Ah, sugar, "Empire" is back and making bold moves after its winter hiatus. Never one to disappoint on the drama and emotional flair, Wednesday night's episode brings the Lyon family roaring back to life on the screens of viewers.
We're welcomed back by the almost R-rated scene of Rhonda (Kaitlyn Doubleday) crawling across the cold, white marble floor of her home's foyer — a streak of red blood fanning out behind her — as she tries to regain consciousness after her tumble down her mansion's stairs. As Rhonda grapples for vision, the last thing we see in the opening scene is the back of Anika's (now dark red, blood-soaked) heels, as she saunters out of the front door.
Graphic? Check. Gruesome? Check. Typical "Empire"? Check all the boxes.
Sure to be a major plotline this season, with all of its emotional and physical repercussions for the Lyon clan, we find out later that Anika (Grace Gealey) fulfilled her goal, and Rhonda has lost the Lyon dynasty heir. As the episode proceeds, Andre (Trai Byers) breaks down upon learning of the death of his son, and Rhonda goes full-on "God is dead" mode, which, again, I'm sure will create tension-induced flare-ups and martial difficulties opposite Andre's devotion to the church.
What else happened this episode? Oh, nothing really, other than the return of an emotionally unhinged Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and the complete meltdown of an Empire.
If you recall the #Lyondrama pre-holiday break, Camilla (Naomi Campbell) orchestrated a daring and masterful take-over of Empire, and left Lucious and the Lyons reeling from the loss of power. Camilla is back (and dressed fabulously, of course) and has raised the stakes of the takeover by jockeying to name Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) as the new CEO.
Lucious is clearly not OK with this, and initially barricades himself into Empire offices, along with Andre and Thirsty (oh Thirsty, still around) who apparently is packing guns everywhere he goes. With the cops beating at the door and Camilla threatening to arrest them for trespassing, Lucious only agrees to leave when hearing of Rhonda's accident by the lovely (Yay! She's back) Becky (Gabourey Sidibe).
Before all of this went down, let's take a second to backtrack to the opening segment's non-Anika vs. Rhonda scene. Can we all take a moment to discuss Jamal's amazingly glittered sweatpants? I mean, come on — those are amazing and I need them now. Sadly, neither Neiman Marcus nor Spiegel is carrying them. (Yes I checked Spylight.com; no they didn't have them by the time of this posting). But for real, imagine wearing those to your next cycle class — you'd make first podium for sure in your new magic pants! But I digress …
As the Lyon family prepares for yet another battle, Cookie unexpectedly shows up to Hakeem's apartment and, scarily sitting in the dark, replies to Hakeem's entrance when he turns on the lights with a dead-panned "Hello, Hakeem." Chills. But wait! Cookie was not only sitting in the dark alone, waiting for Hakeem to return; she's sitting there with her friendly broom, resting lightly on her knees.
A broom? Is she cleaning his apartment? Is it Boxing Day and the maid has the holiday off? No. After a few short words with which Hakeem declares he will not rescind his vote that ousted his father as CEO, Cookie beats him with that broom. The broom comes alive (sponsored by Harry Potter?) and she continuously hits him until it breaks. But Cookie isn't done yet. Broken broom? No problem. Now it's purse time baby! The shattered broom is tossed aside and Cookie proceeds to demonstrate her emotions through purse punching. This family is 100 percent normal.
After leaving Hakeem's messy apartment — adding insult to injury, Hakeem no longer has a broom to sweep up the mess of Cookie's visit (oh, she's good) — we find Cookie at Lucious' home, where they both fall into a rage-sleep. Upon waking, Lucious is MIA and Cookie discovers him in his walk-in closet (which could also double as a Park Slope studio apartment since they are the same size), slowly guiding bullets through his hands into a glock.
Alarmed, Cookie gets Lucious to agree to not do "nuttin' stupid" for 48 hours while she tries to fix everything. Her fix is to become part of Empire again, and remove Camilla from the inside. How, you may wonder? I'm glad you asked …
Andre (mostly recovered from his horrific family events), Jamal and Cookie meet back at Empire to confront Hakeem and Camilla in their father's previous office. Enthroned behind the desk, Hakeem is wearing a tacky multicolored money-print suit, and carrying a cane (Gandolf's staff?) with none other than a lionhead at its top.
Camilla is clearly thrilled to see them (sarcasm) but Hakeem is receptive, and the whole thing goes down smoothly: witty banter, threats, witty banter, questions, witty banter, more threats, and finally Hakeem agrees to buy Lyon Dynasty, give Cookie full autonomy, and make her head of A&R for all of Empire. He does this "for the family," and Cookie is nonplussed at how easy this all went down. Camilla is decidedly not nonplussed. We'll see how this works out in the remainder of the season.
Now completely annoyed, Camilla demands Hakeem break off his love affair with Latina superstar Laura and choose her and only her. But alas, our CEO loverboy really does love Laura, while Camilla is just a means to an end. Hakeem tries to break it off with Laura by showing up drunk to practice and making her feel 2 feet tall, but she will have none of it.
In the end, Hakeem plays a dangerous game this week. He admits he loves Laura (and she to him) and Laura decides this episode of baby loss is the perfect time to try to make a baby of her own, and loses her V-card to the new CEO of Empire. And now Hakeem has to walk that line between Camilla and Laura: secret-love, or pseudo-love? Which love will find out about the other first? The anticipation!
This week we find the cool hands of "Empire" co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong are back, as they walk us down the road of sexual fluidity and removing labels from relationships via new music by Jamal at his award and nomination performances.
Confronted with the potential public knowledge of his one-night stand with the musical performer Sky (a woman; THANKS LUCIOUS), Jamal decides to not back down in the face of veiled threats, but to meet them head-on and create a new song about the freedom to love and enjoy those you connect with. It's a decent song (nothing amazing) but the message is clear and, as usual, perfectly timed.
This week spends a decent amount of time on defining relationships, sexual and nonsexual; what it means to be a mother and son, a father and son, a husband and wife, a brother, and a lover. The exploration of these themes continuously run throughout the series but with the death of a child, it all seems very amplified this evening.
We end this week on a dark note, involving (of course) Lucious. (Wait, maybe also Anika now). Not content to sit on the sidelines and allow Cookie and his sons to solve their newest challenge, Lucious resorts to his old tricks of intimidation, threats and possible murder to keep control and power.
The always-thrifty Thirsty is on hand this week to arrange a meeting of New York gangsters, who agree to work for Lucious to regain his power as CEO of Empire. The plan is for each gang member to make "a visit" to every board member who voted to remove Lucious as CEO and "persuade" them to change their minds. Gang members and Thirsty, what could go wrong?
This plays out in predictable fashion: one board member and potential new CEO (Jago) is beat up in a park during a jog, another has his car exploded in a very "Godfather"-esque scene, and horribly, one lady finds her cat strangled and hung from a doorway in her home.
The violence works. When Camilla next calls a board meeting to name a new CEO, all board members who had previously been in the running have now dropped out. Thus, the road to King Hakeem is easily paved.
Would Lucious be happy that a family member, his own son, is now at the helm of the ship he built? HAHAHAHAHA, no, this is Lucious we are talking about. We end with a gripping scene at the same highway underpass, with a dirty pool of water in the background, where Lucious shot "Uncle Bunky" in the face and killed him during Season 1. Except this time, Lucious is there with Hakeem.
Lucious is carrying a glock (because who doesn't these days) and hands the gun to 'Keem. He explains to Hakeem this is where he killed Bunky, and that he would do anything to make sure Empire is his, implying that he would even kill his own son. He tells Hakeem to shoot him now and kill him, because if he doesn't, Lucious will not hesitate to shoot and kill Hakeem the next time he gets the chance.
Hakeem — being the better man — declines to essentially commit regicide, and walks away. As the episode closes, we hear Lucious hurling ominous threats at his youngest son. My main concern isn't that Lucious will actually kill Hakeem, it's that Hakeem held a gun barehanded and that gun now has his fingerprints on it. If that is the same gun Lucious used to kill Bunky, Hakeem is now screwed.
Things we could have done without: Rhonda's bloodshot eye constantly following you, no matter how you moved your head.
Most messed up moment: Anika visiting Rhonda in the hospital to make sure she's "OK." That woman's presence drops a room's temperature an icy 20 degrees.