A temporary set back, and nothing more.
This week in the Lyonverse, Lucious declares the words “I’m a God” and is not met with scoffs, Pitbull and Timbaland irrationally occupy the same space, and Cookie destroys dinner in the best way imaginable.
After his ill-fitting burgundy-suited attorney aids his grand exit from prison, Lucious Lyon holds an oddly brief press conference in which he marks “a new era for the Empire.” Unfortunately, this new era is immediately sullied with messiness. Cookie and Hakeem are hell-bent on coming for Lucious’ throne with their very own label, Lyon Dynasty, and they even have a hot Hakeem single to pioneer their new sound. Hakeem performs on Sway’s radio show as Sway nods in approval and he embodies his usual stage persona (bluffing at every turn, even neglecting to hold the microphone up to his mouth in order to pull up his shirt and reveal his abs.) In the subsequent interview, Sway is the ultimate shit starter and calls Lucious to rat Hakeem out for leaking his own album. All throughout the episode, Sway is given a level of authority that very few guest stars before him have managed to receive; so much so that once Sway notes rumors that Lyon Dynasty is nothing more than a gaggle of Empire cast-offs, Hakeem and Cookie feel immense pressure to prove him wrong. Sway. Colossal Hat MTV News Sway. Okay, fine, Empire, we’ll go with it. Under Sway-induced duress, Hakeem promises to debut Lyon Dynasty’s under prepared and volatile girl group, Mirage-a-Trois, on the radio show later on that week despite Cookie’s pleas to decline.
Later at Lucious’ crib, the fam painfully endures each others life updates over dinner, as we learn Lucious and Jamal have not yet begun working together. Andre stews in the corner but to be honest he is just so damn handsome I do not even recall what he was saying. Tensions boil over when Lucious nonchalantly accuses everyone at the table for “trying to destroy him.” Cookie is not sorry and refuses to dismantle Lyon Dynasty, and Lucious retorts by calling Hakeem his “ex-son” and insisting they let the Dynasty go. Cookie, white wine in hand, gracefully drags the table runner with her on the way out, ruining dinner in a profoundly satisfying power move. This moment, crafted by the talented ‘Empire’ writer Attica Locke, is a triumph for the series. In that moment, each character’s reaction is the perfect illustration of their emotional state in season two thus far. Lucious grabs his drink before it hits the floor, nearly turned on by Cookie’s doubt in him. Pregnant Rhonda flinches and covers her head, flabbergasted, while Jamal hides his face in near tears. All in all, the Lyons are as messy as the floor after Cookie obliterated the feast.
(As a side note, when the episode started, an imposing voice actor from Fox proclaimed, “From ‘Rosewood’ to ‘Empire’, you know Cookie likes that”, which felt so deeply inappropriate I made an audible gagging noise. I do not need anyone other than Cookie telling me what she does and does not like, thankyouverymuch.)
After they recover, an animal print-clad Cookie and Hakeem work on preparing Mirage-a-Trois for Sway-day. In the recording booth, Hakeem gets territorial about producing their single, despite the fact that he knows literally nothing and his mother is a living legend. The adorable Valentina (played by pop princess Becky G) is inching towards an Effie White-level meltdown before Cookie puts her in her place.
Over midday drinks, Andre and Lucious talk business. Andre is on his usual tip: desperate for Lucious’ approval and trying to use his analytical mind and business sense to impress his father. Unfortunately for Dre, Lucious is Lucious, and he dismisses his efforts before being interrupted by a call from Jamal. Some girl named Frida is at Empire demanding to be signed but Jamal does not recognize her. “She means everything to me, musically!” Lucious proclaims, which is a ridiculous thing to say out loud. Jamal attempts to sign her but her hood throng convinces her otherwise, leaving Jamal and Lucious to watch her DIY music video and openly yearn for her musical stylings. Big Suit mentions he recognizes the park where Frida filmed her video and they can go there to propose to her (musically), though he advises they refrain for fear of illegal activity. No one cares what Big Suit thinks, so Lucious plans to show up there and get her back.
Over at Lyon Dynasty, Anika is in Cookie’s office getting clowned and looking fraught. After last season’s antics, she’s unemployed and willing to trade Empire knowledge for work with her. She informs Cookie about a party Lucious is throwing for himself that night, at which Lucious wears a vest and allows Pitbull to perform. Naturally, Cookie hijacks the party wearing chains as clothes and introduces Hakeem, who performs a song with very on-the-nose lyrics about the Empire vs. Lyon Dynasty conflict. Timbaland shows up and suddenly Lyon Dynasty seems like a legitimate venture. Lucious waves off the attempt from the crowd but it is clear that he is already calculating his next move.
The next day Sway calls Cookie to give his approval about the Dynasty’s display at Lucious’ party, which I still cannot believe is a thing that is happening. Cookie is hard at work trying to make Mirage-a-Trois legitimate when Andre comes over to share the good news about Rhonda’s pregnancy. She encourages him to use this blessing to get back into his father’s good graces, which he suspects will not work but does anyway. Lucious’ immediate response is to worry that Andre’s child will inherit his mental illness, leading into a flashback that reveals his mother’s (Kelly Rowland, giving us very weak mania realness) similar struggles when he was growing up. Lucious claims that his heart (or whatever ice cold fragment in his chest he is referring to) is broken that Andre is trying to manipulate him with this news. When will Dre catch a break?
That evening, Lucious makes good on his word and shows up at Frida’s park, where a dope rap battle is taking place. Frida is clowning this Biggie wannabe who showed up to the battle with a weak four bars and a less-than-decent flow. When he disses her, Frida pulls a gun out of nowhere, and Lucious tries to win her back despite the pleas of Big Suit (“Unless you like prison, we gotta go.”) Frida declines his help once again and runs off with what looks like an all-black cast of Newsies. As they head out without her, they run into Ms. Floyd, the prosecutor from Lucious’ case, and Lucious attempts to sexually harass his way out of trouble. That does not work. She threatens that she has plans for him. Eerie music plays, etc.
At Dynasty, Cookie has a dance cane and is now a choreographer. The Sway-but is tomorrow and you can tell the other two girls in Mirage-a-Trois want to be a Walmart-brand Fifth Harmony so badly but Valentina’s ego just won’t let them. In a moment of supreme female empowerment, Cookie demands that the girls refrain from doing girl pushups and instead drop and give her the real thing. Valentina is full on trippin’, but calms down once Cookie reminds her “everybody wants to be Beyonce but you don’t want to put in the work.” They slowly grasp the choreography and their song is not half bad. What started off as basically a joke in the season premiere could be an almost success. The next morning is Sway-Day and Valentina is late, as indicated by Sway gesturing towards his empty wrist. Lucious shows up and pours himself a glass of orange juice. He shares that he has bought out the very radio station that they are standing in, and it is absolutely a reaction to Cookie’s display at the party. As a cherry on top, he also signed Valentina to Empire, ruining Mirage-a-Trois and filling Cookie with rage. Sway is now Lucious’ pawn, announcing Valentina’s performance “just like he promised” even though it is in fact very different than what he promised. Valentina performs as Lucious laughs to himself, satisfied, which is foolish, since it is only the third episode of the season and this show is insane.