Empire Recap: Is You Is or Is You Ain’t?

Alicia Keys as Skye and Jussie Smollett as Jamal. Photo: Matt Dinnerstein/FOX
Episode Title
Et Tu, Brute
Editor’s Rating

This might be a controversial opinion, but "Et Tu, Brute?" is what Empire should be: a nighttime soap of the highest order. There were backstabbings, twists, and guest stars. Someone was pushed down the stairs, we saw a dramatic board meeting, and they even held a fictional awards show. Plus, we came back to the show's central struggle — who will control Empire? And guys, it might just be Camilla.

CAMILLA. IS. BACK. The High Priestess herself has returned. Naomi Campbell spends the entire episode mysteriously appearing in doorways and crowds in an impossibly fluffy black fur coat and flawless bangs. Guys, her bangzzz. Camilla returned in the most unpredictable way, too — she's Mimi's wife. There is a universe that exists in which Marisa Tomei and Naomi Campbell are married. That's entirely too much fierceness for one partnership. I'm so pleased their union is being used for evil, but now I'm furious Camilla stopped that grotesque threesome between Mimi, Lucious, and the biddie in the knockoff Balmain dress.

Before we get to the arrival of the Patron Saint of All Things Fabulous, let's get to the main plot of the episode: the American Sound Awards. Again. WHAT UNIVERSE IS THIS TAKING PLACE IN? Do the Grammys not exist? Do people call in and vote for the American Sound Awards? Who the hell is Flighthouse? I like to imagine Flighthouse is a cross between Mumford & Sons and Train. So, in other words, just the whitest. And Pyramid P is a rapper who only uses Egyptian imagery. So, in other words, the hotep-est.

Everyone is watching the nomination announcements. Okay, Empire, sure, we'll all play along and believe that award nominations are slowly meted out across an entire day at venues across the city. Lucious greedily licks his lips at every nomination Jamal gets, but the main course is, of course, Song of the Year. (Lucious thinks that R&B Song of the Year was a category invented to placate black people.) Considering the Grammys only recently began airing hip-hop/rap awards on their live broadcast, the ASA might be a little progressive.

Speaking of progressive views, Lucious sees Skye and Jamal canoodling and immediately assumes his son isn't gay anymore and was turned by the power of Skye's thickness. Jamal insists to Lucious and Skye that he's still gay, even though he liked hooking up with Skye and still gazes at her longingly. Um … you can be bisexual, dude. That's a very real thing where you can be attracted to men and women and have sex with whomever you want. Maybe just maybe you're bisexual, but that's none of my business. Frog emoji. Teacup emoji.

While Jamal explains the Kinsey scale to Lucious and Skye, Cookie and Hakeem deal with the aftermath of Cookie's Cau Cau Coupling. They're scrambling to find a new venue for the Cookout and hope that Hakeem's ASA nominations will give them a leg up to book a top-notch space. Cookie is also busy planning the family day concert at the prison. She wants to use the concert to scope out a new artist, a woman she met in prison. Jazzy … Jezzy … Jessi? Let's go with Jezzy.

Mimi and Lucious meet to go over the Swiftstream deal. Mimi holds her pen in a really obvious way and keeps asking Lucious to repeat himself directly into the pen. No way that's a recording device.

The whole Empire Entertainment gang heads over to a nominations party (whatever that is) hosted by Charlamagne Tha God. I'm going to believe the script just said, "Charlamagne goes ahead and says whatever he wants," because his dialogue was so on-point him I don't believe the sometimes-shaky Empire writers could capture his voice like that. He goes after Skye for being black when she wants to be and asks Jamal, "U GAY, RITE?" Then Black Twitter Photoshops a Rachel Dolezal wig on Skye. Perfection.

Jamal continues to rack up nominations while Hakeem gets passed over for best rap artist, so he storms off. Jamal announces his new Pepsi commercial and I couldn't tell if it was part of the show or an actual commercial break, so good job, everyone. The vertical integration is complete. Jack Donaghy would be proud.

Cookie shows up for family day at the prison and has a flashback to her sons' visitation days and crying alone in her cell. For all of this show's flaws, Taraji P. Henson's acting remains a true delight. Just the brief flashes of anxiety across her face as she walked into the prison made me clutch my pearls and want to offer her one of those shiny blankets you get after marathons.

She meets with her old friends and finds out that Jezzy was given a life sentence for killing her bunkmate over some toothpaste. Whoops. Cookie seeks her out before she leaves,and HOLY '90s HIP-HOP, Jezzy is Da Brat. If we don't break Da Brat out of prison so she can get a record deal, this show has failed all of us.

Lucious announces Swiftstream at his own nomination party. How many nomination parties are we going to have? How long is this day? Thirty-eight hours? Mimi gets onstage and makes an emotional speech about her breast-cancer diagnosis, but what does this have to do with Swiftstr— oh wait, who cares because she introduces her wife, CAMILLA. Camilla glides onto the scene, taunts Lucious, and seduces Hakeem. All in a day's work for the world's baddest bitch.

At a board meeting "later," Mimi reveals her scheme. She plans to have the board vote out Lucious using the evidence she "covertly" recorded. Lucious has no respect for anybody or anything and he's willing to do whatever it takes, so he's got to go. Okay, I guess. Camilla is apparently so seductive, she can convince her wife to destroy a businessman because he made her dump his 20-something-year-old son.

Andre, Thirsty, and Lucious go on a spree of sexual indiscretions to convince the board to vote their way. I have a friend who auditioned to play the woman who gets eaten out by Thirsty on the elevator, and let me just say: Jo, you would have been dynamite in that role.

Did Andre blow Foghorn Leghorn in a limo under a bridge?

Well, it's time for the big vote, and it all comes down to Hakeem. He decides by reviewing a montage of all the ways Lucious has been a jerk to him over the last, like, six months. And he votes aye … aye to throwing Lucious off the board, not like, aye … support him. Lucious is out. Cookie spits in Camilla's face, which now ranks as the best TV face-spit, knocking New York/Pumkin off the top spot.

Meanwhile, Rhonda and Anika have been buddying up. Rhonda's affection for Boo Boo Kitty's generally tragic demeanor has clouded her judgment to the nightmare within. Boo Boo Kitty, taking advantage of both her craziness and Rhonda's trustworthy nature, sneaks into Rhonda and Andre's palace and shoves Rhonda down the stairs. I screamed at my TV like I was in a horror movie and Empire has gone totally over the edge.

… I loved it. I'm awful.