When Empire makes even the smallest attempt to slow down and scale back the number of scenes where people attempt to choke each other, the show really shines! This winter finale is a treat and we get actual plot development and reveals and schemezzzz. I love a good scheme.
Angelo is making a campaign speech on Rockaway Beach in Queens, but the down-to-Earth borough folk can smell the bougie on him and start heckling. Cookie snatches the mic and talks about her dad being a plumber and how, even though her boyfriend went to Columbia (#humblebrag), he’s still the same kid who grew up in Harlem. There are murmurs in the crowd of approval and Cookie seals the deal by saying that the fancy fundraiser will be a street festival headlined by Empire artists. Jamal will come out of retirement! There will be free cotton candy! Unlimited drink tickets! Cookie is promising the moon and Madame DuBois doesn’t think she can get it all handled.
Jamal starts practicing for his big performance when he stumbles past the tape boundaries set up for him. He’s never going to get it. He can’t be trusted to stay on the stage. He’ll never get through the whole performance without falling or having a flashback or finding out that someone wants to sabotage him. Lucious comes into the multipurpose room where Jamal is practicing with Philip to sow some seeds of doubt. What a caring father. He warns Cookie that if she’s putting her new relationship over the health of their son, she’ll never forgive herself. Where was all this concern for your children when you arranged the murder of Frank Gathers that lead to your son being literally shot in the damn gut, Lucious?
Meanwhile, Duke Page is sitting in the FBI headquarters filing away the Comey letter when his supervisor stops by to see this new “evidence” he has found. No, it’s not evidence of Russian tampering. It’s a cell phone video of Freda Gatz rapping at the cookout. Duke flips over his Carrie Mathison board where he’s connected emails and photos with bits of string and push pins. Freda’s lyrics are the yellow line that connects some emails from Lucious to the murders of Frank Gathers’s goons in prison. Since Duke can’t prove it yet, the captain agrees to freeze Empire’s assets for 30 days so they can bring Lucious to justice.
In what appears to be one of my fever dreams, Lucious rides with Madame DuBois on a Ferris wheel. She agrees to break up Cookie and Angelo if Lucious can find a way to bury a story that’s set to leak about Angelo. Lucious says that this is just like the history of America: old black women asking younger black men to intimidate journalists. That’s what Hamilton is about, right? I still haven’t seen it. Lucious agrees to the deal because he’s a garbage person whose hobby is sabotaging Cookie’s every happiness.
Meanwhile, Jamal is cooking with Cookie (oh, that would make an amazing Food Network show!) when she parrots Lucious’s concerns. Jamal reassures her that he’s got everything under control and Cookie demands that he hand over all of his pills so he won’t backslide. He’s got pills hidden all over his apartment, including in a cereal box. Someone I know lived above a drug dealer and made friends with him and the drug dealer used to store his stash in a cereal box. I’m glad Empire found one modicum of authenticity. Jamal is dressed like an NPC from Assassin’s Creed.
Lucious takes the journalist, Anderson Cruise, who is definitely not Anderson Cooper–inspired, to his nightclub where he’s set up an entire intimidation haunted house. Spooky rappers pop out to rap at Anderson’s face while Lucious sneaks up behind him to whisper spooky things in his ear. It works? When Lucious tells Madame DuBois that their plan worked, she reveals that she won’t break Cookie and Angelo up because of the polling bump Cookie gives Angelo’s campaign (and his pants). She offers Lucious an ambassadorship because that’s what mayor’s mothers can offer? Lucious shrugs it off and moves on.
Andre is enjoying a nap on his couch when Nessa comes in and wakes him up. He spills his whole mental-health history and says that Rhonda used to take care of him. Nessa says she won’t take care of him, but she will help him help himself. Ghost Rhonda sits across the room and approves. Meanwhile, Lucious heads over to the FBI headquarters with Thirsty to demand to be arrested. Lucious produces a badge from his pocket and reveals to the entire FBI staff that Duke is his brother and gives him their father’s old badge. Is this what Quantico is like?
It’s the big fundraising day and Jamal is nowhere to be found. Cookie rushes over to his apartment and finds him living out the second act of Ray. Cookie uses her hereditary plumbing skills to fish out his pills she washed down the sink. She gets him to take his feel-good pills.
Lucious meets with Shyne to tell him all about Empire’s financial troubles. Shyne offers to liquidate some of his businesses and some of his cash to help Lucious in exchange for a stake in Empire. Onstage at the fundraiser, Hakeem kisses Tiana after their duet and the crowd is chanting “TA-KEEM,” which is the worst couple name. Andre sits on the beach nearby and watches as Ghost Rhonda walks into the ocean so he can be free of her and move on. She literally walks into the ocean in a white gown.
Jamal makes it to the performance dressed in his finest white tunic and blazer. He goes on stage and he’s doing it! He’s really doing it! Taking drugs only leads to achieving your goals! Duke Page sidles up to Shyne in a bar and — *GASP* — Shyne has been the mole the whole time! He’s cooperating for immunity and if he can manage a little equity in Empire at the same time, that’s even mo’ better! Jamal performs one song and is ushered offstage by Cookie and told he has to go to rehab. Like right now. Lucious places on hand on Jamal’s heart and tells him it’s time. Jamal breaks down crying and walks off with Lucious.
Angelo and Cookie are leaving the festival when Lucious walks up with Anderson Cruise! Anderson asks Angelo about his DUI … and how he drove a girl into a lake and let her drown. Oh girl, he might be a lesser Kennedy. Cookie is aghast.
Finally, Andre meets with Shyne in the nightclub and reveals that he’s known about Shyne being the mole. He tracked the money and car washes. Andre says that Lucious hates a snitch, but there’s a way this all could be forgiven — if Shyne helps Andre kill Lucious. GUYS. WHAT A DAMN TWIST.