Taye Diggs and Jussie Smollett in a scene from Empire
Chuck Hodes/Fox

Empire’s season 3 debut, which aired last week, was not as memorable or jaw-dropping as the previous season premieres, so let’s pretend that this is the first episode of the season. Let’s go!

OMG, you guys! Cookie doesn’t want to be with Lucious anymore. Nope. Never again. Cookie  is not moved by the parade of extravagant gifts her former husband delivers to her apartment. Cookie can’t be bought. She sends the presents back to her ex—all of them except for the gold-plated pistol. Which is understandable on her part, but Lucious should rethink arming someone who frequently wants to kill him.

It must be contractually required that Lucious give Cookie an admiring “l want you back” look and shake his head in amusement. Cookie, who lately hasn’t been the quote machine she once was, comes back with the phrase, “Bye, Felucious.” Quote of the night. It’s also an Empire law that Cookie give him an “I love you too, boo” look before walking away. She also has to yell “Lucious!” at least once a week. We get all that out of the way early.

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Jamal, who collapsed during a performance, is on a radio show to talk about—whoa, is that Taye Diggs? Why, yes, yes it is. Best episode of the season. Welp, that’s it, see you next week! Oh, there’s more, you say? OK, let’s move on.

Diggs is a councilman. Councilman Taye Diggs, who is on the show to talk about violence in hip-hop, diagnoses Jamal with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Jamal’s all, “Nope, I’m fine. The real victim in this is Freda Gatz, who shot me, but it really wasn’t her fault. I’m totally over it, with no PTSD. Aaaaargh, why is that microphone so close to my face!”

Councilman Taye Diggs runs an organization for kids named WOKE (We Organize for Knowledge and Empowerment). Jamal’s a role model, so the councilman wants him to get involved with an anti-violence summit, but Jamal is reluctant. Lucious, however, thinks it’s a great idea and offers to host the summit at his club, underwrite the event and live-stream it. That Lucious is a changed man. No? He just wants to impress Cookie? Gosh darn it, I thought he’d changed.

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The recently widowed Andre is having a rough go of it; he’s haunted by the ghost of an extremely bitchy Rhonda. In fairness, we never saw a funeral, and there’s no urn of ashes, so Rhonda has a right to be salty. Just as I’m about to write my weekly complaint about how nobody cares about Andre and the show always overlooks him, Jamal drops by, lovingly supports Andre and helps him work out a schedule for his meds. Cookie also drops by and comforts her eldest son, so there goes my gripe that he only ever appears in one scene.

At the WOKE event, Councilman Taye Diggs heaps praise on Cookie. She responds in a hostile manner but fools nobody, including Jamal, who observes to his dad that the only other person who gets under his mom’s skin like that is Lucious. You can see the wheels turning in Lucious' head. He is probably already thinking about how he’ll kill the councilman.

Lucious suddenly remembers that he has to do something mean, so he announces that Jamal will sing. Jamal rushes out and has another panic attack. So the councilman was correct: Jamal does have PTSD. He may be off the Freda love train now, but only time will tell.

Near the end of the episode, the Lyon boys bond, and it's one of the best parts of the show. Jamal, Andre and Hakeem offer one another group support, and it’s a sweet scene.

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Other things that happen:

  • There are a lot of flashbacks to when Cookie was a good girl with an upstanding boyfriend whom she dumped for Lucious. So far, the flashbacks aren’t as repetitive as the previous flashbacks of Lucious throwing Jamal in a trash can and Lucious’ mother being crazy. The most interesting element is that the actor playing Lucious really looks like him and should have been cast as a son. Until it leads to something, let’s move on.
  • Also in those flashbacks, we learn that a young Lucious uses Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" to woo a young Cookie. This gives the show a chance to bring out the real Biz to sing to Cookie as part of the never-ending ploy to help Lucious win her over. Best cameo in Empire history so far.
  • While Hakeem and Nessa are making magic happen in the studio, Shyne punches out a dude just for checking her out. Turns out, Nessa is his sister. If Shyne goes this crazy for just a look, who knows what he’ll do to anyone who hooks up with her? We’re watching you, Hakeem.
  • Boo Kitty and Lucious discover the nanny cam in the teddy bear put there by Lucious’ FBI half-brother, Tariq, who has been creepily spying on Bella’s nursery while constantly eating. Is it part of the FBI investigation or is he just weird?

For the cliffhanger, Andre, who is moving some of his things out of his old house, gets harassed by two cops who think he’s a suspect in a series of break-ins. When he makes a wise remark and keeps on packing his SUV, they body-slam him to the ground and one of them points his gun at Andre's head.

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Obviously this is supposed to be a relevant scene and turn into a meaty plot, but Empire’s attempts to deliver Black Lives Matter statements have been weak. There’s also the matter of how the show rushes through plots at a breakneck speed. I don’t expect this to last more than Hakeem’s 11-minute kidnapping.

Well, there is always Taye Diggs.

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.