Empire recap: 'Play On'
Cookie deals with the fallout from her violent encounter with Lucious
Cookie Lyon might not care what most people think, but when it comes to Angelo, she’s working to make something real happen between them — with a little help from the passive aggression of her sis, Candace, of course. So, her violent encounter with Lucious that was sealed with a kiss? Yeah, that’s one incident that belongs strictly in the hush-hush pile for now.
To Lucious’ credit, he doesn’t seize a prime opportunity to break up her escalating romance by tattling on her to Angelo’s face, even when her new beau storms Lucious’ office with the news that he “won” Cookie’s affection and that Lucious needs to step off. Lucious seems to be the playing the long game to win Cookie back — that is, letting her sort things out in her own head, which is currently filled with nostalgia about their earliest, poorest moments getting started together.
For whatever reason, Cookie’s mind is filled with throwbacks to the moments when they were just getting started. We get a glimpse at their first night in a dingy hotel together just after her father had kicked her out. Then we see how attractively engrossed he was with his work — how inspired and one-track-minded he was about the music when he was still miles from making his Empire happen. Then comes her first pregnancy announcement and their paper plated wedding ceremony at the motel. They’ve come a long way since then, of course, but there’s something bittersweet about the purity of their romance and how shattered, literally, it has become as a result of their successes.
Now, she has Angelo, but is her heart really in it, or is this just a momentary convenience driven by the fact that his brand of power and ambition might take him to a place that can help her with her litany of legal woes? Hard to tell.
She does try to squeeze in a confession about her lip-lock with Lucious when Angelo first gets back to see her, but that’s all interrupted by his insistence that they do less talking and more walking, if you catch my drift. After that, there’s a little too much drama going on for her to make her reckoning, so that’s a conversation that’ll have to wait for another day — if ever.
Lucious’ mother Leah has her targets set squarely on Anika right now. If there’s one person who hates this woman more than Cookie, it’s Leah. She manages to sneak away from her creepy security detail long enough to consult with Tariq regarding the current wife-slash-baby mama drama situation, and he cooks up a plan to lean on Anika to share what she knows about certain bodies that have popped up in Philly.
He offers her witness protection in exchange for cooperating against Cookie — marital privilege doesn’t apply to ex-wives, so she’s fair game. Anika drops Bella off with Hakeem and ducks tail out of town on a bus, but we haven’t seen or heard the last of her just yet. This should give Becky enough leverage to get that job she wanted, though, even if just temporarily.
The downside of this plan is that it puts Cookie into some hot water. She’s accused of violating parole and has to sneak out the back of Empire to avoid being locked up again. It’s nothing Angelo can’t handle, of course. He manages to get the charges that she’d violated parole by being associated with known criminal (which could be any one of her label artists, she reminds him) dropped before they’re out of the block. But he wants to know why so much attention is coming down on Cookie right now, and he suspects it’s Lucious.
Even though she knows it’s unwise to put these two in the same room, Cookie kinda likes seeing her mayor-to-be (and possible future husband?) getting all hot and bothered. So when he says he’s gonna run up on Lucious and tell him to stay in his lane, she doesn’t fight it. Lucious plays innocent about it — to be fair, he looks to be telling the truth that he has no idea why her parole was violated — but it still almost comes to blows between him and Angelo. And, again, he doesn’t rat Cookie out about their saliva exchange from before, seemingly getting a kick out of seeing her walk out the door with her new beau in such a tizzy. It’s always a game of wits with these two, isn’t it? Of course, we now know it didn’t used to be that way.
Hakeem’s been prepping to make his directorial debut with Tiana’s new single, but she’s still not ready to play stepmom just yet to Bella — so his sudden bring-your-baby-to-work day, courtesy of Anika’s quick exit, provides a much-needed moment of bonding for Tiana and Bella, and she surprises herself with how much she likes the child. Now that that‘s out of the way, they can finally move forward, starting with this dance video.
Meanwhile, Jamal and Tory are moving forward with their rehab album, and things are flowing quite nicely between them. They might have two very different approaches to music, but there’s a fresh combination in there, and even Cookie’s convinced of it. Jamal lays down a rhythm on the keys first before Tory offers her death goddess-inspired slide guitar to mix, and suddenly they’ve got something. Cookie might have had her reservations about Tory’s brand of much-too-soon jokes about addiction, but once she hears their collaboration, she’s got some substantive producer notes and some confidence that they might just be able to pull this thing off. They lay down an inspired first track, the lyrics of which are a total tribute to their shared struggle to shake their addictions.
Things are going so well that Jamal’s even going so far as to do away with D Major, telling him that their thing is an artifact of the past and that he’s now sober and vibing with Tory in an exciting new way. Besides, D Major’s still keeping himself in the closet, and part of Jamal’s recovery hinges on honesty.
But everyone has a price, and Lucious is able to find Tory’s pretty easily. After hitting the studio to hear what he expects will be a hot mess, he’s surprised that their first song has some potential and gets into a groove that Cookie hasn’t witnessed in a while (cue the gushy flashbacks to him poring over a rap anthem in their shabby motel room back in the day while Cookie begs for a moment of his attention). He even steals Jamal’s studio time to produce some new music, at which time he courts Tory into playing the strings for his other group by simply telling her he liked her work, and boom, betrayal. He might not have done it to hurt Jamal — no, this feels more like a move against Cookie — but Jamal’s disappointed to see his supposed partner shilling for the other team and runs back to D Major’s open arms for comfort. But what of his recovery effort? To be determined.
All the while, Andre’s trying to establish himself as a force of reckoning, too, by meeting with Shyne to make a deal with some new potential business acquaintances. There was a time when Lucious worked the streets and had to make deals on the streets, so meeting with a strip club mogul who might have an eye for new talent seems doable. Nessa doesn’t like it, of course, but he takes a meeting with a guy name Danger, who has an aversion to handshakes and spits on the floor when Andre asserts his authority over any Empire dealings.
But when he takes it a step further and tries to meet up with a Las Vegas connection named Raphael, things get deadly. Upon hearing his name, Raphael calls up his wife Juliana (played by Nia Long) and starts smacking her around for setting him up with a Lyon like this. She denies knowing anything about his little visit, but Raphael’s violence against her escalates to the point that Andre calmly tells him he doesn’t know her but still doesn’t appreciate him hitting her like that.
This does nothing to mollify Raphael’s anger, so he produces a pistol. But Juliana’s got one too and shoots her husband in the back before he can do any damage to Andre. When Danger tries to retaliate, Shyne shoots him. And then there were three.
Juliana, completely unbothered by her newfound widowdom, tells Andre that she’s still willing to work together if he is and, unlike the rude men whose blood is now painting the floor, she’s definitely down for shaking on it. Now, she’s gonna be an interesting one to watch. Are those romantic sparks popping up between them, or will they keep it strictly business?