What is Empire without a big, bad Lucious Lyon? Pretty good, actually. The season premiere opens with a little bit of unexplained documentary before the Empire 20th Anniversary Special, as Cookie and the family are overcome with emotion speaking about the legacy of Empire. And you can’t talk about that legacy without Lucious.
The anniversary party is going to be Lucious’s first appearance after the accident and Cookie is guiding him around backstage. And look who shows up for literally 39 seconds?! It’s Queen Latifah. Well, well, well! Look at this synergy. She’s managing a girl group and wondering if someone from Empire could produce some of their records for a crossover television event — er, just for old time’s sake.
Lucious and Cookie walk around backstage before the concert and everyone is shouting for his attention. Someone even waves a hair dryer at him. It’s overwhelming and Lucious freaks out and can’t go onstage. I would have a meltdown if someone was waving a hair dryer at me too.
Then we flash back to 24 hours earlier. Thirsty is talking to Andre about the Vegas police trying to find Nia Long. Becky runs in with Cookie and there’s some generic Empire business talk. MTV, BET, ABC, WTF! The board needs an appearance from Lucious at the anniversary special because no one seems to have any empathy for the fact that he was literally blown up just a few months ago. Hakeem is about to head out to meet Lucious and the rest of the family when Phylicia Rashad storms in because she’s amazing. She delivers some positively withering lines and I’m surprised everyone in a mile-wide radius doesn’t immediately feel their blood run cold and their butt holes clench up. She shows Hakeem some photos of him, Anika, and Bella at the DuBois household. Imagine how Cookie might feel…
Meanwhile, Andre calls Shine to make sure no one will flip on him, but Shine is getting impatient. He held up his part of the bargain. Jamal is practicing in his living room — he’s moved on to shout-singing, it seems, when Warren, the other fine DuBois son, comes over with something Jamal left at his place. Jamal definitely has a crush and Warren’s working everything he’s got to make Jamal fall for him. I can see this getting messy.
Later, the entire Lyon family is standing outside to welcome Lucious … and look who is with him? It’s Demi Freakin’ Moore! Every guest star on Empire feels like they’re just wearing a hat with their character’s name on it. I’m not here to see Demi Moore lose herself in the role. Lucious won’t answer to the name “Lucious” anymore: He prefers to be called Dwight and he’s walking on crutches because he’s lost his leg. The first bombshell he drops is he tells Cookie he can’t be in the anniversary show with her. He doesn’t even know who Lucious Lyon is.
They put on some of Lucious’s music to help him remember something, but he thinks all his songs are too violent and full of hatred. He likes to spend time with Bella and look at family albums, but no one will tell him anything even remotely negative. Like, why there isn’t a photo of Cookie within a 17-year span.
Phylicia Rashad is chastising her son for not making Jamal fall completely in love with him sooner, and she says, “I don’t give a flying fig about complications with his father. I want her to suffer. I will pick the meat from her offspring’s bones while she watches helplessly.” Good Goddamn.
Cookie confronts Demi Moore because she sees her sitting with Lucious by the lake on Lucious’s estate, giggling and holding hands. She tells Demi that she’s got 30 minutes to pack her bags and Demi Moore says that Lucious is just building trust with her and confuses the trust in his mind for something else. Cookie knows Lucious has a hard time keeping it in his pants. Lucious tries to connect with Cookie by talking about what happened that night. She tells him about how he gave the business to Andre, how they said they were gonna travel the world together, and how he pushed Cookie out the way and saved her life. She’s fighting to get him back. Damn it, the show has won me back on this awful relationship.
They’re all eating outside and Lucious plays a song that he actually likes from his catalogue and it’s one that Cookie wrote for him. Jamal tells him the whole story but leaves out Cookie being in jail. Lucious also responds positively to Jamal telling him about his love life. Lucious then asks Cookie what it felt like to never get credit for her work. Who is this new Lucious? Oh, right, Dwight.
Andre gets heated during the conversation because they have to gloss over Cookie’s jail time and then Hakeem jumps up to say the corniest line of the season. I know it’s episode one, but it’s pretty damn bad: “Lucious Lyon was a Mac, not this guy hopping around on one leg and singing love songs.” Hakeem. Can you fucking not?
Lucious gets upset and tries to escape, but the family follows him and gives him an ominous group hug.
It’s time for the anniversary special. Hakeem is performing while Lucious has an anxiety attack backstage. Demi Moore calms him down and Cookie feels threatened and tries to tell Lucious that he doesn’t have to do the appearance. Lucious is rubbing Demi’s hand and it’s not looking good for this relationship. He finally calms down and comes out onstage and everyone is murmuring. No one is polite or compassionate about his injuries.
He delivers a passionate speech about the future of the company and gives Cookie credit for her work. He also shows off his new leg. They all celebrate: Jamal and Hakeem perform in tons of metallic glitter while Cookie and Lucious make eyes at each other in the crowd. As this is all going on, Shine finally calls Andre back … and he’s in a car with the explosives guy from the Vegas deal. Shine puts Andre on speakerphone while he takes out the explosives guy, and then he delivers his awesome line: “Y’know where else is nice this time of year? Hell.”
After the special, Lucious breaks it to Cookie that he can’t remember her and he was only putting on the character of “Lucious” for the crowd. Cookie looks at him as he’s getting ready to leave with Demi Moore and says, “Lucious, you gon’ remember me. I’m Cookie Lyon. I’m unforgettable.”