Empire has always been a show about family issues — that’s literally the whole point. But this week, families tangential to the Lyons’ came into the mix, too: Freda and Jamal bond over their daddy issues, Hakeem has an epiphany after meeting Laura’s loving family, and the Lyons’ dysfunction becomes too much for Rhonda. Is it possible to put your own family behind you and choose another? Or are you chained to a cycle that’s been pre-determined by your genes?
We open at Camilla’s funeral — so turns out she actually did die last week. Rhonda will assume Camilla’s role as creative director of the Antony & Cleopatra fashion line (that was convenient!), and she’s successfully gotten Andre to the doctor and on a new dose of meds — or so Andre says.
Lucious, for his part, takes plenty of glee in rubbing Camilla’s death in Hakeem’s face. “I want to commend you on getting rid of Camilla like that,” he says. “Thank god you killed her.” Hakeem maintains that he didn’t kill Camilla, and Cookie says the state is calling it a murder-suicide — just like Lucious knew they would. But clearly, he’s planning to make Hakeem feel a guilt he doesn’t deserve to feel, and I for one hope Lucious fails.
On a lighter note, Cookie’s about to celebrate her first birthday in 17 years as a free woman. [PAUSE: Are we really supposed to believe that all of Empire’s craziness has taken place in less than a year?!?! What kind of time-slowing wormhole is this?] All she wants is a nice dinner with her family — which might be too much to ask of the Lyons clan, but we’ll see.
The major part of this episode revolves around Lucious’ video shoot. Cookie’s convinced him to do away with the Shakespearean knights and swords, and with protégé Freda Gatz’s verse altogether — which means that the King Richard II plot the video originally had actually came true, because Lucious/King Richard banished Freda/Bolingbroke after all! Instead, they go to Philadelphia and pay homage to the lion statue Lucious slept under after he ran away from home. It takes constant pushing and prodding from Cookie, but eventually she succeeds in her pleas for Lucious to put his “whole truth” into the video. Which means Cookie finally gets to learn the whole truth for the first time: We’ve seen it in flashbacks, but still no one else knows about Lucious’ mother holding him underwater or about her killing herself right in front of his eyes. The memories are understandably tough for Lucious to dredge up, but with Cookie’s help, they get it right, and Cookie, especially, knows just how to direct the actor who’s playing young Lucious. (She is a mom, after all!)
Meanwhile, Jamal and Hakeem head out to Brownsville looking for Freda and have an adorable impromptu freestyle with a little kid. Well, it’s adorable, but it’s also heartbreaking, since the kid raps “I see gangsters hiding guns up in baby strollers / That could be me when I get older.” Eventually, Freda walks up, and Jamal asks if she wants to record something together. Freda refuses, saying if they have beef with Lucious, it doesn’t involve her. She doesn’t know, yet, that Lucious cut her verse from “Boom Boom Boom Boom.” I loved her parting words to the Lyon brothers, though: “Y’all have a safe trip back to Soho, and try not to get jacked!”
Outside of New York, the Tiana / Mirage a Trois tour Cookie organized to get around Camilla’s budget cuts is in full swing, and it’s not going well. Laura and Mirage a Trois are onstage for longer than they’re supposed to be, and Princess Tiana is not happy about it. What’s worse is that the tabloids have picked up on the drama between Hakeem’s once-and-current flames, and it’s making news. As Becky puts it, “This is bad. This is Keyshia Cole vs. Black Twitter bad.”
But like a good CEO (and boyfriend), Hakeem zips down to the next stop in D.C. and convinces Laura to hold back in the bigger cities, but convinces Tiana to let Laura “spread her wings” a little and play one extra song in smaller cities. Not only is everyone happy, but the trio debuts a hot new song (as usual!) to fight off the rumors. Okay, I lied just a bit: Tiana doesn’t seem 100 percent happy. When she sees Laura and Hakeem kissing, she looks a little forlorn. Can’t Tiana find someone to love?
Hakeem meets Laura’s warm, wonderful parents in Laura’s dressing room. “Thank you for believing in our girl,” Laura’s father says to Hakeem. Her mother mentions that Laura’s father can sing as well, but he brushes it off: “There’s nothing better for a father than when his child shines brighter than he ever did,” he says. This hits a nerve for poor Hakeem. “My family ain’t like that,” he says quietly. “It’s nice, though.” Laura’s father follows up with a sweet, “I’m sure your father feels that way, he just doesn’t know how to say it.” But Hakeem knows the truth as well as we do — Lucious won’t put anyone above himself, even his kids.
And after showing up for the “Boom Boom Boom Boom” video shoot and being turned away, Freda learns Lucious’ true colors, too. She heads to the studio, where Jamal’s song has an awkward, repetitive hole in it where he wanted Freda’s verse to be. Luckily, once she’s there, they talk about how their fathers hold them back and they’re trapped in a cycle of hating them and wanting their approval. Freda, for her part, still feels held back by her father’s chains even though he’s dead. Together, they record a nice song (a little weak on Jamal’s part, after last week’s anti-Lucious banger), and Hakeem’s production takes it over the top.
NEXT: Will Cookie get her “peaceful” dinner?