Lucious prepares to release his biggest album yet, and Jamal makes a new friend in rehab.
After a three-month hiatus, our Lyons are finally back on our little screens — and Empire continues to encapsulate the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” We open with Lucious’s surprise announcement of his new album via a Remy Ma-led performance at Leviticus. Apparently he’s been reading some Dan Brown novels lately (or perhaps, Dante?), because he’s calling his next album Inferno — and according to the buzz, it’s about to make him a bigger star than ever. Cookie thinks he waited for Jamal to be safely sequestered away in rehab to announce the album, since Lucious is still threatened by his most musical son — but she’s also pissed that Lucious didn’t tell her about Inferno at all. She tells him he needs to step down to focus on his project and make her sole CEO of Empire, and in true Lucious fashion, he tells her, “You want war? Fire a shot.” Famous last words, Lucious.
Cookie’s shot is a good one: She pushes Lucious’s mom, Leah Walker (a.k.a. the woman who his fans think killed herself in front of a young Dwight), out onto the stage and introduces her, leaving Lucious dumbstruck until his PR director tells the audience of reporters that the show is over for the night.
Their feud continues — and brings a couple Lyon cubs into it — at the board meeting the next morning, where they’re trying to decide which artist gets to perform at Empire’s showcase. Hakeem votes for Tiana, since she has an album coming out sooner, and Cookie has already approved her. Andre, obviously, wants it to be Nessa, and when Lucious finds out that’s exactly what Cookie doesn’t want, he makes an executive decision. It’s Nessa.
Meanwhile, the whole family (shockingly) shows up to visit Jamal in rehab, where we meet Tory Ash (Rumer Willis), an Amy Winehouse-esque singer-songwriter and former heroin addict with a massive attitude. I know she’s not a bad actress (and actually seems to be able to sing — anyone watch her on 90210?) but I do sort of wonder how much the massive lion tattoo on her arm influenced the casting decision…
Anyway, Jamal seems to be holding a mini grudge against Cookie for feeding him those nasty drain pills, and Lucious leans into this, hard. Remember how you needed Jamal to perform at the event? Remember how you had to choose between Angelo and Jamal? The bigger news is that apparently there’s “no music” allowed at this rehab center (give me a break), which is really killing Jamal because MUSIC IS HIS REAL DRUG! NOT PILLS! I have to admit — I’m getting a little tired of Jamal’s whole “thing.” I know he’s supposed to be the prodigy and I love his music but I need a break from this never-ending passion, “nothing gets between me and the music!” thing.
Andre’s passion is a little old, too, but still intrigues me a bit. He gets Shine an Empire parking spot and a placard with his name on it, to which Shine says, “They finally spelled my name right.” (This feels like very personal, since I’ve been spelling it “Shyne” all season. Sorry, Shine!) He tells Andre this might not be the best time to try to steal Empire from Lucious, since Inferno is going to be so huge. “I didn’t say I was going to steal it from him,” Andre replies. “I said I was going to kill him.” Ah, so that plan is still happening! He talks about mounting an “army,” and Shine says, “You mean my guys?”
“I like to think of them as our guys, Shine,” Andre says. It’s so clear that Shine completely sees through Andre’s B.S. — he’s using him for what he can get, as he should, but how does Andre not realize he comes off so slick and smarmy to Shine? This plan is clearly going to blow up in Andre’s face… we’ll just have to see how and when.
Back at Empire, Lucious holds a little press conference and deftly pivots the attention away from Leah (“it’s a private matter”) and toward the New York mayoral election. He’s endorsing John Meeks (a.k.a. not endorsing Angelo DuBois) — and beyond that, he’s offering a $300,000 reward for anyone with information that could lead to Angelo’s conviction for that pesky Chappaquiddick-like incident in his past, which resulted in a young woman’s death.
It seems like everything is going to be okay though, because later, Angelo’s legal team finds documentation that proves he was nowhere near the scene when it happened — and an acquaintance from elementary school has apparently been serving time for the crime. Cookie and Angelo are relieved, but I can’t imagine this issue is really going away so quickly…
Now for the second-best scene of the week: Nessa is performing a solo at the Empire showcase as Andre and Lucious planned — but Cookie has a trick up her sleeve. After one verse, who bursts through a crowd at the opposite side of the room like the little king and queen they are? Hakeem and Tiana, taking over Nessa’s song (and her mic gets turned off, too). The palpable anger between Nessa and the power couple makes for a fantastic, high-energy performance — but the energy doesn’t dissipate after the show. “I’m a lady, so I’m not gonna beat your ass this time,” Nessa hisses to Tiana as they take their bows.
“I should have beat your ass for stealing that fashion show from me,” Tiana shoots back. She turns away, and Nessa literally tosses her offstage into the crowd. Andre moves to break it up, but Shine says to let them fight. They go at it on the ground, Tiana ripping out one of Nessa’s extensions in the process. Lucious is laughing at the whole scene — until he gets a phone call from the rehab center saying that Jamal has gone missing.
NEXT: The hunt for Jamal
While it’s great when Lucious and Cookie are at odds, the hunt for Jamal was fun because they’re like a little mob duo going from studio to studio in an enraged search for their son. They go to D-Major’s studio, but Jamal isn’t there, then, after someone posts a Snapchat video of Jamal and Tory entering a sketchy building, Cookie realizes they’re at that old bullet-riddled studio across town. Cookie is on a rampage, and Lucious follows suit: “Whatever she doesn’t destroy, I will!” Good little Jamal is obviously not on drugs, of course. (“This is my rehab,” he says about his music. Eye roll.) He just wants to make music with his new friend! Lucious and Cookie let him finish.
Meanwhile, Becky has been running errands with Thirsty all day. They’re babysitting Leah Walker, then they pick up an old woman, the mother of a guy who was going to testify against Lucious, so Lucious can use her as blackmail really quickly until that problem is solved, and then they drop something off at a radio station. All the while, Becky is growing more and more furious that Thirsty isn’t helping her with her real problem, which is that HORRIBLE Xavier character who took Becky’s job and continues to screw her over. Let me say though, if there were ever to be an Empire spin-off, please, please make it a buddy comedy about Becky and Thirsty. I love these two together, and they bring a surprising lightness to the show (even amidst all of Thirsty’s blackmail and shady dealings). Turns out Thirsty was helping Becky without her realizing it, because the next morning at Empire, Lucious makes a big scene of firing Xavier for getting kickbacks… from the very same radio station where Thirsty dropped something off yesterday. Ahh, the sweet satisfaction of a jerk getting what he deserves… even if it wasn’t exactly the fairest way to do it.
Later, Cookie and Jamal sit together for some mother-son bonding. “Dad went so low,” Jamal says to her. Cookie asked if he’s surprised, and his answer is great: “Always and never.” It’s kind of how I feel about the show overall — when it’s all drama all the time, is anything really that dramatic? Anyway, Cookie flat-out asks Jamal, “Are you a dope fiend?” Obviously he isn’t. He assures her that he’s clean and focused on his music, and she confides in him that she feels like everything is finally going to be all right… except that she knows Lucious is probably planning his next move.
Turns out she was right: At next Empire meeting, right after Xavier’s firing, Lucious makes a grand speech about who is going to be the next head of A&R. First, it sounds like he’s talking about Becky… then it sounds like he must be talking about Cookie… but when it comes time to announce the woman who “has lit an inferno inside of me” and is the “DNA of this company,” who comes out? “My wife, Mrs. Anika Lyon.” TALK ABOUT SHOTS FIRED! Cookie calmly but quickly walks out of the conference room (wearing an amazing Stella McCartney cat print blouse, I might add), and the next time we see her…
She’s dressed to the nines (or for an ’80s prom) and wielding a Beyoncé-like baseball bat in Lucious’s office. “You want some trouble, Cookie?” he asks.
“No, I just have some questions,” she says. THIS is the best scene of the episode, hands down, and possibly the best Cookie scene… of all time? I watched it twice and I truly cannot wait to watch it again. One by one, Cookie passes Lucious’s platinum and gold records on the wall. “This was your first album to go gold,” she says. “I remember working on that six months before I went to prison. So whose DNA is in that, Lucious, huh?” She smashes it to pieces, and moves along down the halls. “Who was your muse for that?” SMASH. “Do you remember this one? I sent tapes from the inside back and forth with you while you worked on them from in here.” SMASH.
At one point, Lucious approaches her and she says, “Don’t you come any closer.” He tests her, and she SMACKS HIM TO THE GROUND WITH THE BAT. YES, COOKIE! “None of this would exist without me,” she tells him. “Who’s the mother with the important job? I gave you three sons, bitch!” I want to transcribe her every word into this recap, but I’m holding back. Her mayhem continues while she busts up Lucious’ grand piano, until she finally drops the bat. “Trying to erase me, Lucious? After all I’ve done for you… you built this company on my back, and you’re just gonna give it to that bitch?” She slaps him, and then, of course, they have a very passionate make-out. Eventually, though, Cookie comes to her senses and pushes him away, composing herself. “No. I said I was done with you,” she says. “I meant that.” And she walks out — taking care to slowly crush a framed photo of Lucious and Anika once more under her stiletto. WELL, THEN! Just when I start to get a little bored with Empire, Cookie pulls me back in. If Cookie thinks the label was built on her back, I hope Taraji P. Henson knows she carries this whole show on hers.