Empire Recap: Cookie vs. Clair Huxtable

Phylicia Rashad swoops in as the mother of Cookie’s new man, and when Cookie tries to impress her, it all goes wrong.

Phylicia Rashad, Taraji P. Henson and Taye Diggs in a scene from Empire
Phylicia Rashad, Taraji P. Henson and Taye Diggs in a scene from Empire Chuck Hodes/Fox

Remember that hilarious episode in season 1 when Boo Boo Kitty had to give etiquette lessons to Cookie? No? That didn’t happen then, but in this episode, Cookie finally learns to behave like a lady in a played-out scenario that goes on too long for my taste; but on the upside, it’s a Cookie-centric episode with a heavy emphasis on her backstory. Let’s go!

I know you were on pins and needles worrying about Jamal’s overdose. He’s in rehab now (no, not really). He’s back at work arguing with Lucious about some new creative ideas, but Lucious only wants to discuss stats and numbers, so Jamal heads to Cookie and surprises her with a home movie of Cookie and her sisters. It’s a sweet scene filled with double Dutch and “Awwwww” moments.

Cookie’s loving it until she sees a scene of her father at a birthday party; she snaps at Jamal and tells him not to use the video. Jamal visits Carol, Cookie’s younger sister, who has cleaned up her act and is working in a beauty-supply store peddling bags of “real human hair.” Jamal wants answers about what made Cookie freak out—cue the flashbacks. Empire’s use of flashbacks has been outstanding this season.

Unlike the previous season’s flashbacks—which were repetitive childhood scenes of Lucious tossing young Jamal in a trash can and Lucious’ “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” memories of his mentally unstable mother—each Cookie flashback chronicles her downward spiral from a young lady who does well in school and is dating a nice boy to a life of running the streets with Lucious, a hoodlum. Cookie’s anguished dad kicked her out of the house for the good of the family. Three days later he had a heart attack and died before she got a chance to see him again.

Cookie, who seems to be doing just fine post-Lucious with Angelo, is supposed to meet Angelo’s mother, Clair Huxtable (Hi, Phylicia Rashad!), at a posh fundraiser for Angelo’s mayoral campaign. His mom swans about the champagne-fueled cocktail event dropping in a French phrase here or there, which on TV is the epitome of class. You can just tell that Clair Huxtable summers on the Vineyard and thinks Jack and Jill is for the underprivileged.

Cookie misses the party and Angelo gives her the cold shoulder. She explains that she once gave up a boy with a promising future for Lucious and she wants a second chance. She plans to have a dinner for Angelo’s mom, and this is where the sitcom kicks into high gear. First Cookie’s bougie sister, Candace, takes her to an upscale restaurant and teaches her the basics of silverware and chewing with her mouth closed. Candace then delivers the best line of the night when teaching Cookie how to find the right words to say by stealing quotes from Maya Angelou: “You gonna have to Melania Trump the hell out of this situation. Snatch from the best!”

Candace then gives her sister’s apartment a makeover—unnecessary, if you ask me, but my love of leopard print disqualifies me, I guess. Turns out that Angelo’s mama is on the board of PETA. She gets Cookie to dress in an iffy outfit with a gigantic orchid at her throat. Predictably, everything goes wrong. Doped-up Jamal is drifting about and left his home training in his apartment. Hakeem shows up with his crying baby. Boo Boo Kitty and Lucious arrive, and Lucious spills the beans on the sordid family secrets. But it all works out—Clair Huxtable is amused and takes a liking to Cookie. Cookie serves cold duck, which I forgot still existed, and that redeems the whole dragged-out plot.

Unlike Jamal, who hates the business end of things, Andre is at home sexily talking about stats and businessy topics, while his muscles nearly bust through his shirt. Can I just say that Andre, my favorite son, is hot when he’s cocky? It’s so good to see him in control; he must be taking his mood stabilizers and having therapy sessions with Rhonda’s ghost.

Nessa slinks into Andre’s office with an invitation to the yearly family music jam in honor of the day her brother got killed. She tells him Shyne is angry because Freda Gatz, who was given to him to manage, isn’t performing and says she will never record for Empire Records again. Andre vows to fix things by bringing Freda to the party. He does, and she rejoins the Empire fold.

Cookie has always been the star character, and despite my nitpicks, an episode devoted to her and devoid of too much Lucious is a win, so the show is on the right track. It’s also good to see Andre with a fleshed-out story that doesn’t solely focus on his problems. I’d give this episode a B-plus.

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