Lucious is ready for his trial and working the media, to the fury of would-be Atty. General Ford. He’s banned from the Empire Records building, but that doesn’t stop him from addressing the cheering fans assembled in front of the steps. He proclaims this the first day of the rest of his life, and ends with a Black Power salute: “To the empire!”
Hakeem is playing Sway’s radio show, singing his new song and dancing along and showing his abs to…Sway? To Cookie, who’s videoing it all. Sway’s talking to Hakeem about leaking his album, and calls Lucious to get a quote. Lucious tries to put H in his place, but H sasses back as always. Then he doubles down by promising his new girl group, Mirage a Trois (oy), to Sway in an exclusive.
Family dinner at Lucious’s house is AWK-ward! He’s a bit miffed about half the family trying to take over his company and gets kind of pass-agg about it. Cookie’s acting like it doesn’t matter a bit, because she’s going to take her ball and go home–and you know she loves an exit. Tonight’s involves picking up the table runner and dragging it–along with every bowl and platter on the table–onto the floor. Rhonda is shocked, but Jamal and Andre just put their heads in their hands like, “It’s just like Thanksgiving 2008 all over again.”
Lucious is getting ready for a party, and he summons Anika to the club. He tells her he wants her help in taking down Lyon Dynasty (Cookie’s “Empire”)–she wants none of it, but Lucious delivers a version of the old Churchill line about negotiating. He also points out that Cookie barely tolerates Anika as it is, so how does she think she’s gonna last even if they win? Food for thought…
Back in the studio, Hakeem is producing his trio of Bratz dolls (well, one Bratz doll and two butterfaces) while Cookie freaks because now they have to be radio-ready in three days. Plus, lead singer girl (whose name is actually Valentina, not Guadalupe as Cookie called her) is giving attitude. Hakeem, per usual, throws Jamal in Cookie’s face so that he can get his own way–Cookie does not smack him down as hard as I think she’s entitled to.
Lucious is dining alfresco with Andre, and drinking a beautifully dirty martini. Then he’s presented with an entree so baffling I rewind three times trying to determine what it is. (Still can’t tell!) Andre is pitching the purchase of a group of radio stations–it’s a peace offering, since he wants to come back to Empire. Nothin’ doing, says Lucious; Andre’s MBA skills are a dime a dozen, and for him to come back, he’d have to bring something truly incredible. And I guess he doesn’t mean a mysterious food item.
At Empire, Jamal is calling Lucious because a surly young woman has planted herself in his conference room demanding to see the King Lion himself. Lucious realizes it’s Frieda (Chris Rock’s kid) and tells Jamal to keep her there; “Musically, she’s my everything.” Jamal ignores that badly written line and tries to do as he’s told, but Frieda is posturing and sulking and her brother is convinced it’s all a scam because Lucious isn’t there in person. Off she stomps, and as she goes, Jamal drily observes to Becky that if this girl is Dad’s “everything,” what does that make Jamal?
When Lucious gets there he’s pissed at Jamal, and pettily says, “Hakeem would have signed her.” Which is patent nonsense on its face. Hakeem would have hit on her, pissed her off and probably gotten slapped as she walked out. But when Jamal objects to being scolded over this “hood rat,” Lucious says that he had planned to revive a whole label based on her and now she’s lost. Fortunately, Lucious’s lawyer (who’s hilarious in his small part) identifies the gritty park where her homemade video is shot, and off they go. Jamal tries to stand up to his dad, insisting that he needs more attention as an artist and as his son…but Lucious just says, “If you want more attention from me, accomplish what I set out for you to accomplish.” Enjoy your completely conditional love, Jamal.
Cookie’s had a long day. She comes back to her office to find Anika waiting, and lights into her. To Anika’s credit, she’s not interested in a fight and snaps, “I get it, you are THE baddest bitch ever and fiercer than all the animals whose prints make their way into your wardrobe.” The writers are officially forgiven for their stupid “everything” line in the previous scene. A little “enemy of my enemy is my friend” talk later, and Anika’s revealed Lucious’s scheme to Cookie, and it’s party crashers ahoy! (Why do I think Lucious has not, in fact, told Anika everything?)
Party time! Leviticus is jumping, and the master of ceremonies appears to be the host of Hotel Impossible–oh, wait, no, that’s Pitbull. Up comes Jamal, finally getting to do some singing! There is a woman in a very red dress with very effective and necessary boob tape. But then there’s a DJ takeover! Punky tough lady DJ signals random honey, who releases a smoke bomb. The track gets cut off, lady DJ bumps man DJ, and up comes Cleopatra Cookie, clad in gold chains. A-MAZ-ING. She announces “Lyon Dynasty’s #1 Artist, Hakeem Lyon.” Lucious just frowns. Jamal is smiling and shoots Hakeem a little wink–I can’t tell if that means he’s playing it cool, or he was in on it. (Pitbull also seems remarkably unfazed.) Hakeem’s been making his way up to his dad, while Jamal has been strolling over to the DJ. Security finally decides to take action, but Cookie’s done what she needs to and they bounce–but not before Pitbull switches sides and pitches her a gig. Inconstancy, thy name is Pitbull!
The next day, Cookie’s on the phone gloating with Sway when Andre pops in for a visit. She thinks it’s a chance to coax him back onto #TeamLyonDynasty, but he’s actually telling her she’s gonna be a grandma! She’s thrilled, but wouldn’t be Cookie if she didn’t immediately tell Andre how he can leverage his unborn child to get back into Empire and Lucious’s good graces.
Lucious is guardedly happy to have a grandchild on the way, but asks Andre if he’s worried about “the child’s mental health.” Andre isn’t, because bipolar disorder doesn’t run in their family…but uh-oh, this flashback says otherwise! Lucious doesn’t say anything, but thinks back to a manic episode from his own mom. To Andre, he says, “I always wanted a grandson!” and clasps him to his chest. Cue the “prodigal son” violins! Or not–he goes on to say, “And it’s breaking my heart that you’re using him right now.” Gonna start calling Lucious Bobby Fischer, he sees so many moves ahead.
Confusingly, our next scene is of Lucious and Lawyer finding Frieda (who’s battling to an assembled crowd and her crew). It’s nighttime–but L&L left when it was still daylight…so when did he go home in order to get the news about his grandson? I call shenanigans. Anyway, Frieda’s opponent takes a cheap shot when he invokes the death of her dad, and as is traditional in rap battles, she pulls a gun and prepares to blow his head off. Lucious grabs her and swings her around WHILE SHE’S FIRING and it’s a miracle that there aren’t multiple gunshot wounds in the crowd, but whatever. He gives an impassioned plea that she not do anything rash, and that her dad wouldn’t want it for her–she is skeptical, but runs away with a thoughtful look on her face. On the way back to the car, Lucious runs into Ms. Ford and there’s some vague threatening, but the upshot is, Ford’s case isn’t as strong as she’s pretending it is, and Lucious knows it.
Jamal is in the studio rejecting producer after producer; Becky reads him the riot act and tells him to call Cookie, because he needs her. And scene.
Cookie, however, is busy rehearsing Mirage a Trois’s choreography. Oh, this should be delightful. Dance, Bratz Dolls, dance! Drop and give Cookie 20, and none of those punk on-your-knees push-ups, either! Valentina balks–probably because she isn’t wearing a very supportive bra–but Cookie points out that if she’s not awesome, everyone will assume she got her position just by sleeping with Hakeem. Cookie’s busting out her This Is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt!
Jamal’s about to walk into the studio when Lucious pulls up in his limo–busted! They have a heart-to-heart about whether Jamal really needs Cookie as a producer, and Lucious tells him, “You need a god to produce you. I’M gonna produce you.” Imagine what Lucious could accomplish if he wasn’t so crippled by self-doubt! Anyway, Jamal takes the bait once again, but makes Lucious promise that Jamal will be his number one star, above any Friedas or Quack Quacks or whoever.
In the lounge at Apex Radio, Sway is growing impatient because Mirage a Trois appears to be only a Mirage a Deux this morning. The door opens to admit, not the missing Valentina, but Lucious himself, paying Cookie back for her stunt at Leviticus. Turns out Empire has just bought the station and locked up the urban radio market! And of course, he signed Valentina that morning, so Cookie and Hakeem appear to be SOL. (I will ignore for now my reservations about whether one can sign an artist already under contract to another label, but maybe pop music is different from books.) Valentina swans into the booth to appear–solo–on Sway’s show, while Cookie threatens murder under her breath.
We end on Lucious’s smug face, sighing with “It’s good to be the king” contentment. But uneasy is the head that wears the crown…