What is this I see before me? Complex-character moments? Continued storylines? Logical plot development? Do mine eyes deceive me? This can’t be Empire. No. It can’t be. Though if it is, let the rest of the season be more like this and less like the train wreck that was last week’s episode. This is what I want from Empire. It wasn’t perfect, but hot damn, it was good. Why was it so good? Well, I have one idea.
MIMI SILVER SEQUIN JUMPSUIT WHITEMAN.
I’ve been waiting for the return of the sloppy Sapphic genius that is Marisa Tomei’s Mimi Whiteman — and it finally happened. There was a ton of new information and sepia-toned flashbacks, too. The episode actually felt like it was written by a human who wasn’t on day three of a cocaine binge.
Cookie wakes up with her new lover Adam Rodriguez, the undercover Cau Cau member. She has to go to work, but he convinces her to play hooky so he can get that Cookie. (That rhyme took me 45 minutes to write.) Now, I understand that some dick can be good and some dick can be very good but is any dick “three days in bed, no shower, eating only Chinese food” good?
Whatever the answer, Cookie comes up with the idea to start her own summer jam. Do the words “musical festival” not exist? Add that to the list of things that don’t exist in the Empire universe. Cookie’s going to do this thing, and she’s going to call it Cookie’s Cookout. Add that to the list of things I want on a tote bag with a graphic of Cookie’s eyebrows.
Adam Rodriguez peels a scallion pancake off his ass and goes out for the paper — but he’s actually going to meet with the Cau Caus and discuss their evil plan. Surprise: They want a bunch of money. That’s what most evil plans boil down to. Kidnapping Hakeem was a ploy to scare the Lyon family into paying for security provided by the Cau Caus. Now, they’re going to kidnap everyone again? I don’t know. Something like that.
Back at the Daddy Issues’s recording studio, Lucious and Mademoiselle Keef are working on a new song. The pair snap at each other: “What did your daddy do to you!?” “What did yours do to you?” This weird dynamic is already boring. Lucious pushes Freda too hard. She pushes back. He has a flashback, then gives her an inspirational speech. The track comes together. Blah blah blah. Empire, isn’t it time to send these two off to solve a mystery or enter a cooking competition or something? I’d love to see Freda and Lucious have to figure out a gugelhupf recipe on Lee Daniels’s version of The Great British Bake Off. Make it happen, Lee. I know you and Oprah chill on her couch covered in cashmere blankets watching GBBO.
Also: Whenever someone tells Lucious that he has to dig deeper, he has a flashback about burying bullets in his backyard. His flashbacks are pretty literal.
So, Lucious also goes to meet with Huey Jarvis, who holds sessions in his living room. It’s all but guaranteed that if you perform at one of Huey’s living-room sessions, you’ll get an award. Lucious has never gotten an award.
What award, though? A Grammy? A VMA? A Teen Choice Award Surfboard?
Meanwhile at Lyon Dynasty, Cookie introduces Cookie’s Cookout. For just a second, you can see a little animated Cookie on a screen behind her. If there’s not yet a Kim Kardashian: Hollywood–style game starring Cookie Lyon, where you play as her recruiting artists and wear sequined distressed jeans, every person who makes cell-phone games deserves to be fired.
It’s not all sequin jeans and animated avatars at Lyon Dynasty, though. Lil Lauren is being stepped on by Carmen, another member of Mirage à Trois with a bigger ponytail. Cookie tells Hakeem to make Carmen the lead. Hakeem responds by asking his ex-girlfriend to school the girl he’s crushing on to be cooler. I’m pretty sure this was the plot of an Amanda Bynes movie in the mid-2000’s.
For her final test, Hakeem takes Lil Lauren to a random plaza in the middle of the city, where she has to publicly sing “I Will Survive” in Spanish. And now, I no longer believe this show takes place in New York City. A giant crowd would never just stop, clap, and dance along to a cappella in the middle of a workday.
Whatever. Lil Lauren takes off her metaphorical glasses and ponytail, gets the guy, and gets to keep being the lead singer of the band with the worst name in history. Their song is about drinking mimosas and wearing yoga pants, though, so their music speaks to me on a very personal level.
Then comes Andre. Sad, conflicted Andre. I just want to get this man a vacation. I’d watch a spin-off called Andre in Paradise where he travels around tropical locales, learning to salsa dance and drink out of coconuts. Lucious asks Andre to sleep with the deputy attorney to get Freda’s charges dropped. Andre goes to see Rev. Ain’t Nobody Coming to See You Otis and tells him that Lucious is trying to make him return to his evil ways. Otis basically tells him, “Get creative. Don’t bang her but still … get weird.” So, Andre blackmails her. That’s what God wanted.
Meanwhile, there’s this whole streaming-music storyline. All of these fictional streaming sites have amazing names, like Beat Flow and Swiftstream. Instead of starting their own service, Empire is going to merge with Swiftstream. Lucious punches the founder of Swiftstream in the face, then Mimi doses him with morphine to get him to sign a contract. It was a snooze, but it was worth it to see Mimi drug a dude.
While Jamal is working on a new song about Shakespeare’s kings, he realizes he needs help. So, he asks Cookie to work her magic. Neither of them want Lucious or Hakeem to get involved. Cookie puts on an amazing dress with perfume bottles all over it, then meets Jamal for a secret dinner. They go over the track and drink two bottles of champagne because they have the best relationship ever. Then, they drunkenly stumble into the studio at Lyon Dynasty, where they end up recording all night. Cookie has to sneak Jamal out when Hakeem shows up early.
Hey, Cookie? What is that lipstick? I need it.
Jamal finds Lucious sitting on the floor playing a sitar like he’s in Moulin Rouge, trying to find that extra something for his music. Jamal tells him that he got the chance to perform at Huey’s house. Huey tells Lucious that Jamal has got that something special and Lucious is insanely jealous. He gets drunk with Mimi to celebrate their Swiftstream deal and to forget that his children are more talented than he is.
Mimi rolls up with a bevy of girls, of course. One particularly flirty sister in a Balmain-for-H&M dress goes home with both of them. Lucious and Mimi make out, she takes a call from her Lil Funyuns, and the flirty sister poses in her bra and panties on a chaise lounge. The plaything for the night has a gun tattoo on her thigh, Lucious sees it, and we complete the flashback.
When Lucious was just a baby Dwight, he had to bury Kelly Rowland’s bullets in the backyard. If she found the one he missed, she’d play Russian Roulette in front of him.
That is incredibly bleak. But now, at least he knows what his song needs: lots of gun sound effects.
Lucious Lyon is the Amelia Bedelia of hip-hop.