lucious’s bail hearing with illicit photos of His Honor bound up in S&M gear. Much to the horror of Prosecutor Roxanne Ford, whose neckline isn’t exactly rising along with her career ambitions (see “Roxanne Ford’s Cleavage,” below), Lucious is out. And so is his hit single, which is already in heavy rotation when Cookie hears it on the radio. “Damn, that’s hot,” she proclaims. And she knows that Lucious knows that she knows it.
Most tweetable quote: “You still go to church? Still believe in God? Then you pray to God that he forgives you. ‘Cause I don’t.” “Harvard ain’t got nothin’ on me!”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Doing that spank-your-butt dance move any time someone says “snitch” or “bitch”
ROXANNE FORD’S CLEAVAGE
How crazy/awesome was it? Definitely crazy. Possibly awesome, depending on your affinity for push-up bras that lift you up higher than anything Hakeem can bench-press during a conference call.
What the heck happened with it this week? It squeezed into an impossibly low-cut outfit, distracting the jury.
Most tweetable quote: Cleavage doesn’t need to be quoted! It speaks for itself.
Most GIF-able moment: Threatening a wardrobe malfunction in court
NEXT: The rest of the Lyons…
HAKEEM LYON AND VALENTINA GALINDO
How crazy/awesome were they? To paraphrase Hakeem: They’re both crazy. We love them!
What the heck happened with them this week? They started learning Spanish together. (Is that what the kids are calling it these days?) While developing a girl group for Lyon Dynasty, Hakeem auditioned Latina pop star Valentina Galindo (played by real-life pop star Becky G) who insists that her surname means “prophetic, philosophical, and opinionated.” Apparently, it also means “not shy,” because she gets up in front of the whole room with her denim romper unbuttoned, showing off her pink bra, and starts singing about a sexy pillow fight. Hakeem’s verdict? “She’s crazy. I love her!”
As we all know, there’s nothing this family loves more than crazy. So during Hakeem’s first official meeting with Valentina — what, doesn’t everyone conduct official business in a bubble bath? — he cozies up to her, trying to get her to teach him Spanish. In turn, Valentina plays Lady Macbeth, trying to convince Hakeem to release his album through Empire and get Lucious to sign her, too. Ultimately, Hakeem decides to go rogue, leaking the album himself and telling Jamal that he’s never coming back to Empire. He fails to pull Tiana into his girl group, but he wants to sign Valentina and two others, christening them Rainbow Sensation. “That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard,” says his mother. It’s a funny thing to say, coming from a full-grown woman named Cookie. Then again, Rainbow Sensation does sound like something that only a prescription-strength cream can soothe.
Most tweetable quotes: Him: “Tell Father when I play Madison Square Garden, I’m gonna comp y’all some VIP tickets!” Her: “Let me just translate a bitch: With or without you, I shine.”
Most GIF-worthy moment: Acing their foreign language requirements in the bubble bath
How crazy/awesome was he? Crazy enough to appear on a British talk show called Spilling the Tea. Mature enough not to giggle at that title.
What the heck happened with him this week? He turned into the new Lucious. And Hakeem turned into the old Jamal. And Andre turned into…Well, he’s still the same old Andre. But considering this show’s potential for WTF plot twists, he might turn into a werewolf next week.
Anyway, back to Jamal. At first, we got a glimpse of the old Jamal, the sweet, innocent one who wants nothing more than to unbutton his shirt half-way down and sing a romantic piano ballad in a room that’s blessed with such perfect mood lighting, you’d think the entire performance was sponsored by Yankee Candle. After recording Jamal’s new song live for Spilling the Tea, the host tells Jamal, “You have quite the female fans!… How do you deal with having all these women?” Ugh. It’s enough to make any gay man answer, “Well, I put them to work scrubbing the floors that my boyfriend and I make out on.”
Just as the host finally gets around to acknowledging Jamal’s partner, Michael, Cookie interrupts the whole thing, pulling Jamal aside to demand that he give Hakeem back his album rights. Jamal refuses. “Lucious is tryin’ to make you like him, but you ain’t him!” Cookie says. She walks away, but just as the elevator closes behind her, she tells Jamal she’s starting a new company. Boom! Just like in The Godfather, all the good betrayals happen after somebody closes a door.
Now it’s time for plan B: get Hakeem to return to Empire. Jamal pulls up in a fancy black car, rolls down the window, and gives Hakeem a fierce look. (Later in the episode, Thirsty pulls up somewhere in a fancy black car, rolls down the window, and delivers a fierce look. Somebody please make a supercut of every time an Empire character does this!) But Hakeem won’t return, because Jamal won’t welcome back Cookie or Andre. However! When Rhonda shows up at Jamal’s place and reveals that she’s pregnant, pleading with Jamal to take Andre back, Jamal says he’ll see what Lucious can do. Go on, Rhonda! Spill your own tea before someone else spills it! Good for you.
Most tweetable quote: Nothing too quotable this week. He spills the tea with his eyes, not his mouth.
Most GIF-worthy moment: Rolling down that car window like a boss. A boss who runs a town car rental company.
How crazy/awesome was he? Again, just plain crazy. Sad.
What the heck happened with him this week? When he wasn’t dispensing expository information (“The English-speaking Latina market is the fasting growing, largest untapped market in the country!”), he was pitting Mommy and Daddy against each other. At first, he told Cookie that he wanted out of Lyon Dynasty because his heart wasn’t in it. Then he crawled back to Lucious, begging for forgiveness and a new job before Lucious turned him down cold. “Here I stand: contrite, remorseful, humble,” Andre sulked. “And yet you look at me like I’m some kind of mutant? Why do you hate me?” (Cut to the saddest flashback ever, as Lucious’s bipolar mom sings “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to a young Lucious.) Could this mean Andre’s going back to Cookie next week? Let’s start planning for the inevitable family reunion concert where the Lyons perform a medley of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Drip Drop”!
Most tweetable quote: “When I bleed, I bleed Empire.”
Most GIF-worthy moments: Tearfully pleading, “Let me go, Mama!” Twist that knife in our itsy, bitsy hearts right now.
PREDICTION TIME: Which character will be the craziest/most awesome next week? Place your bets in the comments.