Credit: Chuck Hodes/FOX
S5 E11
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“It’s so bad, I’m out of emotions/ It’s so bad, I’m stuck on this rollercoaster.”

No, I’m not venting about the headache that has been the Jussie Smollett controversy. These are actual lyrics from a song that Jussie’s character Jamal sings in the opening of this week’s episode, which is a little ominous considering this was likely filmed long before the proverbial s— hit the fan. But I digress.

As we left them at the end of the midseason premiere, Cookie is still plenty pissed at Lucious about the revelation that Jeff Kingsley is his illegitimate son. She claims that the drama with him never ends—no doubt still thinking of the enlightening conversation she had with Kingsley’s mother—and he doesn’t appreciate her implication that his past wrongs make him uniquely sinister.

“Everybody that ever gained anything gained at someone else’s pain,” he says.

But Cookie is over that narrative. She thinks it’s time that the Lyon’s stopped dealing in dirt.

Down in the studio, Cookie finds Jamal burying his sorrows in work. She halfheartedly encourages him to fly to London and get his man back, and is quick to accept his denial because she “needs [him] now more than ever.” He agrees with her that it’s time for the family to turn over a new leaf and try to be better people. Cookie raises a good question to be answered throughout the hour: “Do we even know what better looks like?”

Elsewhere, Andre is preparing for his first day back at Empire after his bloody car incident when Teri surprises him with a new monogrammed briefcase. In between kisses, Andre gushes about feeling like his whole family is on the same page for the first time—being their best selves to restore Empire to greatness. Their cuteness is interrupted by a phone call from Andre’s doctor offering the relieving news that his nose bleed was only the result of a burst blood vessel. It seems like he escaped a scary health situation, but don’t get too attached to good news with this show.

At Empire headquarters, Lucious, Cookie, and Gisele are listening in on a focus group, attempting to gauge the temperature of the hot water the company is now in. Somehow unaware that they’re being watched (even though they’re seated in front of an obvious 2-way mirror), the group let’s loose some pretty disrespectful comments about the Lyon’s personal and professional business. That is until Lucious walks in and everyone is SHOOK. He swats away their frantic apologies with promises that Empire will rise again—new and improved. Cookie comes to his side and offers assurance that their relationship can withstand Kingsley’s existence. However, once they’re back behind closed doors, she reminds Lucious that while she might be a committed business partner, she’s still an unhappy wife.

Cue to the first meeting back with the Empire team and Lucious is smashing a computer with a baseball bat to make the point that “analytics are dead.” That sounds like reasonable behavior from a level-headed leader. RIGHT?! Can we get an HR rep in the room?

The “new and improved” Empire is keeping it in the family with Lucious and Cookie as co-CEOs, Gisele as COO, Andre as CFO, Jamal as Chairman of Music Development, and Hakeem as Creative Director. Lucious may have gotten carried away with the bat, but him dropping the line, “Our music comes from the heart, not a hard drive,” really brought me back around. Give credit where it’s due.

Guess what else is due? A whole lot of bills apparently since Kingsley’s poor investments have left Empire in crippling debt. Andre predicts that it will take the company at least five years to get their books back on track, and that’s definitely not what Lucious wanted to hear. He’s worried about how this will affect his legacy and is willing to do whatever it takes to regain stability. Lucious bumps into Thurston in the lobby and brushes off the news he tries to offer about his mother to ask him to reach out to Damon Cross. They need to get the money back that Gisele’s ex-husband stole and Damon has the influence they need over the Panamanian banking community to make things happen. Thurston thinks Lucious conspiring with Damon is a bad idea but does what he’s told.

Andre runs into a visibly stressed Devon who’s upset because his label LFM won’t allow him to cut any tracks with Empire until he makes his debut with them. LFM top dog Samson agrees to take a meeting with Andre and Devon to discuss the matter, peppering the conversation with talk of his obsession with the Japanese military artifacts that decorate his office (weird flex, but go off). Andre does all of the talking while Devon sits there like a flea market end table being haggled over. Andre chucks a huge envelope of cash at Samson to sweeten the deal, but he just laughs in his face.

Andre returns to Samson’s office without Devon later in the day—this time uninvited—to try a different method of persuasion. Andre unsheaths a samurai sword and starts hacking away at Samson’s beloved Takeda Shingen suit of armor. According to Samson’s ex-wife, he’s been expensing escorts to his artists’ accounts and making them pay for his sexual exploits. Instead of watching his career fall to pieces like his office decor, he agrees to sign over Devon’s contract to Empire. The Lyons might be trying to turn over a new leaf, but at least for Andre, it appears old habits die hard.

Thurston delivers Damon to the Empire execs as promised, and Damon suspiciously acts like he’s never met Cookie before. Seemingly unoffended by his playing dumb, Cookie eagerly volunteers to travel with him to Panama to get Empire’s money back. Could their past flirtation turn into something messy?

In the studio, Tiana and Treasure are lobbying for a spot on a duet with Jamal. The two ladies come head to head on the red carpet for New York Fashion Week. Instead of helping Empire’s fledgling reputation, they nearly exchange blows. Gisele, Becky, and Jamal check their attitudes and “punish” them by removing Jamal from the duet and making the girls play nice on the collaboration together.

The situation with Lucious’ mother has become unavoidable. He’s called down to the nursing home because her violent tantrums require more staffing and more money. He settles his debts there and pays for the next 6 months of care. To be in so much debt, Andre and Lucious don’t seem too concerned with throwing around large sums of money.

In a powerful exchange, Mrs. Walker lays into “Dwight” about what a terrible person he is. What breaks the stoic Lucious to tears is her asserting that the revelation of his illegitimate child has bonded them because they have a child they wish “never breathed its first breath.” He blames her for making him the monster she believes him to be, but she meets his tears with laughter at the evil she says has always lived inside him.

Damon and Cookie continue their flirtations in Panama. The tension between them elevates their negotiations with Damon’s banking contact as Cookie commands the situation and gets her way (as expected). Damon persuades her to salsa dance with him to celebrate but ruffles Cookie’s feathers by implying that she doesn’t want to be married. Is it because that’s a question she’s been asking herself? That’s not a thought she’ll have long to ponder when she returns to her room to find a rose from Damon on her bed and her husband at the door. He’s come to surprise her with a new business venture, one he believes will prove to her that he’s ready to change. He’s bought, as Cookie elegantly observed, a “crack house” and intends to transform it into a rehab center for young boys whose mothers, like his own, didn’t teach them to be good people. Cookie is seduced by this change in Lucious, but the imagery of them making love next to a token from another man vying for her heart wasn’t lost on me.

Things may be winding down in Central America, but back in the United States, the drama is heating up. Andre’s doctor has discovered some missing lab results he needs to discuss with him ASAP and Thurston is being manipulated by the FBI to roll over on either Lucious or Damon.

Do the Lyon’s “know what better looks like?” Let us know in the comments.

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