Empire Season Premiere Recap: Family Matters


Light in Darkness
Season 3 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
EMPIRE: Taraji P. Henson in the
Taraji P. Henson as Cookie. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Cookie, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is on Swift Stream. Empire! Praise be! This episode is ah-mah-zing. The drama. The pantsuits. The arrival of a new diva-in-training. Birdman made an appearance. I want to lay boughs at the feet of this episode. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Season three opens right where we left off, with the Family Lyon spilling into the streets after Lucious’s “wedding.” Jamal is tasked with getting Grandma home, and Lucious is going after Hakeem as he storms off in his vintage “Just Married” ca— OH SHIT, RHONDA FALLS OFF THE ROOF ONTO A CAR WHILE EPIC OPERA MUSIC BLARES.

Up on the roof, Andre is screaming at Boo Boo Kitty and starts strangling her, when suddenly her water breaks and a fireman carries her away from the scene of the crime. Oh, Andre. You dear, sweet, tragic light-skinned Eeyore. Has anyone been through more than Andre? No. Not at all. Not even close. I think saving your father’s new “wife” who caused the miscarriage of your child and just murdered your wife because she’s going to have your younger brother’s baby is officially too much. I’m starting a GoFundMe for Andre to take a damn vacation.

Cookie is cutting Lucious’s face out of family photos when she gets the call that everything is terrible and rushes out to the hospital. Hakeem, meanwhile, has decided to take this opportunity to continue the Lyon family tradition of making terrible decisions and heads to Tiana’s apartment to take his pants off and pass out. To his surprise, she doesn’t want to take him back! He doesn’t get the call that everything is on fire.

Cookie brings a box of Rhonda’s things to the hospital to give to Andre. He’s more interested in completely disavowing God. Cookie suggests that they go to the chapel and pray. Andre doesn’t want any part of this religion bullshit. He’s done with God. Whoa. Without “religious” as one of his main characteristics, I wonder what the Empire writers are going to fall back on … oh. That’s right. “Irresponsible portrayal of bipolar disorder.” This should be fun.

Lucious storms in with a row of federal agents behind him. Those agents are mad because Lucious is flagrant. Lucious heads into the delivery room to welcome his premature grandchild/child into the world. Instead of guiding Boo Boo Kitty through Lamaze breathing exercises, he whispers the official story in her ear: Rhonda jumped off the roof and Boo Boo Kitty tried to stop her, and if she doesn’t go along with that story, she’s going to find herself in a similar situation. It’s a threat! I mean … a girl! Lucious is pissed that it’s a girl and refuses to cut the cord. Congratulations! It’s baby’s first interaction with the patriarchy!

To mitigate his disappointment, Lucious engages in some Jay Gatsby cosplay with actual Birdman and French Montana during a poker game. He reveals the plan for this season: Empire Records will buy Swift Stream and rename it Empire XStream. I can’t tell if anyone is pronouncing it “extreme” or if they’re putting too much emphasis on the X. Lucious wants to take over Times Square with a huge launch, and Jamal is going to perform. First, though, he has to command Jamal to do it. Jamal hasn’t performed since he was straight-up shot and confined to a wheelchair but NBD. Hakeem and Jamal meet up to be chastised by their parents. Lucious tells Hakeem that, unless he steps up, he’ll be a deadbeat dad. No shit, Lucious. Cookie backs up Lucious, and Lucious takes that to mean that he can get into Cookie’s Harlequin pantsuit. Cookie tells him that marrying Boo Boo Kitty closed her pantsuits to him forever.

Hakeem takes “step up as a father” to mean “record some new music” and heads to the studio. While he’s working on his new song, Suge Knight — er, I mean Shyne — storms into the studio, insults Hakeem, and throws the sound engineer around. He tells Hakeem that if he wants some real music, come find him. Lucious faces off with Shyne and agrees to feature Nessa, a woman we’ve never heard or seen, on a song. Is there a word for “makes decisions with no evidence”? Is that what Lucious means in Latin?

Cookie is sitting around with Candace and Carol, reminiscing about terrible wigs like you do, when suddenly every other word out their mouths is “Duke Page.” Cookie is suspicious and discovers that Duke Page is hiding behind a decorative sconce in her hallway. Ruh-roh. Lucious arranges for Boo Boo Kitty to move into his house without her consent to keep up appearances. Boo Boo Kitty reluctantly agrees and meets Grandma Walker in the kitchen while she’s cutting an absurd amount of carrots. She threatens Boo Boo Kitty with a knife and goes on with her day. Family. Lucious invites Duke Page over for dinner to really sell the charade and offers him some scrapple and eggs.

Shyne is working with Hakeem in the studio while Nessa plays Candy Crush in the corner. Shyne changed Hakeem’s track, and it actually sounds like a modern rap song. That’s new for Empire.

Jamal is rehearing his song for the XStream launch and, oh Lord, he lists victims of police brutality shootings, rhymes “Orlando” with “Philando,” and it’s all a protest song for Freda Gatz. Empire, why? At least Nessa is getting a little camera time as she stands completely in shadow.

When Duke Page sits down with the Lyons, it’s time for the most awkward family dinner in history. Duke misinterpreted the invite for a “roast” and goes around the table laying out each family members’ flaws, then demands Lucious and Boo Boo Kitty bang in front of him. Andre is a henchman. Hakeem’s love life is a mess. Cookie is a loser who got left for a “mulatto bitch.” Boom! Roasted! Jamal jumps up to defend Cookie and inadvertently roasts himself. Cookie kicks Duke Page out.

On to the XStream launch. Jamal takes the stage after the weirdest intro by Lucious: “Performing for the first time since his brief taste of the Angel of Death.” Jamal is getting ready to start his protest song, but the camera flashes are giving him flashbacks to when Freda straight-up shot him, and he runs off the stage. Nessa, seeing her opportunity to steal any light whatsoever, rushes to the mic and performs the song in her Balmain dress. Jamal can’t get himself together in time to make it back onstage, and the crowd goes crazy for Nessa.

After being disappointed by his son, Lucious goes home to the baby who may or may not legally be his daughter. While he’s comforting little baby Bella, Cookie arrives wearing the husk of a Muppet and tells him once and for all that she’s gone. She’s got her “fuck you” fund ready, and she wants control of the music. We also get a completely useless flashback of young Cookie and young Lucious played by two children who look nothing like Taraji and Terrence. Lucious lets her go.

Meanwhile, Andre is sitting at Jamal’s house, crying with no shirt on and screaming, “Andre messed up!” Then GHOST RHONDA SHOWS UP and tells him that he’s nothing without her and he can’t even manage his medications without her. He’s just a Philly thug with mental problems. Way harsh, Ghost Rhonda.

While Lucious puts Baby Bella back in her crib, we zoom in on one of the teddy bears. There’s a camera inside, streaming footage straight to Duke Page’s iPad. We end the episode with a long shot of the teddy bear’s cold unblinking eyes. We’re in for a doozy of a season.

Empire Season Premiere Recap: Family Matters