Empire already has to deal with a lot of individual pain — Cookie’s, Jamal’s, Andre’s — and then it decides to take on black people’s pain in general. Empire, I love you and your newfound focus this season (despite the inexplicable flashbacks to teenage Cookie and Lucious), but I don’t know if you’re the right show to take on police brutality and the trauma of the black community. Also, I don’t think Lucious should be speaking at an anti-violence summit. He’s killed about 38 people.
At least tonight’s episode also gives us a new foil to Lucious and his criminal ways. Say hello to Taye Diggs as Angelo DuBois, which is the exact name you’d make up if someone were like, “Make up a bougie-ass character for Empire.” Let’s get to it.
Cookie wakes up in her nighttime headscarf and people are ringing her doorbell to drop off lavish gifts. Gilded street signs, golden guns, giant marble lions. She gets dressed and puts on her daytime headscarf and tells Porsha to get rid of all the gifts and tell Lucious that she’s done with him. Apparently his version of a romantic gesture is a series of gilded symbols of their time together … and an espresso machine. Meanwhile, Lucious is waking up to another unpleasant surprise: Boo Boo Kitty is interviewing nannies. Lucious kicks out all the friendly-looking ladies in their sweater sets, then reminds Boo Boo Kitty that they’re still under investigation by the FBI and any one of these nannies could be a mole. Grandma Lyon offers to raise Baby Bella and turn her into a criminal record producer. It takes a village.
Jamal is on a radio show with Angelo DuBougie because it’s an effective plot device. There is no other reason. Angelo is a city councilman who wants to organize an anti-violence summit and diagnose Jamal with PTSD, which he totally has but everyone in his family will ignore it for decades because that’s what the Lyons do with mental illness. I look forward to Lucious finally accepting Jamal’s PTSD in 2036. Jamal and Cookie agree to do some work with Angelo’s outreach group called … oh hell … W.O.K.E. Everyone who works for Empire is 60 years old. Angelo is a dark-skinned goodie-two-shoes and Cookie immediately doesn’t trust him. She’s gonna bang him by episode four.
Lucious is meeting with Shyne, Nessa, and Hakeem, who thinks that now is the time for his Life of Pablo–esque magnum opus. Hakeem, now is not the time for that. I don’t know if it’s ever going to be the right time for your Life of Pablo. Hakeem wants to work with Nessa, but Lucious cock-blocks his own son and reminds him that he has a baby. Cookie stops by to drop off the jewelry Lucious has been delivering by drone to her apartment. She tells him that he needs to respect her boundaries. Lucious pivots to talking about getting Jamal back onstage. Cookie glides out because Lucious is being ridiculous and says “Bye Fe’Lucious” and a new meme is born.
Jamal is leading the teens from W.O.K.E. through the Empire lobby, hoping to get a glimpse of some shady business dealings. Lucious spies Angelo, sizes up his unfortunate goatee, and offers to host the anti-violence summit in his spaceship nightclub because it’s an appropriate place for children. Hakeem is in the studio with Nessa in what will be the first of many montages of them inspiring each other and falling in love. Unfortunately for Hakeem, Shyne stops by to check on their work and decks a studio tech in the damn face for looking at Nessa’s butt. Hakeem stares into the camera like he’s Jim Halpert. Ruh roh, Hakeem.
Cookie and Becky are working in the boardroom when Lucious storms in with a new track for Jamal. It’s the corniest Kidz Bop nonsense this show has ever done. It also samples “Just a Friend” and starts the first of many useless flashbacks to teenage Cookie and Lucious. We learn that Lil’ Cookie strolled right up to Lil’ Lucious and started dancing at him. At that very moment, Lucious realized he would doggedly pursue Cookie for the rest of his life and she realized she wanted to be in the music business. In case anyone wanted to know the difference between men and women.
Andre is home alone, clutching all his meds, when he hears the disembodied voice of Ghost Rhonda taunting him. Jamal walks in. Andre breaks down and tells Jamal that he can’t take care of himself anymore. Jamal offers to help his brother and Trai Byers continues to act his ass off on this show.
Seriously, someone get Trai Byers on a better show. He breaks my heart in every scene.
While Lucious preps for the anti-violence summit, Cookie interrupts to tell him not to trust what Angelo’s selling. Why does Lucious continue to invite government agents into his life? He can’t stop murdering people and committing crimes! Lucious tells her that Angelo is some “petty government bureaucrat, some bougie-ass Jack and Jill agent.” Lucious is channeling Colin Powell with that one. Cookie goes over to Angelo and tears him a new one for being unable to relate to the kids he mentors. They’re definitely going to bang next episode.
Also, Lucious hires Biz Markie to sing for Cookie for no discernible reason. We get another flashback to see that Cookie was dating some poor dark-skinned boy when Lucious first spied her. He was going to work hard to provide her a good life, but Cookie was like “Naaaaaaah” and went after Lucious’s delinquent ass.
At the summit, a child raps about staying “out the pen” and somewhere Jermaine Dupri is tapping him for season three of The Rap Game. (Anyone else furious that Mani won? Lil Key was robbed!) Lucious tries pushing Jamal to sing again, then Jamal has another panic attack because he has PTSD. Why do you keep doing this to him? Jamal rushes into the spaceship tunnel and finally admits that he has a problem. Lucious insists the only way to deal with a problem is “to deal with the problem.” Okay, just force your child over and over to be triggered. That’s healthy. Angelo admires Cookie and Lucious for being an example of black love and Cookie makes sure to tell him that she’s single. Wiiiiink.
Becky gets a little love this episode when J Poppa returns to tell her that he got another record deal and he’s leaving Empire. Just one thing: The deal is conditional on Becky being made head of A&R at his new label. She’s weirdly loyal, though, so J Poppa tells her that Empire is about to go down in flames and she shouldn’t do down with it. Then they bang it out all. Night. Long.
Andre, Hakeem, and Jamal mix their meds with alcohol and commiserate about everything in their terrible lives. Meanwhile, Boo Boo Kitty is putting Baby Bella to bed when she realizes that the baby monitor is picking up some strange signals. Lucious wakes up from his nap and rips out the camera eyes of the teddy bear that Duke Page left in their nursery.
Finally, Andre stops by his and Rhonda’s apartment to grab a few things when the cops suddenly show up because they think he’s robbing the place. If he is, he’s the slowest, most casual burglar in the history of burglary. Because Empire has to be relevant and W.O.K.E., the episode ends with Andre on the ground with a gun in his face as a cop calls him “boy.” Empire, stahp. We get it.