Empire recap: 'Birds in the Cage'
Welcome back, Empire fans! It’s time to come to terms with the craziness of the midseason premiere.
Jamal begins the episode distraught about shooting Angelo. Cookie tries to comfort him by telling him he did all he could to save a life and Thirsty tells him it was all in self-defense, but Jamal isn’t having it. Thirsty tries to assure Cookie that her son won’t face legal problems because of the shooting, but her mind is elsewhere: She can’t get ahold of Lucious after he sent her a text saying he was “going away for a while.” Of course, we know that text was probably sent by crazy Claudia, who kidnapped Lucious in the midseason finale.
And, as the next scene starts, we have our answer. Claudia has untied Lucious but now has his non-prosthetic leg chained to a piano. Lucious promises to make her pay, so she naturally shoots him with a tranquilizer gun. “I know who you are, she tells “Dwight” as he passes out. “And I know exactly what I’m doing.”
After the title card, a flashback to Cookie in prison organizing the jumping of a prison guard. “I have a few choice words for his raping a–,” she tells her fellow inmates. She approaches the guard in hopes of stabbing him but is grabbed by other guards who swooped in too quickly to have not known about the planned attack ahead of time. For the trouble, Cookie is put in solitary for three weeks.
Back in present time, Thirsty reveals his cousin conveniently is an orderly at the institution where Andre is admitted. He tells Cookie the institution is the last place Andre was spotted. Thanks to security footage, they see Claudia lingering around the building around the time Lucious was there. They set out with a plan to find Claudia, but they assume that Lucious has relapsed and gone running to Claudia on his own accord. Little do they know, Claudia is attempting to gaslight Lucious, saying they will “kill Lucious” to prove his true identity is her beloved Dwight — and she’s got the guns to persuade him to cooperate.
Meanwhile, Hakeem is performing with singer Tory Ash, but Cookie tells Becky and Porsha not to let them do any interviews because of the Jamal drama.
Thirsty and Cookie call in Claudia’s therapist to ask if she can help locate Claudia (and Lucious), but the doc reveals she, too, has not been able to reach Claudia for a few weeks. They tell her about the security footage and Cookie flat out asks the doc if she has to worry about “this b—h.” The doc admits that while Claudia is great at helping people, she has gone through her fair share of trauma and can take things “too far” sometimes. (Ya think?!) She also reveals that Claudia had worked with an Olympic track star and had moved in with him and his wife, just as she did with Lucious and Cookie. The doc goes on to explain that things took a turn after the wife decided to discontinue Claudia’s “non-traditional” techniques. Claudia made plans to take the Olympian somewhere upstate, but they never made it up there so the doc doesn’t know where to tell Cookie to look for Lucious.
Elsewhere in the office, Becky is trying to live in denial that the ENTIRE ZIP-LOCK BAGGIE OF POSITIVE PREGNANCY TESTS doesn’t mean she’s for sure pregnant with J Poppa’s baby. Porsha brings her quickly back to reality. A tearful hug between the two in the bathroom ends in an appreciated “I didn’t wash my hands joke. (Next up: Cabin fever makes Claudia even crazier.)
Back in the cabin, Dwight/Lucious is playing piano and tearfully waxing poetic about how he feels more himself with Claudia than ever before. She tentatively stands on the other side of red line of tape (that’s meant to delineate how far Lucious’ chain can extend, but is also giving me major Revenge vibes) until his tears compel her to comfort him. He goes in for a hug but ends up choking her instead. She kicks him in the crotch and a full-on Obsessed-esque battle ensues. Claudia, taking advantage of the experimental sensory-enhancing medications she’s injected Lucious with, turns on red flood lights and blasts what is probably the most horrific thing I can think of: all of Lucious’ rap songs layered over each other. “That wasn’t music,” Lucious says, speaking the most truth he ever has on the show.
Cookie heads upstate to a cabin Thirsty tells her Claudia’s father once owned. (Cue a somewhat pointless flashback to Cookie in solitary being harassed by the guard and the inmate who snitched on her plan.)
To get Jamal out of his funk, Hakeem takes him to see their older brother in the institution. But the reunion doesn’t make anyone feel better. Jamal breaks down and admits that everyone telling him “good job” for getting rid of Angelo makes him feel even worse about the shooting. By the end of his breakdown, the brothers hug it out and vow to be there for each other.
Cookie arrives at the cabin and Lucious first tries yelling out to her, but Claudia tells him to get rid of his wife or she’ll slit her throat. “She will not interrupt me again,” Claudia says, Demi Moore giving her best Fatal Attraction. Claudia meets Cookie at the door and welcomes her in to speak to Lucious, who is playing the piano. He tells Cookie he wants to be “a better man” and Claudia can help him do that. But all through their conversation, he plays the same few chords, telling her he’s working on new music. Cookie storms off to her car, but as she drives in tears the matriarch realizes Lucious’ “new music” was actually the love song she had written for him. She tries to call in reinforcements but there’s no signal. Deciding to take things into her own hands, she opens her suitcase, moves aside what looks like an alien medical tool but is probably a hair dryer, and takes out a razor. (CALLBACK ALERT: She put a razor blade in her mouth to use during the planned guard attack.)
Stealing from two iconic songs, Lucious tells Claudia he would “walk 1,000 miles over broken glass” to get back to Cookie. Claudia responds with more sensory overload, but then the power goes out. Claudia goes to find the circuit breaker and Cookie emerges to try and get Lucious free — instead, she’s hit upside the head by Claudia. When Cookie comes to, she’s tied up in a chair and what starts with Claudia professing her love for Lucious devolves into a fight between Cookie and Lucious about their past romantic indiscretions — and, eventually, a couples therapy session led by Claudia. (Even Bunky gets a shoutout!)
Cookie tells Claudia that Lucious will always love her, which causes Claudia to put a knife to Cookie’s throat. But before Claudia can do the deed, her psychiatrist friend pulls up to the cabin. While Claudia is busy hitting the doc over the head, Cookie reveals to Lucious that she’s armed with a razor blade. When Claudia returns, it turns into another Obsessed-esque battle, this time between Claudia and Cookie. Claudia tazes Cookie. “You can have Lucious, but Dwight is mine,” she says before Lucious appears, having broken free, and tackles her. “Kill that b—h,” Cookie tells Lucious, but he drives the ax he’s wielding into the ground instead.
Jumpcut to the police taking Claudia away. “I decide who I am, not her,” Lucious tells Cookie of his decision.
Back at the institution, Andre is having nightmares and comes to the conclusion that he has to tell his family the truth about the bombing at the end of season 3. Cut to black.
So how will this all play out? In true, amazingly campy Empire fashion, of course!