'Empire' recap: A dark family history comes to light

This week's episode of "Empire" was yet another doozey on the emotional roller coaster — one that practically throws you head-first off the tracks. With a theme of family, we see many new plotlines develop.

The episode begins with an opening scene one could easily confuse with the launch of a new fashion line or photography exhibition, when in reality it was a memorial service for our recently departed Camilla. With Cookie et. al. in (fabulously dressed) faux mourning, we witness Hakeem use what should have been a somber moment to launch the continuation of Camilla's fashion line — Anthony and Cleopatra — under his sister-in-law, Rhonda Lyon. All business, these Lyons.


With Chief-Obstacle-In-House Camilla now conveniently 6 feet under, Hakeem is in full control of Empire, and things for the most part are going well. Hakeem is producing some excellent new hits with Jamal, the fashion line is taking off, and Tiana's new tour is a smashing success. The only thing that could mess up this well-oiled machine would be an emotionally unbalanced train wreck. Thank goodness we can always count on Lucious!

Lucious spends this week yet again threatening his sons for control of Empire, while teaming up with Cookie for the upcoming music awards prize. Cookie and Lucious have decided to shoot a new music video to his previously co-written song "Boom Boom Bang Bang" with Freda Gatz, and to showcase what Cookie annoyingly continues to refer to as "his truth."


For Lucious' "truth," we hit the road for a flashback-filled segment in Philly.

Here we find Lucious at the first of many breakdowns this episode, as we are introduced to even more details from what made him the person he's become.

This first one is triggered upon seeing the infamous lion stone statue along the street that we first saw in Season 1. Here, Lucious pauses to catch his breath and explain to Cookie how as a child he slept under that statue one night, and in the morning, he was reborn as Lucious Lyon — like a phoenix from the projects of Philly.

We briefly see his mom (Kelly Rowland) again during this flashback, and in it she is dunking Lucious underwater in the bathtub to "cleanse him." Remember this, as its important later on.

Next up, Lucious is back in the studio preparing to shoot his video. He has to constantly be talked off the ledge and back into reality by Cookie, who is still dealing with the fact that his real name isn't Lucious Lyon but Dwight Walker.

Nearing a complete breakdown over seeing an actor dressed identically as his mom, Lucious finally confesses to Cookie that one evening, after a rather neurotic bout of instability and bathtub-induced cleansing, Lucious witnessed his mother kill herself standing in front of him in their living room.

We now fully understand the previous season's flashbacks to the gun and bullet episode with Leah Walker and Lucious. It all makes sense now. It doesn't excuse Lucious' atrocious behavior to his family, but it provides deeper insight into the demons this man battled to build Empire and raise his children.

Woof. The trauma in this family is palpable.

For good news this week, Hakeem gets engaged to our favorite Mirage a Trois member, Laura! While on tour with Tiana (and causing fireworks of her own), Hakeem invites Laura's family to meet her backstage and see her dressing room. Upon meeting her family, and witnessing the love and cohesiveness among them, Hakeem has a "come to Jesus" moment about what families should be: loving, kind and supportive.

This triggers all kinds of emotions in our normally emotionally stunted CEO, and next we see him take a knee in a Washington alley post-performance and pop an asteroid-sized rock onto the finger onto the finger of soon-to-be Laura Lyon. Mazel tov all around!

Over in the Cookie corner, it's her birthday this week! All she asked for (literally) was a nice, low-key, Sunday dinner with her family that is "drama free." Ohhh, Cookie. You know better than that. Surprisingly, after arriving at the Lyon family compound, everything goes well in the beginning. The family is all there, they're sitting around the piano singing and playing Stevie Wonder — and then Lucious drops the bombshell that his mother suffered from bipolar disorder.

Why is this important? Because Andre, Lucious' eldest son, is also bipolar. For years Andre has been battling depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, with the ramifications of Lucious treating him like the plague because off issues Andre has no control over. Upon learning that his family has a hereditary history of bipolar members and nobody ever told him, Andre has an understandable meltdown — especially when Lucious tells him that his son being bipolar "embarrasses me." Lucious is back to being Lucious.


A predictable family fight ensues, Dre leaves Rhonda, and in an almost comical light, Anika (Boo Boo Kitty) is seen rescuing Rhonda on the side off the road after Andre leaves her stranded at the house. The best line off the night was unintentionally delivered by Rhonda when thanking Anika for being her savior: "It will be nice to be around someone sane," she says. Yeah … OK.

Before we go, let's not forget about Jamal and Freda Gatz. After some back-and-forth talks about recoding together, Freda is burned by Lucious one last time and finally consents to recording with Jamal and Hakeem. They sound wonderful together and make arguably this episode's best music. The kicker, however, is at the end of the the episode, when Freda explains to Cookie she is Frank Gathers' daughter — the same Frank Gathers who Cookie and Lucious killed in prison.

It's almost comical watching the recognition wash over Cookie's face as she realizes her sons are now recording with the daughter of the man she ordered killed, BUT also the man who helped Lucious stay alive when he was living on the streets of Philly. Somewhere in the distance, we can almost hear Simba from the "Lion King" start singing "Circle of Life."

Best dressed this week: Becky's plum-colored velvet dress and fantastic eye shadow.

Worst dressed this week: Laura. Who wears a bulky rain coat while being proposed to?!

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