Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) look like such a happy couple before the big awards show.
Chuck Hodes/Fox

We love family. They’re always there for us—asking for money or needing a ride to the airport or … never mind. Cookie has been talking a lot about family unity. In “Rise by Sin,” family matters cause all the problems.

When Lucious reluctantly took in his batty mom, Leah Walker, in the last episode, he established some house rules: Take your psych meds and don’t kill me. Leah is allowed to watch TV. She channel surfs, and every show is about the American Sound Awards. Leah may be crazy, but she’s as over hearing about the ASAs as we are. She doesn’t like Lucious’ “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” music video about his “dead” mother.

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Andre comes to check on his grandmother, who tries to guilt him into taking her to the show. Andre knows this is a bad idea and comes up with excuses, including that she doesn’t have a dress and he’s not even sure there’s a ticket available. Andre doesn’t mention that Leah is a murderous loon.

Cookie’s sister Carol is excited about the awards and twirls so Cookie can see her new red dress. Cookie, who is apparently the arbiter of good taste now, says that the dress makes Carol look like a cheap prostitute. Well, at least Carol can wear the dress on her date with Tariq Cousins, whom Cookie refers to as Tariq the Freak. Get it, Carol.

Cookie has Lucious investigate, and he confirms that Tariq left the Philly P.D. Cookie suspects that he’s with the feds, which is correct. Cookie goes to Leviticus, where Tariq is waiting for Carol. She warns him not to stir up trouble for her family. The next day, the sisters have a huge fight. As it turns out, Cookie has a history of stealing Carol’s men—including Lucious. Cookie’s not going to let Carol stay at her apartment or attend the ASAs. That leaves a ticket for Leah, right?

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D-Major, who has taken an interest in Jamal, tells him to ditch Cookie and let him produce Jamal’s next album. He also gets physical with Jamal, but when Lucious walks in, D-Major makes a big show of pushing Jamal away so that Lucious will blame Jamal. Lucious tells Jamal that he knows D-Major is on the down low. An awkward discussion ensues about which one of the men is a “bottom.” As they trade insults, Jamal taunts his father for being afraid of Leah. Lucious says he’ll be happy when Jamal dies of AIDS. Once again I wonder how it is that nobody has shot Lucious. Spoiler alert: Someone will be thinking along the same lines by the end of the episode.

When Jamal turns to Cookie to complain about his father and mentions Freda Gatz, Cookie finally tells Jamal why she doesn’t want Freda around. Cookie snitched on her father, Frank Gathers, to the feds to get out of jail early and then Lucious had him killed.

Lucious may be a liar, a killer and a horrible father, but he has good taste in jewelry. Before the awards, he gives Cookie a huge diamond bracelet. They’re going to the awards show as a couple. Oh, those wacky kids. Andre thinks he’s going to the show with Leah, but Lucious saw that coming and gets his shady lawyer, Thirsty Rawlings, to take care of matters. It turns out that the Lyon mansion includes a “safe room.” Thirsty and his goons force Andre and Leah to stay in there. Upside: There’s a TV, so Andre and Leah can watch the awards show.

The ASAs red carpet is exciting. The press can’t get enough of Lucious, Cookie, Jamal and Hakeem. They don’t want Laura, Hakeem’s boring fiancee, in the pictures. Take the hint, Laura.

Lucious continues lying to the press about how his “dead” mama influenced his music. Leah is not amused. A drunken Carol shows up and starts shouting to get Cookie’s attention. Cookie adeptly pretends that she’s hugging Carol as she hisses a warning to scram. Carol turns her attention to Freda, but when Freda politely informs Carol that she has to get back to the press, Carol blabs that Lucious killed Freda’s dad.

The stone-cold look on Freda’s face sends her to the top of my favorite-character list. You know how you can tell Freda isn’t a Lyon? She’s not all talk and no action. Freda charges toward Lucious, grabs a security officer’s gun and fires. Jamal jumps in the way to protect his father and gets shot instead.

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All hell breaks loose and Jamal is rushed to the hospital. It couldn’t get any worse, right? Wrong. Tariq is building a case about all the dead bodies linked to Lucious, and he’s questioning Boo Boo Kitty.

Thirsty releases Andre and Leah so they can be with the family at the hospital. Leah slips out the back, and the press asks if she’s related to the Lyons. We’ll have to wait until next week to hear what she says. Most tragic of all: Neither Lucious nor Jamal won the ASA award. The real winner is the audience. Empire is back to a season 1 level of excitement, and I can’t wait for next week’s season finale.

Elaine G. Flores is a New York writer, editor and bon vivant. She’s a hard-core shipper and excommunicated soap opera reviewer. Her fictional dinner-party guests include Omar Little, Buffy Summers, Abigail Mills and Ichabod Crane. You can visit her site, TV Recappers Delight.