Empire premiere recap: 'Noble Memory'
Lucious deals with his amnesia, and the DuBois family continues to sink their claws into the Lyons
Getting reacquainted with the Lyon family this week, I felt like I had amnesia right along with Lucious. Who’s Jamal’s new boyfriend? Ohhh right. Why is Phylicia Rashad talking to Hakeem? Ah, gotcha.
But overall, this new story line is a lot more interesting than I expected, which might solely be a testament to Terrence Howard’s phenomenal acting. Amnesia-stricken Lucious feels like a completely different person: He’s soft and innocent, in a way. Is this what Dwight would have been like if he hadn’t suffered so much abuse at the hands of his mother, or taken to the streets to survive?
We open at Empire’s 20th anniversary celebration at Leviticus, which they’re modeling after Motown’s famous 25th anniversary TV special. Cookie and her sons are filming their interviews backstage. They’re talking about how Lucious is Empire’s legacy, but everyone’s skirting the question of whether or not he’ll actually be at the event.
He shows up, walking with a cane (in a slick Alexander McQueen blazer), and then we get our brief Star crossover as Miss Carlotta (Queen Latifah) implores Lucious to get Star’s girl group on a couple Empire tracks. She reminds him how her own girl group sang the hook on some of Lucious’ songs back in the day, and he is confused but agrees to help out. As she walks away, he tells Cookie, “I don’t know who that was.” (Neither did any of the viewers, Lucious.)
The relatively calm bubble doesn’t last long — between the flashbulbs and the people shouting his name, Lucious gets overwhelmed and starts yelling, “Get away from me! Get me out of here!”
Cut to 24 hours earlier. Andre is in Lucious’s his office at Empire, and Thirsty tells him the Las Vegas PD is coming back to question him one more time. (Lest you forgot, Andre, with Shine’s help, planned the explosion that stole Lucious’ memories because they were trying to kill him. Andre tried to cancel it at the last minute, but Shine didn’t call it off.) Apparently Giuliana had been on the run, but the police are “getting ready to bring her in.”
Later, Andre confronts Shine about why the police are still investigating. Someone must be talking, right? Shine is angry because Andre promised they’d be running Empire after he carried out his side of the deal, but as of right now, with Lucious out of commission, Cookie is still in charge.
Over at Hakeem’s, his playboy paradise apartment has been transformed — just slightly — into a child-friendly place. By this I just mean there are diapers and burping cloths all over his pool table. He has Bella right now while Anika sits in jail, and Mrs. DuBois comes over to remind him that he has to continue bringing Bella to their house every Tuesday. She has photo evidence of all these visits, which she tells Hakeem will feel to Cookie like “taking a knife and stabbing her in the heart.” I mean, will it? It’s not great, but they’re literally just visits. It’s not that deep…
And Jamal, free of his D-Major/Philip love triangle, has moved on to yet another tall glass of water in Warren — Angelo’s hot lawyer cousin. Although I don’t think Jamal knows he’s Angelo’s cousin, right? Jamal seems smitten and has apparently been leaving things at Warren’s apartment as excuses to see him again. It would be cute…if we didn’t know Mrs. DuBois was controlling Warren’s puppet strings.
Later, Warren goes to see Mrs. DuBois as she’s getting a massage, and he tries to explain that things are moving slowly because of complications with Lucious. But Mrs. D makes it clear she doesn’t care about that. She wants to destroy Cookie’s children and family one by one, just like Cookie destroyed Mrs. D’s life’s work (a.k.a. Angelo). “I will pick the meat from their bones as she watches helplessly,” she purrs. Clair Huxtable, is that really you?!
Finally, it’s time for Lucious’ grand entrance. He pulls up in a Rolls Royce with creepy nurse Claudia (Demi Moore) by his side, and we see that he’s lost something else besides his memory: part of his left leg. And he’s a completely different person. Claudia insists the family call him “Dwight.” When Cookie pushes back and reminds him that millions of people are waiting to watch Lucious step onto the stage, he seems to look straight through her. “That’s not me,” he says. “I don’t even know who that is. Sorry.”
To try to jog Lucious’s memory, the family sits with him, looking through old photo albums and playing his old records. Hearing it seemingly for the first time now, Lucious hates his violent rap music. “Are all my songs this violent and hateful? Why would I write something like this?” Fortunately, he does like some things, like Baby Bella and Tiana (who he thinks is Bella’s mother). He wonders why Cookie isn’t in so many of the photos, and she quietly explains that they were apart for 17 years. It’s painful for everyone, but what’s more painful is that they’re not supposed to discuss any difficult memories — just the nice ones.
Outside, Cookie sees Lucious trying to put the moves on Claudia (who doesn’t reciprocate but doesn’t seem to be rejecting them). She storms over. “Okay, you’ve got 30 minutes to pack your bags and kick rocks, bitch,” she says. Claudia says it’s just transference, but Cookie isn’t buying it. She’s seen Lucious go after plenty of women before… (Next: The Lyon family dinner goes awry.)
Later, Cookie and Lucious have a sweet conversation in the kitchen. He apologizes for disappointing her with the Empire 20 stuff, and she says she understands, he can’t help it. She brings up that night in Vegas: “You gave me everything I’d ever wanted that night. I know you don’t remember…” But he tells her she can tell him all about it. She does, and he takes it well, but then asks if someone did this to him — the explosion, the amnesia, the leg. “Did I do something to make this happen to me?” he asks. Cookie tells him he saved her life. He did a good thing, and that’s why this happened to him.
That night at dinner, Lucious tries to reconnect with his family. He asks Andre if he has anyone special, and Andre explains he had a wife who died “a long time ago.” He asks Jamal if he’s seeing anyone, and when Jamal says yes, he asks, “Have I met him?” Jamal asks why he assumes it’s a him, but then confirms it and says he’s taking it slow. So is no-memory Dwight a far more tolerant, non-homophobic person compared to Lucious? Everything about this new guy seems…nice! He asks Jamal why take it slow if it’s love? Life’s short.
Then he starts talking about his music again, and how much it gives him a headache. All but one sweet love song. It turns out it’s a song Cookie wrote about Lucious while in prison, but she never got the credit on it. “It was important for Empire and for your fans to think the song was written by you,” she explains quietly.
“But that’s not right! How did that make you feel, not getting credit for what you did? That’s wrong!” Lucious cries out. Who is this person?!?!
Claudia rushes over as Lucious gets louder and reminds them not to talk about anything tough or painful, which really sets the guys off. “We’re limited to a shallow well of pleasant memories,” Andre sneers. Then Hakeem erupts in anger of his own, saying, “Lucious Lyon was the biggest don in the game!” and that old Lucious would never hop around on one leg like the Lucious of today.
Lucious freaks out, throws a glass, and runs to the dock with the whole family (and Claudia) running after him in case he jumps in the water. He can’t swim. They catch him before he goes in, and everyone apologizes and says he doesn’t have to remember anything. “You keep trying to tell me who I’m supposed to be and you don’t even like yourselves!” he says. “I’m stuck here in this place in the dark and I’m confused!”
Fast forward to the next day, during Lucious’s next freak-out at the Empire 20 celebration. As Hakeem and Lucious perform onstage, Cookie and Claudia try to comfort Lucious backstage, telling him he doesn’t have to do this if he doesn’t want to. Miss Claudia is wearing one of Anika’s dresses (“I don’t know, it was in the closet,” she says. YEAH, RIGHT. You know what you’re doing, you snake), and she helps Lucious focus on his breathing to stay calm. “Focus on what’s real…. You survived an explosion. Focus on what’s right in front of you. I’m real,” she purrs, which makes Cookie shout from across the room, “I’M REAL!!!” (I cracked up.)
Cookie rushes over to try to take Claudia’s place when Claudia starts rubbing Lucious’ wrist a little too familiarly. Onstage, Jamal and Hakeem introduce Lucious, as everyone waits with bated breath to see if he’ll come out or not.
Eventually though, he does. And he seems just like his old self, shouting, “To the Empire!” In a surprise move, he shows the crowd his prosthetic leg (“As y’all can see, I got lucky!”), and then talks about how he’ll be okay because he has the love of his family and of Empire. Then, he tells one more secret: the truth about who wrote “Love Me,” which Jamal and Hakeem perform while Lucious and Cookie sit together at a table, looking lovingly at their offspring, and each other. Is everything going to be okay after all?
During the end of the show, Andre gets a phone call from Shine, who’s sitting in the car with the guy who did the explosion. The guy who’s supposedly so good at his job that people don’t know who he is. The guy Andre thinks might have talked. Shine hands him a bag of money, and as he starts to plan which tropical locales he’ll travel to with it…Shine shoots him in the head. “I’ll call you back,” he tells Andre.
So yeah…everything probably isn’t going to be okay. After the crowd vacates Leviticus, Cookie and Lucious stand alone on the empty stage. “That was perfect,” Cookie says.
“That wasn’t me,” Lucious responds, back to his softer and slightly dazed new tone of voice. “I was faking, just like you and I practiced last night.”
Cookie says he’s still in there somewhere, and Lucious just says sadly that he wishes he could remember. He calls for Claudia to take him home (ugh), but Cookie gets the last word. “Lucious, you gon’ remember me. I’m Cookie Lyon, baby. I’m unforgettable.”