I love Empire. I really do. There is a special place in my heart for this unapologetically black nighttime soap. But unfortunately, Empire does not always have its shit together. More often than not, I’m sitting at home going “Girl, what?” As Cher Horowitz once said, they have a tendency to stumble into some bad lighting. But every now and then, every once in a blue moon, the show will hit it out of the park. It’s like Empire suddenly got a full night of sleep and had an açaí-smoothie bowl before showing up to work instead of snorting a packet of Emergen-C like it usually does.
This stunner of an episode begins with Tiana performing the first song in a while that sounds like it’s from this decade. She’s practicing for the Helen Von Wyeth fashion show. Helen Von Wyeth is played by the incomparable Gina Gershon. I was stunned and thrilled when Ms. Gershon’s face was underneath that angular wig. She didn’t get thrown down any stairs or anything, but she did have a bizarre accent from somewhere in Europe … or Cape Cod. Helen needs a little “urban flavor” for her show after a little PR debacle, and Cookie brings Angelo and his mom to check out the rehearsal. Wouldn’t you know it, Mama DuBois knows Helen and they both invite Jamal to perform at Mama DuBois’ fundraiser for Angelo’s campaign. Jamal is ready to get back on that performing horse.
Andre is having his 2:30 p.m. chat with his ghost wife when Nessa comes in and scares him out of his reverie. He’s cooking up some ideas for positioning Nessa to take advantage of new business ventures with Empire. Just imagine Andre with a 1920s silent film villain’s mustache for this entire episode to get his vibe. Meanwhile, Lucious is getting a manicure and bemoaning that he has to spend time with women when Thirsty comes in. Thirsty and his little birds have been following Duke Page, trying to find out how to blackmail him. The man doesn’t drink, he doesn’t screw broads, he doesn’t do nothing! Lucious thinks he might be able to find a way to “destabilize him.” Imagine Lucious with the same villainous mustache.
When Cookie meets with Helen to put the final touches on the fashion show, Helen decides it would be a good idea to straighten Tiana’s hair and dress her in all white and maybe just change her name to “Jessica O’Donnell” for the show. Helen also accuses Cookie of chasing that high-class life with the DuBois family. Andre brings Nessa to the runway to ask if Nessa could shadow Tiana to learn the ropes of being a successful recording artist. Cookie is still pissed that Andre missed dinner with Angelo’s mom, but she lets Nessa sit in with Tiana during her fitting.
Lucious takes Grandma Walker and Boo Boo Kitty out for afternoon tea. Everyone is tired of living on top of each other in Lucious’ mansion! They can’t live like this! There’s only seven bedrooms! Boo Boo Kitty feels stifled because she was doing to be Shyne’s head of A&R, but now she’s at home with the baby and keeping Grandma Walker out of her makeup. Grandma Walker starts screaming about how Lucious keeps her locked up in a dungeon and how he never feeds her. Duke Page is outside listening in, and realizes the best way to get dirt on Lucious is by using Grandma Walker. Meanwhile, Porsha is helping Tiana try on her outfit for the fashion show while Nessa watches. Tiana is annoyed at the cape and the train of the dress and asks Nessa to help her out of it. Nessa lays the dress DIRECTLY on top of a hot curling iron and it bursts into flames like it’s made of gasoline-soaked newspaper. Tiana goes on a rant about how racist Helen is and she’s only working with Empire so people don’t think she’s racist. Instead of going to get help, Nessa slinks over to the mirror and puts on Tiana’s lipstick like she’s Cristal Connors.
Meanwhile, Grandma Walker goes to the doctor’s office and Duke Page sneaks her out for an ice-cream cone to talk about how terrible Lucious is and how Lucious and Boo Boo Kitty hate each other. Duke Page says he knows how to make them all go away. Seriously, who doesn’t have an evil mustache this week? Back at Empire HQ, Tiana’s rant against Helen was recorded, so Andre volunteers to go smooth things over. He stops by Helen’s house where she’s brushing her daughter’s hair and explains that she’s not racist — she lets a black millionaire’s children swim in her pool! Andre suggests that she should try another artist with a more authentic sound. Someone … maybe … like his new girlfriend? He walks out twirling his mustache if Helen doesn’t agree.
Jamal practices his performance with a new VR therapy with his PTSD therapist. It’s a little exposure therapy with a computer-simulated Freda Gatz. He’s able to confront all the images of Freda but he has a breakdown with Lucious comes in the room. Interesting.
Grandma Walker is still sneaking off to meet Duke Page and tells him stories about his father because that’s what he’s really after, I guess. Deep down. Helen’s daughter wakes up to find her precious, straight, white-girl hair cut off in her sleep.
My boyfriend watches Empire with me and usually suspends his disbelief for many of the over-the-top elements to appease me. But this? Helen’s daughter waking up with no hair? He could not get over this. He talked about it for hours afterward and kept asking me, “Did they ever figure out how that girl’s hair got cut? Did he put a hex on her? Is he a warlock? Was that what he was doing when he put on that hat and walked out?”
Hakeem meets with Andre to accuse him of sabotaging Tiana’s performance at the fashion show. Hakeem tries to swing on his brother, but Andre holds him down and kisses his forehead in the weirdest display of dominance. It doesn’t matter because Andre’s plan worked and Nessa gets to perform at the fashion show, which has suddenly morphed into an India.Aire video with a slideshow of black women holding daisies and all-black models. There were completely different clothes before! Helen takes the opportunity to pull Mama DuBois aside and tell her to be careful around the Lyons. They might be witches. Hakeem and Tiana are watching at home and Hakeem starts braiding Tiana’s hair. Oh lord, these two again.
In my favorite scene in the episode, Boo Boo Kitty is waiting for Lucious at home, wearing some amazing lingerie, and she starts slapping every expensive vase off tables and mantles. She’s literally being an evil kitty. She uses sexuality to guilt and confuse Lucious into giving her whatever she wants. Grandma Walker breaks up their sexual terrorism and Lucious follows her into the study to reveal that they’ve been playing Duke Page the whole time! *GASP*
Finally, Jamal has the whole family over the play his new song for them. It’s all about Lucious being a terrible father and how he made Cookie metaphorically kill her father. He asks his brothers to stand up to Lucious, but they just can’t seem to muster up the courage. Cookie tells Jamal to stop poking around their past and Lucious reveals that Cookie was the one who arranged the hit on Frank Gathers. *DOUBLE GASP* Lucious storms out, saying that they’re not all good or all bad and he will never apologize for loving Cookie. You shouldn’t Lucious. You really shouldn’t.