Empire Phylicia Rashad

Empire Recap: That's the Way Our Cookie Crumbled

This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no Cosby Show, either. This is Emmmm-pire.

Oh yes, Phylicia Rashad (the artist formerly known as Clair Huxtable) casts an imposing shadow across Cookie Lyon’s living room this week — bringing enough shade to make Al Roker wonder about the sudden and unexpected appearance of a solar eclipse.

But despite all the not-so-subtle hints of acidity brought by Rashad’s formidable Diana Dubois, there’s no escaping the scent of raw onions being chopped in the kitchen at the end of Cookie’s dinner party gone out of bounds. Yes, let’s blame it on the onions. We’re not all collectively sobbing over Cookie’s harrowing teenage flashbacks and Jamal’s gut-punch of a ballad called “Mama,” right?

COOKIE EMPIREDamn, damn, damn… just pass the Kleenex. I mean, yes, Season 3, Episode 7 of Empire delivers more jaw-dropping one-liners than we’ve had since the days of “fake-ass Lena Horne,” but it’s also a genuine tearjerker — and a true showcase for future Emmy winner (or legendary Emmy snub-ee) Taraji P. Henson. Let’s recap, K?

SHYNE-Y HAPPY PEOPLE HOLDING HANDS | Nessa slinks all sexy-like into Andre’s office with an invitation and a warning: She wants him to attend the memorial party commemorating the death of her big brother, but warns that he might get his noggin knocked in by Shyne.

Seems Lucious’ hotheaded pal from back in the day is miffed that Empire enticed him into a label that was supposed to include Freda Gatz on the roster, only to learn the rap sensation wants nothing to do with the Lyons. (Wait, but wasn’t it Lucious who schemed to get her out of jail?) Andre handles business like a boss, though, showing up at the event with an open-minded Freda at his side. Nessa and Freda set the stage on fire and all seems well, so how come the music gets all ominous as Shyne records the performance on his smartphone?

MAMA, MIA! | Jamal’s under public attack by the R&B community and his fans for falling off the map in the wake of Freda’s shooting, but when he’s called on the carpet by Lucious, he doesn’t exactly come off like an artist who’s self-aware enough to understand his commercial predicament. He’s trying to build a “musical museum” (say what now?) but is still perfectly OK accepting pill deliveries from D-Major and brushing off Philip as nothing more than a PTSD counselor, forgetting he’s the dude who saved his life (and his career) from an all-too-casual overdose. In Jamal’s defense, D-Major is awfully fine, though, no?

IT RUBS THE LOTION ON ITS SKIN… | Wait just a second! Is Lucious catching feelings again for Anika as he creeps outside her bedroom door watching her apply her nighttime moisturizer? Gurrrrl, close your damn door! You never know when Leah’s gonna drop with a freshly sharpened butcher’s knife!

OH YES, MELANIA TRUMP JUST GOT NAME-CHECKED ON EMPIRE | Despite their breakup, Angelo shows up with Cookie’s morning coffee, and gives her an ultimatum. When she gets affectionate, he’s all, “Does this mean you’re in?” And as she straddles him on the couch, she shoots back, “I think this means you’re in.” Alrighty then!

Trouble is, Cookie fails to show up for Angelo’s big fundraiser – and a meeting with his mama Diana, whose withering smile and icy verbal cadence is a perfect counternote to the Lyon matriarch’s raw and real demeanor. “This will never do,” Diana sighs to Angelo, while still managing to reference Cookie’s nude photo scandal.

phylicia rashad empireSensing it’s do or die to crack this high-society nut, Cookie takes etiquette lessons with big sis Candace, redecorates her apartment, and even hides her furs in an effort to impress Diana. (“Lovely decor, Cookie, but really, you shouldn’t have,” hisses Diane, a master of the overtly understated dig.) Unfortunately, the fact that Diana’s allergic to bouillabaise is the least of Cookie’s woes. Jamal arrives high as a kite (though stupendously truthful). Hakeem comes with screaming baby Bella in tow. And Andre doesn’t show up at all. Worst of all, Lucious and (gasp!) Anika crash the party, and Lucious is being ridiculously extra. “That woman is my wife, Anika. She just gave birth to my granddaughter.” (¡¡¡!!!!) Cookie finally kicks out the cater waiters, breaks out the cold duck and peach cobbler, and explains to Diana that her family is what it is, and she loves ’em. By the time Jamal takes to the piano to perform “Mama” (more on that in a sec), even Diana’s heart (if she has one) grows a half-size larger, and she conceds to Mama Lyon that her own family has a history of smuggling and bootlegging. “You got fire in you: Just make sure that fire doesn’t burn my child. My only child,” Diana notes on the way out, and damn I’d be disturbed by the foreshadowing if Taye Diggs didn’t come back into the room and promise to tuck Cookie in (euphemism intended) after delivering his mom back to her doorstep.

SHE’S A SURVIVOR, SHE’S NOT ‘GON GIVE UP | Through the course of the hour, we get flashbacks to Cookie’s teenage years after falling hard for Lucious. Turns out, her dad packed her bags and kicked her to the curb after one missed curfew too many with the future hip-hop mogul. It’s an emotionally bruising scene to see young Cookie’s face as her dad declares her “ruined” and cuts ties with her in an effort to preserve her sisters’ innocence. Even worse? Daddy dearest dies of a heart attack a mere three days after the terrible falling out with his daughter. Cookie explains to Jamal that in the wake of that tragedy, she and Lucious had nothing but their own bond, that they practically raised one another while “hustling and surviving in the streets.” By the time her son sings “Mama” and lauds her decades of sacrifice and strength, it’s like we’ve reached a new level of Cookie in the video game that is Empire. And it’s a beautiful, difficult (or maybe beautifully difficult) thing to behold.

What did you think of this week’s Empire? Did “Mama” move you to tears? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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21 Comments
  1. laurelnev says:

    I loved hearing more about “Loretha’s” backstory, and I am glad to see Cookie finally realizing Lucious is irredeemable. ;) Empire has gotten its groove back…finally. Let’s hope the back half keeps up this quality, (and of course, next week’s pre-hiatus finale.)

    • Dave says:

      It hasn’t gotten it’s groove back yet. It’s terribly uneven. Tonight was decent but this show is so far from the appointment television it was in season one. The biggest issue remains cohesive week to week storytelling. They drop too many plots and don’t bring them up again until the audience forgets and loses interest. The second issue is the lack of progression in the main family arc. It’s always big bad Lucious messing with these people until they hate him and then forgive him. Wash, rinse, repeat…

      • Edward says:

        I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is largely the most cohesive season of the show yet. It’s doing better at keeping the story grounded among the cast that really propel the plot. Luscious is the catalyst for a lot of the turmoil in the family so why wouldn’t he be a recurring threat to the family? This season has finally given each of the family members a compelling storyline and it’s slowly weaving them in tantalizing ways. Very few things have been wrapped up and tidied together. Jamal is still struggling. Andre is slowly unraveling. And Hakeem is inept in parenting. If you take issue with the formulaic approach to storytelling than perhaps you should drop the show. It’s in no way perfect, but this show has been shown to be great entertainment. It was never pegged to be some brilliantly written show with a masterful plot. It’s a soap opera drama that features wonderful performances from majority of the cast.

        • KAD says:

          You said it! I’m always confused about the complaints regarding this show. It’s as if people don’t realize it is now and always will be a soap opera! The only thing it’s “supposed” to be is entertaining. And it’s ALWAYS that. The humor never fails. The fashion and style and the music. Whew! I am never disappointed, and I agree if people can’t find this show entertaining they’re probably watching the wrong show. Which is ridiculous with so many options these days. Loved this episode, loved Phylicia Rashad, love love love watching teenaged Cookie and Lucious. I even enjoyed looking at that cute little baby. ;) Absolutely among the top of my list for tv shows.

        • Char says:

          @ Edward Thank you for your remarks. My sentiments exactly!

      • 2Much says:

        I’m with you Dave. Wash, rinse, repeat. Various family members screaming angry at Luscious; Cookie giving Luscious he evil eye and a screamin’ lecture for the latest thing he’s done to his son(s); Sons forgive Luscious. Luscious betrays son(s); they will never forgive him; then they hear a sad story and they forgive him. Luscious tells Cookie they belong together. She tells him to get lost (thank God). He betrays a son; they all refuse to see him ever again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I adored this show when it started, but it’s lost me now. I gave it a chance cause I love me some Cookie, but at this point, even Cookie isn’t saving the show for me. Sadly, I’m outta here. (I’ll keep reading these summaries though, in the hope that I’ll find story lines to pull me back in.)
        C

      • laurelnev says:

        Have you ever read King Lear, upon which this is based? Or watched an urban soap? “Wash, rinse, repeat” is endemic to the genre. ;)

  2. Brian says:

    I thought this was one of the better episodes.

  3. Arthur says:

    I thnk they’re finally getting back on track, having Cookie front and center of the action and Lucious as an irredeemable villain, but they still need to sort it out the mess that is the life of the three Lyon sons – there is so much going on for all of them that is clear that it’s too much for even the writes to chew.

  4. crys says:

    I am so very impressed. I wonder who directed this episode. Well written. Well acted. They seem to be getting back in track. I am cautiously optimistic.

  5. Vivian says:

    at least it wasn’t another case of brothers against Cookie against Empire against Lucious against each other again! As for Jamal’s song. . .while I thought the lyrics were nice, his voice sounded strained and “reedy” like he was singing notes higher than his voice was meant to go. I didn’t care for it.

  6. abz says:

    I wish the musical crew of the show wouldn’t auto tune Jamal’s voice so much. He can sing and has a good voice and I like his songs but lately they’ve increased the amount of auto tune even more and it’s annoying. The “Mama” song would have been much better if they toned it down.
    I’m so sick of how gangster and thuggish they’ve made the show lately with all these characters like Shyne and Freda. I miss the way it used to be. It still existed in the show but not as much as it does now. I know the gangster life was a part of Cookie and Lucious’s past, and that Lucious still has shady dealings, but I’m tired of all this Shyne stuff and Thirsty and Freda. Loved seeing more of Cookie’s past. Not feeling Tate Diggs on the show though.

    • Crys says:

      My goodness! I have been saying this since the first season. I know Jussie Smollet can sing. Why do they keep auto tuning him? On top of the fact that it pulls me out of the story every time he sits at a piano to sing and then what comes out of his mouth is overproduced to the 100th degree.

  7. I enjoyed Empire last night. My two favorite parts were Lucious telling Jamal that he looked “crispy around the edges”, and hearing Freda rap.

  8. Ms.Cathy says:

    Sad, but I know what a hard life is. What happened to cookies sisters? Are they ever coming on the show?

  9. Michael says:

    It was deep

  10. Sandy says:

    I got to understand her and Lucius’ relationship more. I did shed a tear or two for Cookie and i understand why she is a tough Cookie who doesn’t play no sh**t!