Empire Recap: It’s a Wonderful Gutter Life

From left: Guest star Bre-Z and Terrence Howard. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX
Episode Title
Be True
Editor’s Rating

Wait a second … an easy-to-follow plot, touching character moments, and only slightly over-the-top twists? I mean, a stripper was on another stripper’s back twerking while they spun around on a pole, but are we sure that this is Empire? This episode was flipping tremendous. Now that the show is moving away from the bizarre trial that never was and the litigious breasts of the prosecutor written off the show, this show can go back to what it does best: anonymous videos of people threatening Lyon Dynasty.

The line on the prosecutor being dismissed is that the state was embarrassed that Vernon’s body turned up in Roxanne’s car, so they said he committed suicide. Yeah. We all buy that. Things are looking up at Empire Records now that the case against Lucious has been dropped and Freda Gatz has been signed to Gutter Life records. I hope by the end of the season Freda reinvents herself as a mysterious millionaire with shady connections to bootleggers obsessed with a young socialite and changes her name to Freda Gatsby. Andre arrives at Empire Records in the middle of a Gutter Life party … that Freda is not present for? He sees the aforementioned stripper-twerk tower and is told by Lucious that he’s the new president of Gutter Life, and his dad gets him a lap dance. If you don’t know by now, the importance of family is a big theme in this episode.

Jamal is busy recording his album and he’s distracted, so Lucious calls on Ne-Yo, who pops up from behind a piece of equipment like a sexy R&B gopher. From now on, if there’s a cameo on this show, they have to pop out from behind a piece of furniture. Jamal is torn because everyone is telling him what to do about bringing his tragic boyfriend on tour with him. Lucious says that having your man with you means you can’t cheat on your man, and it won’t keep you focused. Ne-Yo says that if Michael is Jamal’s serenity, he should bring him on the road. Guys, Ne-Yo gives some really good advice. Basically, anytime anyone talks to Jamal, they bring this up, and this whole plotline has been telegraphed from the start of the season. I’m already over it.

Andre meets with Reverend Ain’t Nobody Coming to See You, Otis, and decides that he’s going to get baptized and he needs to confess his sins to his family. He speaks in platitudes and does not perform any numbers from the Temptations mini-series, so he is a disappointment.

Back at Lyon Dynasty Records, Tiana is shooting a random photo shoot with Cookie, Jack of all trades, directing. When she’s finished, Hakeem introduces everyone to Guadalupe 2, Laura, the modest singer from the Michael Bublé bar in Brooklyn. She sees Hakeem kiss Tiana and worries that Hakeem is going to want something in return for his opportunity (SPOILER ALERT: HE DOES). While Tiana is waiting for her Uber Black, two women from Freda Gatz’s part of town (no, not West Egg) storm in and shake her down for her purse. They have razor blades in their mouths. How does that work? Where do you put it so you don’t cut up your mouth? I’m glad I never have to do that. I live a simple life, y’all.

Mere moments later, Cookie and the Hostile Takeover Gang are watching a YouTube video of three people going through Tiana’s bag, and she’s got a bunch of tampons, and that’s totally normal because women’s periods are normal and we shouldn’t be ashamed to carry tampons. Cookie realizes that this group of masked weirdos under construction scaffolding is trying to extort the fledgling Lyon Dynasty. Maybe Cookie should do something about this …

That weird Tom Green look-alike photographer tries to blow Jamal in a spaceship hallway. Then the classic TV/film adultery mix-up happens when Michael walks in at the wrong moment and no one explains to him what happened, including the Thomas Verde who didn’t suck anyone’s dick.

Also during this sequence, Jamal’s boyfriend reveals he doesn’t know what the word heteronormative means. Empire. EMPIRE. I will believe a lot of things, but I will not believe that Jamal’s boyfriend does not know what the word heteronormative means. He’s a gay man under 45 who seems reasonably educated and passionate about gay-rights issues. You’re on notice, Empire.

Thomas Verde also yells “A MOUTH IS A MOUTH,” which I will be tattooing on my body.

Cookie is holding meetings with publicists, and she meets with Adam Rodriguez, who says he will do anything to protect Cookie, and that includes doing what other publicists won’t and getting his hands dirty. He means throw down in a fight, but we all know he means push all the stuff off Cookie’s desk and take her. She’s got a real thing for hot men of color who want to protect her. Follow that urge, Cookie.

Lucious and Cookie go pick up Vernon’s ashes. Cookie is dressed like Carrie Bradshaw when she went to go meet Aidan’s parents in season three. Lucious subtly threatens Cookie and forces her to take the ashes of Vernon. He also does that thing I hate on TV when a character turns around and another character just leaves. Wouldn’t Cookie hear him walking out? Or opening the door? The place can’t be that big. Just go catch him!

Hakeem and Jamal both throw parties in two different locations for no real reason. Hakeem tries to kiss Modest Little Laura, and she rebukes his advances. Rightly so, because up until this point, Hakeem has hooked up with almost every female singer he’s met. If I had my way, he’d meet Aretha Franklin and have an affair with her. At Jamal’s party, his titties are all out, and he’s getting drunker and drunker and goes to find Michael, and he’s getting a BJ en plein air from Thomas Verde, and he throws everyone out.

Cookie and Adam Rodriguez are hanging out talking about Young Money and Cash Money because this show is relevant, when two robbers break in to steal Cookie’s masters. Both Cookie and Adam Rodriguez carry tiny guns on them at all times. The robbers tell them that Thirsty is behind this whole scheme because of course he is. This plan was foolproof.

Andre goes over to Jamal’s house where he’s cleaning up in his underwear and a robe — no, wait, I’m thinking of Megan Draper in the season-six premiere episode of Mad Men. My mistake. Andre doesn’t want to confess for any real crimes, but more for his sins. He turned his brothers against each other and had Jamal robbed. He blames his bipolar disorder, and Hakeem immediately forgives him because Hakeem is a sweet pea when he’s not attempting to sexually take advantage of his protégées.

Jamal’s first question: Does your church like gay people? I understand that that’s a big issue, but … your brother just told you he had you robbed, but yeah, let’s figure out that gay-church thing first.

Next stop on Andre’s confessional tour is Lucious. Like all good confessionals, he starts with a scolding. He scolds Lucious for letting Thirsty do whatever he wants and bringing all that hood-rat nonsense into the company. His confession is that he’s the one who told Cookie to blackmail him and produce Jamal’s album. Lucious accepts his confession and tells him that baptism is phony. He says the words, “There’s no god. You need to man up.” So Lucious’s spiritual advice is the same as his mental-health advice, is the same as …

Hakeem meets Laura, Modest and Short, on the street and apologizes. They’re gonna get married. I’m calling it now.

Freda Gatzbee is in the studio, and Lucious gives her a pep talk about her father, the man he had murdered, because, much like all the poems in my high-school spoken-word club, this is all about how her dad let her down. Lucious is inspired hearing what it sounds like when a father is brutally murdered in jail … er … lets his children down and decides to show up for Andre’s baptism.

I wanted this scene to be a Godfather reference, but it wasn’t. Once again, Reverend Ain’t Nobody Coming to See You, Otis, you disappoint me. While Andre is being baptized, Lucious has painful chartreuse flashbacks to Kelly Rowland in another unflattering ’70s outfit. What’s that CRAZY WOMAN up to this time? Baptizing Lucious for misbehaving? It’s amazing how thematic Lucious’s childhood was. Lucious walks out as a kickass gospel choir fills the church with sound because Lucious continues to be THE WORST. Andre sees him in his … completely dry baptismal gown, and is that a tear rolling down his face, or some of the holy water? Whatever it is, he’s furious.

The episode ends with Hakeem being kidnapped by what are clearly the Mau Maus. This isn’t going to end well.