Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) need to watch their backs.
Fox

So, what was that all about? The show has been all over the place lately. The season premiere featured Cookie giving a speech about the so-called justice system while wearing a gorilla suit, a stream of pointless cameos and Chris Rock as the least convincing cannibal kingpin around. Last week’s episode was surprisingly fresh and nuanced, with some multidimensional performances. This episode was OK, but not the kind of laugh-out-loud and outlandish Empire we’re all used to.

Lucious was killing for Cookie and acting as if he still loved her in the first episode, but last week he was pumping his fist and rapping in a prison-supply cabinet about the “snitch bitch.” He also coldly rejected Andre. Well, he is still coldly rejecting Andre. Why is he so mean to Andre all of a sudden? With the exception of Jamal, Andre is the only one in the family who still likes him.

Papa Lyon hosted a hostile family dinner so he could pressure Cookie and Hakeem into giving up the newly formed Lyon Dynasty. Cookie’s startup doesn’t seem all that threatening to a massive record company, but OK.

Lucious had Frank Gathers bumped off in prison; now he wants to sign Frank’s daughter Freda, who strolled into the Empire headquarters with a bunch of illiterate goons. She won’t sign because … reasons. Rejecting the biggest name in music seems like a poor life choice, but she’s supposed to be talented, not smart.

In any case, Jamal was ordered to seal the deal, but he can’t, and Papa Lyon wants the “hood rat” (Jamal’s words, not mine) to revive an old label, Gutter Life Records. “They wanted to take Lucious Lyon to the gutter; now I’m going to show them what the streets is about.” OK, you show ’em, with your poor grammar—that’ll do it. Lucious is going to get Freda; all he has to do is head over to her sketchy neighborhood and talk to her. What’s she going to do, pull out a gun? Oh, she pulled out a gun.

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Papa Lyon doesn’t have to worry because he’s got a lethal weapon—Jamal, who is a ruthless mogul-in-training now. Nobody is going to mess with the new Jamal, amirite? What are Cookie and Hakeem going to do, storm the welcome-home party at Leviticus with some burly extras in the middle of Jamal’s show with Pitbull so Hakeem can take over the stage with Timbaland and rap about how he’s going to take down his dad? Never gonna happen. Oh, wait, it did happen. I guess Lucious doesn’t have enough extras at Empire to guard against that sort of thing.

It took Cookie more time to drag that tablecloth down at that hostile family dinner than it took for Jamal to lose his edge. Seriously, I got up, heated up some mac and cheese, filled up a goblet of wine, and that tablecloth was still making its way to the floor. Why was Lucious even at Leviticus? Where was that prosecutor? If Lucious can’t enter Empire (one of the conditions of his bail), why is he still able to go to Leviticus?

These Lyons ain’t loyal, but Lucious still has Andre begging for forgiveness. Andre just told his parents that Rhonda is pregnant, so that is a game changer. Andre knows how much Lucious wants to be a grandfather. He dotes on little children and was so happy with his daughter/granddaughter Lola last year. He adored that sweet little girl for two or three episodes before he put her on a bus and never mentioned her again. Look at that teary bear hug. Now everything will be OK.

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Oh, wait, Lucious is thinking about his mom, who apparently had mental-health problems, so he is worried that Andre will pass it down to the child. That’s OK, Lucious is still happy, right? Wrong. He sends his son back to Rhonda and her bib and candlestick.

If Lucious needs a pitbull, he should team up with Rhonda. She is the scariest character right now and, unbeknownst to Lucious, did him a favor when she knocked Vernon over the head and got rid of the body last season—all while pregnant. Despite what that prosecutor and her pushup bra say, Vernon is not going to testify against Lucious. I don’t know why she keeps making that threat; even if Vernon were in a safe house, Lucious would find him because she has such a big mouth.

Lucious really is going to destroy Lyon Dynasty. He bought Apex and all its urban radio stations, where Hakeem’s annoying girl group was supposed to make its debut. Lucious poached lead singer Valentina, too. Seems like a booby prize, but OK.

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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.