Finally, Empire is answering the question: Who else is a recording artist at Empire Records? For the last three seasons, there’s been Hakeem, Jamal, Tiana … and that’s it. Who else is putting out albums for Empire? Has Andre ever tried his hand at atmospheric R&B? Cookie is putting every other artist through the wringer and making them appear before her. We get some strange “artists” to fill out the roster. Then, as if Empire couldn’t introduce any more strange elements, Dwight starts referring to himself in the third person and we get a bizarre third-act Prince tribute. But all in all, it’s a pretty solid episode. This season feels like a real television series.
This episode starts with more flashbacks than is reasonable as Cookie tells Lucious the story of one of her fights in jail. She was watching him on 106 & Park when another inmate, Pound Cake, changed the channel to the chicken-fight episode of Family Guy. Great use of Fox programming. Cookie wanted to change the channel back and when Pound Cake wouldn’t, Cookie started a fight. Pound Cake slashed her hand and unfortunately, it was a day before Lucious was coming to see Cookie. Lucious wanted to have the guards explain what happened to Cookie, but she wanted him to focus on their time together. Li’l Baby Jamal wanted to come visit Cookie in prison so Lucious brought him too, but that was the last time Lucious ever came to visit her.
In the present, Dwight starts to refer to himself in the past as Lucious and “he/him.” Dwight says that Lucious never would have abandoned Cookie. Dwight is going to make up for everything he/him didn’t do for Cookie. Dwight agrees to go with Cookie to Empire. But before they leave, Demi Moore shows up. Oh shit, dis bitch.
Everyone gives Dwight a hero’s welcome and he has to pretend he remembers everyone and weirds everyone out by being supportive and kind. They all go to listen to Hakeem’s song and Hakeem needs to STOP. DOING. THE. MOST. He can’t just play his song or rap. He has to do a full choreographed number in the studio while he eats cheese popcorn like a fucking maniac while he lip-syncs to the song. I know the actor is a rapper, but he plays all the music scenes in such an over-the-top way that I can’t stop rolling my eyes. It’s too much and he needs to calm down. The song is called “Shut Up, Bitch” and it’s about “the hypocrisy of democracy.” Guys, can we not? Cookie says it’s not good enough to be the alpha of the 20-for-20 roll-out so she’s holding tryouts.
Again, who are all these people? Jamal refuses to compete and he runs off to the studio. There’s the Solange doppelgänger and a rapper called “Paintbrush” which would NEVER be a rapper. Cookie throws Tori Ash out of the audition because a white girl isn’t going to kick off the 20 for 20. Tiana performs a song called “Put That Sexy on ’Em” that definitely sounds like a Beyoncé reject from 2009. She’s doing a whole ratchet Sweet Charity thing. Lucious starts his introspective ramblings to show that he’s changed. He calls Tiana the branch, but not the roots.
Tori runs off to Jamal and they collaborate on a song where they compare love to … get this … A DRUG. They act like it’s some revolutionary new concept. Guys, Kesha literally did a song called “Your Love Is My Drug.” But fine. They’re having fun.
Angelo shows up to bother Anika and offer his services in taking the Lyons down.
Dwight doesn’t agree with Cookie’s strategy to break the artists down and he even sends EMPIRE’S TOP GRAMMY WINNER away because he’s dealing with his brother’s death so he can process. Dwight calls his music “burnt umber.” Cookie sends Dwight home if he can’t handle her style. She’s just being like he/him after all.
Anika stops by the office to help plan Bella’s birthday party and Andre snaps at her and charges at her because Bella’s birthday is also the same day Rhonda died. No one else in the family seems to be concerned about the anniversary of his wife’s death. They’re all more concerned with hiding the family secrets. The mysterious flowers he got weren’t from his family. But who?
Cookie tries to apologize to Demi Moore and tells her about the Lyon statue where Lucious slept as a child. She wants to take him there as part of his crossroads therapy, but Demi Moore says it’s too soon.
Jamal continues to work on his Love/Drug song, but this time with Warren, who says it’s fake for the lyrics to be about smudged lipstick. Jamal is ready to present the song to Cookie, but he ditches Tori Ash at the last second to bring in Warren. Everyone loves it and they’ve found their alpha.
If you told me I dreamt the next images I saw, I would believe you. Everyone is dressed like a different Prince, including baby Bella, who is dressed in a purple velvet suit and doesn’t crack a smile. That baby is completely unimpressed. Hakeem and Jamal perform “Let’s Go Crazy” and if there’s a Smash-esque version of this show where every episode included a cover, I want to live in that reality. At the end of the party, Andre slips away to meet up with faux Misty Knight and she reveals she sent the flowers. His wife’s death was in his file. They whisk each other away.
Dwight can’t bring himself to come and then Demi Moore takes him to — gasp! — THE LYON STATUE! That sneaky bitch. He decides he wants to be something different.
At the end of Bella’s party, Anika strolls over with Angelo. He’s serving papers so Anika can get sole custody of Bella.
This is heating up in the best way possible, and it all happened while Cookie was wearing a preposterous Prince wig and pink velvet. What more could you want?