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'Empire' Season 3 premiere recap: The ghost of Rhonda

For The Baltimore Sun
"Empire" wastes no time in jumping into the drama.

And we’re back! "Empire" is back for Season 3 and, oh boy, is it a doozey. This week is no light-hearted affair with very few (if any) laugh-out-loud moments. After a summer off, the show dives right into the drama.

First, arguably the most GASP-worthy moment arrives when we finally find out who fell over the balcony during the girl-fight after Hakeem’s disastrous non-wedding at the end of last season. It was Rhonda.

As Jamal and Lucious stand outside the hotel entrance arguing over restraining a now-runaway Hakeem, Rhonda literally crashes onto the roof of the car in front of them. As the camera zooms in, it’s a gut wrenching scene of Rhonda sprawled out, lifeless, and no longer our favorite Ride-Or-Die girl.

Andre, however, exhibits an overwhelming sense of self control — after initially strangling Anika for a few seconds — by not tossing her over the side of the hotel as well. Why is this? Because Anika’s water broke. Naturally. The trauma of the evening has led to the six-week premature birth of baby Bella Lyon. It’s a “twilight” saga now in the Lyon family and an epic battle is brewing between the leeching vampire (Anika) and protective werewolf (Cookie).

During all of these shenanigans, we find Hakeem fleeing from his failed wedding to Laura and going directly to the house and arms of Tiana. Girl is obviously confused and annoyed, but while Hakeem strips, he pulls out his phone to show her a photo he kept of them, while announcing “you were always the one." Duh. I’m glad he finally realized.

Later we find the family (sans Hakeem) gathered at the hospital where Andre is clearly reeling in shock, and Anika is in full-blown labor. Baby Bella is born fine, but not before Lucious snakes his way into the delivery room to whisper into Anika’s ear that their new story is Rhonda fell, and was not pushed. Lucious has definitely not changed his ways.

What’s even more shady? Lucious has himself listed as Baby Bella’s father instead of Hakeem, essentially legally separating Hakeem and his baby forever.

What else is going on this episode? Lucious throws a (unintentional?) Great Gatsby party: lake boats, fountains, Champagne, outdoor jazz and servants in livery in order to woo artists for his upcoming launch of Empire Stream, his new music streaming business.

We also see Candace and Carol trying to turn Cookie on Lucious and having her give him up as fake-married to Anika (duh!). This plot has layers, methinks, and while Cookie seemingly tells Lucious about the plot and protects him, the eyes of a teddy bear in Bella’s room (and the attached video camera) may later tell us as different story. BOOM Cookie.

Becky is also back and fabulousss as usual. She’s shading the F out of everyone, especially new girl Ness, who turns out to be a really good singer during the Leviticus launch party of Empire X Stream when Jamal locks up and can’t perform his new Black Lives Matter song.

While we saw Jamal earlier taking prescription pain meds to help ease the pain from his gunshot wound (and also foreshadowing a Lyon’s upcoming struggle with pain meds), we learn Jamal has emotional scars as well as physical. When on stage singing about gun shots, Jamal has a flashback to him staring down Freda Gatz as she shoots him last season. Cold, clammy and hyper-ventilating, Hakeem saves Jamal by escorting him off the stage, but Lucious is having none of it, of course. Heaven forbid he has some sympathy for his children.

Nessa saves the day, however, by singing Jamal’s powerful new #BLM song, "Freedom." She rocks it well enough that, after some rocky first drama between Lucious and her uncle/former childhood friend of Lucious', she earns a new spot in Empire.

We’re going to take a time out now and point out that nowhere yet in this entire episode did we see a Rhonda funeral. Like, WUT? The show barely mentions Rhonda’s death and passing, and other than a few upset Andre looks, THERE IS NO MENTION OF RHONDA’S DEATH. She was a main character for two seasons, and nothing. I get that funeral scene budgets can be pricey, but I can’t be the only one during the episode who kept asking, “But what about Rhonda?!”

Finally, at the conclusion of this week’s episode, we are given GHOST RHONDA. Andre is having an emotional meltdown and Napoleon-esque moment speaking of himself in the third person, when out of nowhere one of his verbal, rhetorical questions is answered by GHOST RHONDA. Yes, I am using all caps because I was so excited the writers have now decided to add a ghost to the mix. 

And Rhonda isn’t just any ghost — she’s a sassy, hard-edged ghost reminding Andre, “Without me you’re just some Philly thug with mental problems." Ouch. Ghost Rhonda is going to be fun.

That’s it for this week, but I have a feeling this will be an awesome season, especially now that we have a family ghost!

In the words of Cookie at the dinner a la Tarek, “Do you want a to-go plate?”

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