It’s been three months since the midseason finale of Empire, which returns Wednesday. The show’s sophomore season hasn’t lived up to the juicy, sudsy, must-watch fun of the first season. The storytelling was rushed, the music wasn’t as good, there was too much weak stunt casting and a focus on dull, new characters. (Sorry, Laura.) The ratings for the season premiere were 6.7 and slid to 4.5 by the midseason finale. That’s not meager and still trounces the competition, but let’s hope the show steps it up for these last eight episodes.
Here’s a refresher course on the Lyons’ highs and lows during the season’s first 10 episodes.
Lucious: Papa Lyon spent a few months in prison multitasking after getting convicted of murdering Bunkie. He kept tabs on things and saw that Cookie was spearheading a hostile takeover of Empire, which he’d left in the hands of Jamal. Lucious used his time to take care of season 1 bogeyman Frank Gathers—who was out to get Cookie for giving the feds information about him in exchange for an early release. When Gathers showed up in the same prison as Lucious, he was terrifying. Haha! It was just Chris Rock as a wimpy cannibal. Lucious arranged a hit and that was the end of that.
He also used his time to go into a supply room and record a song about a “snitch bitch” and managed to thwart Cookie’s takeover by getting Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), the shady venture capitalist Cookie was courting, to switch sides.
Dogged prosecutor Roxanne Ford (Tyra Ferrell, aka Doughboy’s mama) tried to take Lucious down by cutting off access to his meds and subduing him into submission with an aggressive pushup bra, but her case hinged on testimony from the missing-in-action, aka dead, Vernon. Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo), a shifty but cunning lawyer in a purple suit, showed up and got Lucious bail by blackmailing the judge.
We found out that, like Andre, Lucious’ mom (Kelly Rowland) was bipolar, and she would play Russian roulette in front of her son. The consequences were devastating because Lucious ended up writing that “Boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang” song and we heard it all season.
Lucious was obsessed with becoming a big shot in the music-streaming business, regaining street cred with Gutter Life Records and doting on Freda Gatz (Bre-Z), Frank Gathers’ daughter and his latest protégé, whom he pitted against Hakeem.
Cookie: She arranged an insincere, self-promotional and minor-celebrity-studded (hey, Don Lemon!) Free Lucious! rally and delivered a speech in a gorilla suit about Black Lives Matter and the so-called justice system. She launched her own label, Lyon Dynasty, with Hakeem and Andre. They set up shop in a decrepit building.
It turns out that Cookie has a bougie sister, Candace (Vivica A. Fox). They joined forces and traded insults as they looked for their sister Carol, who was in a Philly drug den. Cookie brought Carol to live with her; Candace made a comment to Carol that implies the addict is keeping a secret from Cookie.
Jamal: With Lucious in the can, Jamal briefly carried the torch as the head of Empire and being a jerk. His low points included an unflattering stubbly beard, kicking his brothers out of Chez Lyon and slamming the door in his mother’s face. Jamal seemed like he was over being a gay icon and trying to distance himself from the movement. Jamal reconciled with his season 1 boyfriend Michael, but they broke up, thanks to the continued seduction attempts by a weird, pervy photographer, whom Jamal resisted but Michael didn’t.
Jamal stopped acting like a jerk and got a big Pepsi commercial. He also kissed a girl, pop singer Skye Summers (Alicia Keys), and he liked it, but after their hookup, which Skye described as “beautiful,” they parted as friends.
Jamal eventually got tired of the tug-of-war between his parents and collaborated with both of them.