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.
Cookie got involved with a sexy music promoter, Laz (Adam Rodriguez), but she found out that he was involved with Hakeem’s kidnapping and let Lucious take care of him.
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.
Andre: He sided with his mom in the takeover of Empire, then waffled and tried to come in from the cold but was rejected—again—by Lucious. Things turned around. The case against Lucious depended on testimony from Vernon, who had been killed by Andre’s wife, Rhonda. To get Lucious off the hook, Andre and Rhonda dug up the corpse to produce a body and end the case. Lucious found them digging up the body and was so proud that he welcomed Andre back into the fold.
Andre found God, which put him at odds with running the raunchy Gutter Life label.
His rocky relationship with Lucious got better because Rhonda was pregnant and Lucious was so happy about being a grandpa, he bought a mansion on Long Island for the two of them. Rhonda has never watched a soap opera and didn’t know that pregnant women shouldn’t be anywhere near a staircase. Someone pushed her down the stairs, which almost certainly ended the pregnancy. She should be dead but this is Empire, so who knows.
Hakeem: Hakeem assumed executive duties at Cookie’s new label and came up with the groundbreaking idea of a girl group called Mirage a Trois. It’s not clear if anyone ever explained the proper spelling or pronunciation to Hakeem. Hakeem’s protégé was Laura, a girl he discovered crooning a Linda Ronstadt song at an amateur night.
Lucious kept publicly trash-talking his son and even subjected him to a rap battle with Freda, who was now his favorite. The whole thing resulted in Hakeem dropping the name Lyon.
Hakeem struggled to produce another hit despite his father’s interference. As punishment for going against him, Lucious bought a radio station so that no Lyon Dynasty artist—including Hakeem—would get played on the radio. Hakeem was shoved into a van and kidnapped for a horrific 11 minutes until his parents saved him. His PTSD lasted longer than the kidnapping; the whole ordeal was emasculating. It turned out his mom’s new boyfriend was involved with the kidnappers. With Cookie’s consent, Lucious took care of Laz with a gun.
After the ordeal, Hakeem turned to Boo Boo Kitty for a while, but it wasn’t serious and he dumped her for Laura before Boo Boo Kitty could tell him she was pregnant.
Boo Boo Kitty: She tried to use her professional background to help Cookie with Lyon Dynasty, but Cookie used her as a punching bag. Her low points included unfortunate twerking for Mimi and sleeping with the investor, only to be insulted with a poor review. She got back with Hakeem, who dumped her for sweet, virginal Laura before Boo Boo Kitty announced she was pregnant. After listening to Rhonda go on about how much Lucious loved grandchildren, she got jealous and is most likely the one who pushed Rhonda down the stairs.
Empire: By getting in bed with Mimi metaphorically and literally (brain bleach, please) and pushing Hakeem all season, Lucious saw things backfire when Mimi introduced her wife: Camilla Marks (Naomi Campbell). Hakeem’s ex got her clutches into him again and said she’d left only because Lucious and Cookie drove her away. To make matters worse, sneaky Mimi recorded Lucious spouting off about how he was going to get his music-streaming plans accomplished with or without the board of investors.
Mimi went off to get treatment for breast cancer and left Camilla to take care of business. A meeting was called to vote on whether Lucious would stay on as head. The deciding vote came down to Hakeem, who’s been pushed around by his dad all season.
Lucious is out and Hakeem is in charge with a cackling Camilla at his side.
Empire returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT on Fox.
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.