Rhonda finally confronts Anika -- and everything else falls apart
Credit: Chuck Hodes/FOX
S2 E18
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Well, it’s not an Empire finale without bitter fights, soapy drama, and a brutal cliffhanger, is it? We’ve got a lot to cover this week, so let’s get started!

When this week’s episode starts, Jamal is arriving home from the hospital in a wheelchair — so that answers that big “Is he dead or not?” question from last week without too much fanfare. Although I’m pretty sure the two characters Empire could never kill off are Cookie and Jamal, so did any of us really think he was out? Didn’t think so. As for the other cliffhanger from last week — whether Grandma Lyon was going to tell Lucious’ secret to the press — that one gets resolved quickly, too. Thirsty pulled her away in time, apparently, so she never told. That was… easy. Too easy?

The Lyons are planning Hakeem and Laura’s wedding and want Jamal to perform a song for them (obviously). But this time, a somber, exhausted Jamal isn’t having it: He doesn’t want to sing until the Lyons change the cycle of “death and incarceration” they keep getting trapped in. Lucious is still crazy proud that Jamal took a bullet for him, but Jamal reminds him that Freda is a victim in this situation, too.

Anika is nervous this week because the cops have talked to her, and she really, really doesn’t want to testify against Lucious. But she’s not nervous about what should really be bothering her: The fact that Rhonda has figured out Anika is the one who pushed her down the stairs and killed Lyon Heir #1. Watching Lucious treat Anika with kid gloves, though, has gotten Rhonda to her breaking point. She confronts Anika in front of everyone — but to her (and my) shock, everyone takes Anika’s side. Even Andre. Later, Rhonda tries to talk about it with Andre — he had those visions about her being pushed, remember? — but he isn’t having it. She thinks Andre owes her, but he doesn’t seem quite convinced.

Meanwhile, Cookie and Lucious have the past creeping up on them, too. While Cookie was in prison, Lucious had to “put in work on those cats” (I’m just quoting it because it’s hilarious to picture Lucious literally grooming some kittens). I honestly can’t follow all the crime stuff, but basically it seems like Lucious and this guy Shyne (“an idiot snitch,” according to Cookie) were working for two guys, Tommy and Rosie, and now it’s all coming back because Tariq the Freak FBI Agent is on the case. They have to make sure all those people who were involved don’t let anything slip.

The only problem? In order to placate Shyne, Cookie has to agree to let him come to Hakeem and Laura’s wedding. And Laura’s dad, understandably, doesn’t want Shyne there, because he’s aware of his reputation. Hakeem assures Laura’s family it will be okay, and Cookie and Lucious also promise everything will stay under control. Famous last words.

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To win back Jamal’s trust, Lucious visits Freda in prison, and pretends he had nothing to do with killing her father — he just wanted to help her because she was so talented. Lucious Lyon, a regular Mother Theresa! Anyway, he convinces Freda to record a little song from prison to help get Jamal’s spirits up. I seriously, seriously love Freda. I feel like she’s just a couple hugs away from superstardom.

Jamal is a sucker for music, so obviously this plan works, and he’s inspired! He and D-Major (when did they make up?) gather up a crew of orchestra musicians and gospel singers and crank out another Jamal Lyon hit. And best of all, Jamal isn’t depressed anymore: He even gets up out of his wheelchair, despite looking super cool ordering everyone around from his mobile throne like Professor Xavier, but then has to get back in because of a flare of pain.

NEXT: Anika makes a dramatic threat

The acting is really off for a couple lines — Jamal’s directive “It’s for my brother’s wedding. It’s gotta soar. Soar!” and Hakeem’s “Mom and Dad, come quick! It’s an emergency!” — then we find Anika freaking out, sitting on a balcony, contemplating jumping. She also most definitely contemplated that billowing white cape, too, knowing exaaactly how it would flutter dramatically in the wind. But she’s not crying because she pushed her best friend down the stairs and killed her child — she’s crying because she’d rather kill herself than testify against Lucious. Uh, really? Anyway, Cookie gives her a lovely talk about how all Anika has ever wanted is to be one of them and now she can, but she has to get down from the ledge, so she does.

Grandma and the Lyon boys are getting ready for Hakeem’s wedding, when she decides to cryptically unleash some family history. “Joe got what he deserved,” she says, to which Hakeem replies, “Joe — that’s our grandfather!” Oy. So we’re treated to another Lucious Lyon flashback, in which little Dwight is with his dad, Joe, then a guy runs in and points a gun at Joe while Dwight watches from behind a gate. Seriously, if this was the stuff he dealt with in childhood, I guess some of Lucious’ evil — or just selfish — ways can be forgiven.

At the ceremony, everything seems to be moving along smoothly — until Shyne shows up with hookers on his arm, pounding glasses of champagne. Not exactly the quiet wedding everyone, especially Laura, had hoped for. And to make things worse, right when Laura comes in to begin her walk down the aisle, a “caterer” issues a court summons then sprints away, leaving chaos in her wake. Laura is sobbing, her parents are furious, and as Hakeem tries to comfort her, she says, “It’s not okay anymore. I can’t. This isn’t going to be my life, I’m sorry.” Hakeem is devastated, and so am I — I can’t believe I actually cried during this! I really loved Hakeem and Laura, ugh. Laura always stuck to her principles and spoke her mind. I hope she shows up in season 3, but something tells me this really might be the last straw — and I really don’t want to think about what’s going to happen to Hakeem without the only person in his life who really made him want to do better.

As the Lyons force everyone to leave, with Lucious physically throwing a caterer out with his bare hands, an awful solution becomes clear: Lucious will have to marry Anika in order for her to not have to testify, and it won’t be that hard because back when they were engaged, they got the marriage license already. Too bad she’s carrying Hakeem’s baby, killed Andre and Rhonda’s, and Lucious and Cookie are back in love. Not exactly convenient. Taraji P. Henson, in this scene (as in all others), is utterly heartbreaking. “You all know I love you, right?” she says through her tears. “And I will do whatever I can to save my family…” She understands this on-paper marriage is the only solution, but that doesn’t mean she has to act like it isn’t ruining everything she’s been working for.

In a creepy, tragic “wedding” scene, Lucious and Anika get legally wed by Andre, though he only kisses her on the cheek when Andre tells Lucious to kiss the bride. Jamal is ordered to sing, but as Lucious and Anika walk back down the aisle and the camera lingers on every Lyon’s face, he can’t seem to bring himself to do it. Meanwhile, Lucious whispers to Anika, “I know you pushed her.” So someone does believe Rhonda after all! Anika says, “Excuse me for a minute,” and goes outside.

The next shocker of the night: Tariq appears to congratulate Lucious on his “unholy matrimony,” and Lucious, confident as usual, is like, “Why do you all keep chasing me?” Tariq assures him that they’re just getting started and shows no signs of letting up. Then Leah, always with the subtlety, pops up: “Dwight, what’s your half-brother doing here?” OH S—! WHAT?! Lucious looks shocked, although given the next scene, maybe he knew?

In Lucious’ full flashback, it’s Tariq’s father who was in that warehouse pointing a gun at Lucious’ father. Well, it seems like it, until the first guy tells Joe Walker that Tariq is actually Joe’s son. “Now he and Dwight will both grow up without a father,” he says, shooting Joe in the head. So Lucious didn’t actually watch his mother die — but he did watch his father get murdered point-blank. Somebody please get him into therapy, this is too horrible!

Back in the present, Tariq says, “Our father was a good cop but a bad man. We each got half of him.” Guessing Mr. FBI thinks Lucious is the bad half. Lucious says he has no family — as his family stands behind him. “Dre, get my wife,” he says.

But Andre is in for a shock: Rhonda has followed Anika out onto the balcony, and runs up to push her from behind. “You wanted that devil child to be the only heir to the throne, didn’t you?” Rhonda screams. This time, Anika doesn’t play coy: “You’re damn right I did, you bitch!” Just like last season’s finale, a catfight ensues — but with this one, the stakes are much higher… literally. Just as Andre steps onto the balcony, screaming, “NO!” with wide eyes, it sounds like someone has fallen over the ledge.

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