Warning: spoilers from last night’s episode of Empire ahead!
This is how we last left the Lyon family: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) planned a takeover of the Empire with the help of Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), Andre (Trai Byers) and Anika (Grace Gealey); Lucious (Terrence Howard) was arrested for Bunkie’s (Antoine McKay) murder (he’s guilty); Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday ) accidentally killed Vernon (Malik Yoba) and was pregnant with Andre’s baby; and Lucious left Jamal (Jussie Smollett) in charge of the empire.
Is that enough of a recap?
So, this second season starts with a #FreeLucious concert three months after Lucious has been arrested for murder, and I have a few thoughts on this opening.
The concert highlights issues with the mass incarceration rates and the unequal proportion of minorities, particularly blacks, in the prison system. And I get the references to political events like Ferguson. I get bringing the awareness of the mass incarceration rates to the show. These are real issues that are important to talk about. Even Al Sharpton makes an appearance to talk with Cookie about the event. (He’s not the only surprise cameo. André Leon Talley is also there.)
Cookie wears a gorilla costume, stands in a cage, and spouts off a really impressive and passionate speech about the problems with the American judicial system. But it’s a sham. I never thought I’d say it, but thank you Hakeem for at least feeling semi-guilty about the front and confronting Cookie about it.
Lucious is guilty of the murder he’s accused of and belongs behind bars for a lot of different things, and he’s still the worst character in this entire show (I’m not saying on all TV shows, because some Game of Thrones characters are kind of worse). But this whole concert with an important theme is just Cookie’s way of impressing an investor, Mimi Whiteman (played by the brilliant Marisa Tomei), and to me, that underscores the actual importance of the concert. But I digress. This is a television drama, and a drama it shall be.
Mimi is a lesbian investor that is supposed to help Cookie, Hakeem, Andre, and Anika with the hostile takeover, so is there a better way to get into her graces than by throwing a lesbian party in Hakeem’s house and getting Anika to sleep with her? The answer is apparently no, because that’s just what they do. These people aren’t subtle.
While this is all happening, Lucious is in prison, but it’s a weird prison, because he watched the concert on a flat screen. Anyway, Frank Gathers, a cannibal drug lord — who happens to be played by Chris Rock attempting to be scary — arrives at the prison. Jermel, Cookie’s cousin, warns Lucious about him, but it appears that the two have a mutually respectful relationship. So no drama there, right?
Wrong. Chris Rock, I mean, Frank, has Cookie’s cousin beaten up in an attempt to find out how he was arrested. Jermal tells Frank that Cookie turned him in.
Carol, Cookie’s sister, tries to warn Cookie that Frank is after them because those pesky roses from the first season have been turning up. Cookie goes to talk to Carol and finds a present waiting for her. They send the kids to a different room and open the present only to find Jermal’s decapitated head in it! Cookie handles it like a boss-ass bitch and Carol sobs uncontrollably. I’m Carol in this situation. Cookie needs some help. But anyway, let’s go back a bit to the Lyon siblings.
Jamal and Hakeem are having some tension as per usual. Hakeem wants to release his album, but Jamal is not agreeing with him. And then you have Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) handling everyone’s shit as per usual. I don’t know Becky’s salary, but I do know that she doesn’t get paid enough for what she does.
Jamal meets with Lucious in the prison, and it turns out that Jamal is actually listening to his homophobic, racist father. WHY, JAMAL, WHY?! Anyway, Lucious wants to know who the lesbian at the concert was, so I guess Jamal is off to do his father’s bidding.
Michael (Rafael de La Fuente), Jamal’s ex, also makes an appearance because apparently Jamal is supposed to be receiving an award from GLAAD. Just when you think Jamal has a heart again, he cancels on Michael and the event, and you know that the evil Lucious has gotten into his head.
Other things that happen: Andre has a nightmare about buying Vernon’s body with the pregnant Rhonda, but it looks like things are in the clear for now; and a prosecutor goes to visit Lucious to offer him a deal, but instead, he insults her character and her shoes and sends her on her way. Whatever, Lucious. You’re still a dick.
Cookie, Andre, Hakeem and Anika burst into the board room to say that they are taking over Empire thanks to the shares purchased in the morning by Mimi and that they are removing Lucious as CEO. Yay! But wait. In a backstabbing twist, it turns out that Jamal did get to Mimi. She met with Lucious and made an even better deal, so Cookie and team are left out of the loop. Somehow Lucious is able to Skype into the meeting to rub it in their faces. I really hate that man.
So after receiving that decapitated head and failing at the hostile takeover, Cookie calls the family and tells them to gather at Lucious’ house for safety and then goes to the prison to finally visit Lucious. He complains that it took her three months, but the woman was in prison for 17 years without a visit, so he can just shut his mouth. Cookie tells him that their family is in trouble because Frank is after them.
Earlier in the episode, Lucious overheard Frank’s daughter rapping in the visitor’s room, so he approaches Frank about signing her to Empire Records. Frank understands that this is about Cookie and says that any drama is between Frank and Cookie, not Frank and Lucious. Lucious says he understands, but that he loves Cookie and that if Frank has a war with Cookie, he has a war with him. Cannibal Frank is all high and mighty and tells the other prisoners in the room to kill Lucious quickly and quietly. But manipulative Lucious has won over the men with money and promises, so Lucious tells the guys to kill Frank, but to make it long and loud. It’s kind of a badass moment, but again, Lucious is still an awful human, and I cannot support him, even if he is keeping his family safe.
Cookie arrives at the house to let the kids know everything is okay. This leads to Jamal kicking everyone out. He tells Hakeem that the album is pretty much dead, so Hakeem leaves in a huff. Cookie tries to appeal to the better nature of her son and even slaps him, but Jamal breaks her heart (and ours) when he says, “You done now, lady?”
So in summary, Cookie is still the best, we need more music in the episodes, Jamal needs to stop what he is doing and make us love him again, and Lucious is still the worst.
Also, where’s Tiana (Serayah)? We need her back ASAP.
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‘Empire’ Season 2 Premiere Recap: Photo: Chuck Hodes/Fox