Game Time Bitches!
Empire Season 2 opens 3 months later, with Lucious still in jail for the murder of Bunkie, Cookie’s cousin. Empire is staging a huge “Free Lucious” rally with famous folk like the Clintons, Al Sharpton and Don Lemon in the audience (the latter two in with cameos).
Cookie and her sons know that Lucious did the deed, and there are real innocents deserving of their support. But, they are holding the rally anyway in order to impress a big potential investor, Mimi Whitehead, whose money they need to take over the company from Lucious and Jamal.
The show begins, as a cage holding a person in a gorilla suit, fighting to be freed, descends from a crane onto the stage. As the cage lands, the gorilla pulls of the mask to reveal Cookie! The stunt is so random and ridiculous, we know that Empire is back and as over the top as ever. She peels off the suit before giving a rousing speech about the injustice of jailing an innocent man. The crowd is eats it up.
“How much longer before they stop treating us like animals,” says Cookie, explaining the metaphor. She leads the crowd in a chant of “How much longer!” before Swizz Beats, Jamal and Hakeem take the stage to perform. Cookie schmoozes with Al Sharpton, who sadly informs her that he can’t help Lucious, because he hears Lucious “isn’t right on this.” Cookie’s assistant Porsha gives Don Lemon crap about what he did out in “Peterson.” He’s all WTF and Cookie corrects her: “Ferguson.” Hilarious. So that’s Cookie working the crowd as she makes her way to Mimi.
Meanwhile, the concert just HAPPENS TO BE ON TV in the prison rec room, where Lucious is watching. Frank Gathers, the man Cookie’s testimony put in jail, is coming in. The dude who killed Gathers’ associate for Cookie last season, warns Lucious, pleading with him to intervene. Gathers knows the dude killed his associate. He pleads with Lucious for protection. “That’s none of my business,” says Lucious, “get lost.” Shit is going down.
The shark Cookie hired to help take over Empire is on hand to introduce Mimi to the family. “I love your drag Mimi,” coos Cookie, “It says ‘I’m dripping with money and I know how to spend it’.” Cookie gets right to the point. She takes Mimi out to the stage where they get all cozy. The camera pans to them. Mimi is hitting on Cookie big time while Lucious watches them on TV back at the prison. He knows something is up.
Out in the yard, Gathers makes his entrance. The buildup is that he’s super scary and menacing. The camera pans up his body as he disembarks from the bus. It turns out to be…Chris Rock, who is 100% believable as a sociopath, with an unsettling stare that cuts right through. WHO KNEW. I see a guest actor Emmy nom in his future. The two meet like old friends. Lucious was one of Gathers drug lackeys back in the day. Who is, in fact, the more powerful of the two men will be settled shortly.
Back at Empire, it’s another day at work. Jamal is striding around like a total BOSS–which is simultaneously a good and bad thing. Good, because responsibility. Bad, because the job is turning him into kind of a prick. He blows people off abruptly and tells Hakeem his album cover is amateurish with no real specifics. Hakeem pushes a notepad out of Jamal’s hands. “I’m telling MOM,” he pouts.
Becky, the voice of reason: “You’re rude, he’s crude and the both of y’all are socially unacceptable. You need to fix this.”
Aside: Remember the Empire sketch from SNL that introduced Chip the White Guy office manager? There is literally a white guy assistant that follows Jamal around, and it’s not a stretch to imagine him organizing Empire birthday parties. “Figure it out little boy,” is how Jamal orders him around. Yep. Jamal is a jerk.
Jamal manages to squeeze in a visit with his dad. He laments that he hasn’t been able to do any writing, and his album dropped down the charts because he can’t promote it. Running Empire is taking up all his time. A bail hearing is coming up, but Lucious isn’t feeling confident about it. “It needs to be handled,” he tells Jamal. Hakeem is unfocused, Andre is taking his time closing a deal. Lucious needs to bust out so he can be hands on.
When Lucious whines about Cookie not coming to visit, Jamal gives him the stink eye. Like 17 years pal, you didn’t visit Cookie. He wants to know who that “lesbian bitch” is who was coming on to Cookie during the concert. He just knows something is up.
Andre wakes up from a bad dream. He and Rhonda are digging Vernon’s grave. At the end of season 1, they killed Vernon accidentally and buried his body. So far, they aren’t suspects. Rhonda tells him not to worry. She asks Andre if he confided in his pastor about killing Vernon. He says no, but it’s not entirely convincing. Rhonda is 100% confident they’ll end up with the company once the takeover is done. Andre is still sore about Lucious giving the company to Jamal. We find out that Rhonda is carrying a baby boy.
Gathers confronts Cookie’s gun for hire. He knows he killed his associate, Teddy. Gun for hire denies it. Gathers ain’t buying it. “I’m hungry,” he says. “You hungry?” This sounds very ominous.
Back in the city, Cookie is throwing a sexy bash for Mimi. Anika arrives and Mimi looks that dish up and down. She’s smitten. Cookie is pissed. Hakeem brought her. “She’s at my house,” he says, “If I’m here, she’s here.” Oh. Remember the pair had themselves some revenge sex last season for Lucious’ “benefit.” It must have stuck. Andre intervenes. They need her to help seal the deal. And it’s a good idea, because Mimi likes what she sees.
Mimi could be willing to part with some cash, but she wants to know why they’re dumping Lucious. Cookie explains that he’s lost his way. He needs to be stopped before he destroys the company and the family. The thing she’s not admitting is her own hunger for power that she hides behind concern for the company and her kids. She seeded Empire back in the day and paid for it in blood. Now she wants what’s hers.
Back at Jamal’s place. Well looky there. His old boyfriend, Michael is back. He orders him to ditch the cook–right to his face where he can hear, as if he’s not even in the room. When he leaves, Jamal pulls Michaels head back roughly by the hair and kisses him. Michael is expecting Jamal to attend an LGBT party he put together, but Jamal resists. Michael asks about Ryan, the photographer Jamal last dated. “Ryan is a ho,” Jamal says simply. And not so easily manipulated. Well, he doesn’t say that. “I made a mistake,” Jamal says. He’s looking for a wifey, apparently. Eff that ho Ryan and his independent life.
Back at the party, Mimi asks “Anita” to dance. Anika balks, but then Cookie points just as Anika begins to correct Mimi on the name. “Anita, dance with her,” Cookie orders. And she does, awkwardly. “Why don’t you take your little sweater off so she can see your sexy body,” suggests Cookie, loving every minute of that humiliation. Eventually, Mimi is in. Cookie warns Hakeem that he’s got to get along with Jamal, because when the takeover happens–completely blindsiding Jamal–she expects to bring him into the company.
Back at the prison, gun for hire is at the phone desperately trying to get a hold of Cookie. He leaves a message warning her that she’s in danger and Lucious has got to protect him from Gathers. Porsha is not doing a great job of picking up messages, or delivering the ugly flowers Gathers sent. Cookie is oblivious to the hurt that’s about to go down. Sister, Carol, is trying to reach her too, and Porsha just blows her off.
Lucious gets a visit from an ambitious African American prosecutor. She’s wearing a black suit with a plunging neckline that shows off ample cleavage. Is that what she wears around the DAs office, or only on prison visits. Lucious reminds her that the meeting is illegal. But she’s got all the power, and informs him she’s his worst nightmare. Vernon is about to implicate him in Bunkie’s murder–which would be quite the party trick considering Rhonda recently bludgeoned him to death. The plan is to have Lucious plead guilty, after which he could negotiate a deal in exchange for information. She’s running for attorney general, but on the republican ticket. “You think being a black bitch in cheap shoes that took down hip hop–that’s your way to victory.” BURN. “Let me share something with you, Miss Clarence Thomas…” He has no intention of snitching, like ever. She warns that she’ll be the black bitch in cheap shoes that jams them right up his yellow ass. “They’re Tom Ford, by the way,” she sniffs as she exits.
In the visiting room, we see a glimmer of humanity in Gathers as he interacts with his two daughters. The eldest is a rapper, and she spits something at his request. At the same time, Lucious just happens to walk into the room and is really impressed.
Back at Empire, Michael shows up with some people from Glaad. Jamal is serenaded by the flamboyant and fabulous Miss Lawrence from Fashion Queens, who is slated to present him with an award. Miss Lawrence suggests a duet with Jamal at the event, which makes him visibly uncomfortable. Unable to contain his internalized homophobia, Jamal decides to blow off the ceremony, offering Michael money to take back to Glaad. “You’re shady,” he says, calling Jamal out on his effemiphobia.
Next, it’s time for the takeover! Andre, Hakeem, Cookie and Anika stride down the hall to the conference room. They interrupt Jamal conducting a meeting with the board. Cookie begins to explain the what’s about to go down. They’ll be taking the company from Lucious, not Jamal, who doesn’t look upset AT ALL, even when Hakeem rubs it in. “It’s just business,” says Jamal. “Right Mimi?”
BOOM. Mimi turns around in her chair. “I met with Lucious this morning and made a BETTER deal!” she declares. Obvs, he figured out who that “lesbian bitch.” was. “I thought I told you to sleep with her,” Cookie whispers to Anika. “I did,” she whispers back. “You can’t even dyke right,” Cookie hisses back. “I’d give Anita an A for effort!” Mimi pipes in. She tells them they did everything right. Mimi got her little record company to play with. But they forgot one thing, “Lucious Lyon IS Empire…without him, the company is nothing!” Jamal clicks on the conference screen, and there is Lucious, in his prison orange, “Game over bitches! Bye!”
Back at the prison, Gathers is in a private room eating lunch. Kill for hire guy, is sitting across from him, with his face bashed in. He finally confesses that it was Cookie who ordered the hit. Gathers doesn’t believe it at first, but then he thinks back to Cookie witnessing the murder he was involved with and it all comes together in his head. Cookie sent him to prison. “That bitch!” He says.
Cookie pleads with Jamal. She was trying to protect him, but he’s not buying it. He accuses of her of backstabbing so she could run the company. She reminds him that it was her sacrifice that started Empire. “You’re turning into your daddy,” she says.
Back home, she finds a big square box wrapped in a red ribbon. Carol and her kids are waiting for her. “The roses isn’t a mistake this time!” she warns Cookie. They look at the box. Carol shoos the kids into another room. Cookie waits a beat and then goes for it. She opens the box. SHE OPENS THE DAMN BOX. Yep. It’s the severed head of kill for hire guy. FREAKING OUT ENSUES.
Cookie interrupts Jamal in the middle of laying down some sweet, sweet tracks. The music is used sparingly in this opening hour. There’s just so much story to get in! Becky is pissed that he won’t take the call (Thank God for Becky. She’s the truth teller) so he finally does. And it’s a good thing, because he needs to get his ass to a safe place pronto. A security detail arrives to take him to the house. Carol is balling her eyes out “Why are you crying your eyes out like Tammy Faye Bakker!” Says Cookie “Get those kids and get your ass over to Lucious'”
Cookie visits Lucious in jail. “For whatever reason I still love you,” Lucious confesses. He apologizes for never visiting Cookie while she was in. “This place is hell,” he says. She laughs at his 3 month stint. We’ll talk in 5 years, she says. They argue about the takeover. She was doing it for her sons. “It’s crazy how I can love your ass and hate you at the same time,” says Lucious.
Pleasantries aside–Cookie describes what’s going down with Gathers–that the entire family is in danger. ‘I need you to fix it,” she says. Lucious and Gathers meet again. The guards walk away and it’s just the two of them and Gathers posse. Lucious offers Gathers’ daughter a record contract, which doesn’t impress him. Cookie’s a snitch, he says, and she’s got to go. “This is between me and Cookie,” Gathers says, “You and me are cool.” Lucious looks around. He’s surrounded. “Yeah, we’re good.”
BUT NOT REALLY! Gathers compliments Lucious on his cold-blooded ways. “That’s why I always liked you,” he says. “I like you too,” says Lucious. “And if you got war with Cookie, you’ve got war with me.” Uh oh. Gathers orders his men to kill Lucious. “Make it fast, and quiet,” he says. He turns to his men, who aren’t looking so friendly. Lucious explains that basically, he bought everyone off. “Franky, you always wanted to run the streets, but I wanted to rule the world.” Lucious goes on to explain paying off Mamas mortgage, and sick children’s hospital bills. One guy, a musician, just switches sides because. Lucious orders them to kill Gathers, but “make it loud, and make it long. ” Bye bitch! Lucious’ parting words are a promise to sign his baby girl “and then I’m going to slip her my bone.”
Back at the house, Jamal tells Hakeem he’s going to bury his album. Empire isn’t going to spend money on an artist who betrayed the company. Hakeem accuses Jamal of being scared that he’s better. “You know my album is going to sell more than yours. When Jamal laughs in his face, he screams “I deserve t be the king!”
Cookie enters to tell them it’s over. “Your father’s a son of a bitch, but he’s still your father.” He handled it from prison, saving the family from a very bad man. “I’m still your mother, don’t you ever forget that.” Except Jamal doesn’t care. Now that everyone is safe, he kicks them all out of the house. Yes, he has transformed into his father’s son. There will be no forgiveness for betrayal.
“We can be a family again!” Cookie cries. “Get out!” orders Jamal. She slaps him. “Who do you think you’re talking to!” Jamal is unmoved, “You done now lady?” She backs away from him as he stares her down and closes the door in her face. He breaks down into tears.
It’s pretty much Season 1 going on up in here, but with all the roles reversed. So hold on, the ride is going to be crazy. I saw the next two episodes and suffice it to say, the drama continues.