Empire Recap: That's the Way Our Cookie Crumbled

Empire Phylicia Rashad

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!