When Empire strips everything down and deals with the particulars of running a music company, it really shines. "Time Shall Unfold" attempts to be Empire's version of "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency," and tracks the Empire gang as they prep for the shareholders' meeting.
For some reason, the episode opens with Thirsty going to visit Lola on the playground and snatching a lock of her hair because … sure, I guess. Empire loves its tangled family trees. We all know that Lola is going to turn up as someone else's baby and that Thirsty is just going to Rosencrantz himself all over the country doing Lucious's bidding.
Back in New York, Rhonda is sitting on the floor and eating pasta with the absolute last person she should be hanging out with, Boo Boo Kitty. (Also, they are CLEARLY eating pasta but Boo Boo Kitty clears away Chinese take-out containers. Where did they order from? P.F. Olive Garden?) Women with other adult women as friends, do you do this? Sit on the floor with your legs under your coffee tables and eat take-out? I sit on my damn couch. Rhonda tells Boo Boo Kitty that Reverend Otis sees that Andre needs medical help and that Andre has stopped insisting that Rhonda was pushed. He probably shouldn't, though, because that totally happened. Andre visits and says that they should rent a small apartment and start scheming again. The couple that schemes the downfall of their relatives together, stays together. Boo Boo Kitty is in the bathroom hurling chunks because don't forget, she's pregnant. It's been some unidentified amount of time and she isn't showing yet, but morning sickness, am I right? Boo Boo Kitty tells them that the father is Hakeem. Even though this is irresponsible and ruinous, in the words of Aaron Burr, we're doing this.
Lucious has a whole bunch of old white people into his home to show off his new music video, "I am a White Walker" — err I mean "I am Dwight Walker" — and a shareholder tells him that they all want Lucious back in charge. Hakeem is cool, I guess, and he always order Thai for lunch, but Lucious is Empire despite the silhouette in the logo. Cookie shows up and tells him that she's not ready for another war, even though it's been nothing but war since Cookie got out of jail. She's trying to get the family back together and reminds Lucious that he totally killed Chris Rock in prison.
Speaking of Chris Rock, his daughter is working in a barbershop while Jamal plays songs from the Whisper-Shout EP on his iPhone. If Jamal were trying to sell CDs out of his backpack, it would be the most accurate depiction of a barbershop on television. After Jamal and Freda work on the track list, a random dude sits in Chris Rock's chair and Freda pistol-whips him. There's a lot of talk of Freda's violence, but that's all we see this episode. She's remarkably chill with Jamal.
Back at headquarters, Hakeem prepares for the shareholders' meeting and barks orders at an employee named Chicken. Cookie doesn't think it's a good idea for Jamal to work with Freda, then Andre takes a break from browsing Airbnb to say he's ready to get back to work. One wrong word, one wrong number, and the whole thing can come crumbling down. That is called foreshadowing, folks. And because this show can't leave Chekhov's gun in the drawer, Thirsty gets two cartoon guns to rob the Antony & Cleopatra warehouse. Hakeem bursts into Lucious's office and says he knows it was him when Guadeloupe calls and says all the microphones and speakers were confiscated by the police because there were drugs in them. According to Lucious, it was a boss move.
Cookie has set up a surprise for Jamal … and it's a Nicki Minaj knock-off named Stacey Run Run. Who came up with that name? They should be fired. But Stacey Run Run is a dark-skinned curvy bitch with a lollipop whose entire look is flawless and she's not in the episode enough. Unfortunately, Stacey Run Run needs to be the only female rapper on the album so Jamal has to drop Freda. This should go well. (Surprise! It does actually go well.)
Lucious takes Andre to see Kelly Rowland's grave and Andre monologues at it. Again, Andre's scenes are the only ones with any emotional heft. Bless you, Trai Byers. Nothing seems to faze you, not even when the writers give you lines like, "Medical science has made things more hopeful." Lucious tries to convince Andre to go against his brothers and he sort of agrees.
Andre and Rhonda gather the whole family to make a big announcement. They bring in Boo Boo Kitty and she announces that she's pregnant. Cookie hits Hakeem over the head for not using a condom. Great parenting. Boo Boo Kitty wants her son to be an heir to the Lyon fortune and Jamal straight-up calls out everything by going "With all this talk of heirs, it's starting to sound like a Shakespearean play." It's like seeing a lizard look into the mirror and try to fight its reflection. Boo Boo Kitty tries to apologize to the family and Cookie tells her, "GIRL BYE." Cookie, you're dressed like a zebra schoolmarm. You're everything to me.
It's time for the shareholders' meeting and Tiana is doing her best impression of Ciara circa 2002 and all the old white people in the crowd are getting down! Look at them! They're even clapping on the two and four! Cookie introduces Hakeem and he takes questions from two black girls in the crowd who have an Empire investment club, which is just the blackest thing ever. After Lucious went to intimidate Boo Boo Kitty, he interrupts the shareholders' meeting with his own solid gold microphone like the Rock during a late ’90s Smackdown.
Lucious becomes the New York Daily News to Hakeem's Bernie Sanders by pestering him with difficult but reasonable questions and making him address the needs of black women. Dang, that's a powerful-ass metaphor. I'm gonna treat myself to some Phish Food after this recap.
My new favorite character, Claire Templeton, a school teacher and Empire shareholder, says that what Empire really needs is Lucious at the helm and the crowd chants his name. Cookie brings them together and makes them shake hands, which makes the crowd jump to their feet. Andre reveals to Rhonda that he orchestrated the whole thing and they make out.
The next day (or maybe not, since the passage of time is iffy on this show), Hakeem is voted out by the board and Lucious is ready to be put back in power. Jamal is in the studio and Stacey Run Run has recorded her side of the track, so now he can finally just finish it. This lil' sensitive artiste just can't work without collaborators, though, and every time he looks at the empty mic stand next to him, he loses his mojo. Just move it out of the studio! He tries to get Freda back, but she calmly turns him down. So much for that violent streak.
Finally, in the most mind-fucking-boggling scene, Thirsty visits a literal old folks' home in Pennsylvania looking for … LEAH WALKER. LUCIOUS'S DANG MOM. Thirsty hands the orderly a stack of cash to make sure this old woman, who doesn't seem to be too connected to reality, doesn't … break out of the old folks' home, I guess? All I have to say is WHAT WHAT WHAT THIS IS A TWIST TOO EXTREME EVEN FOR EMPIRE. First, Lucious lies about his name. Now, his mother is alive. I hope the season finale reveals that Lucious is really Zoe Saldana with a nose prosthetic.