Wednesday’s episode of Empire saw a kinder, gentler Cookie Taraji P. Henson – but only because she was successfully playing with everyone’s strings like the leopard print-wearing puppet master she is.
While youngest son Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) still won’t give her the time of day, Cookie managed to gain one more client in Tiana (Serayah McNeill) Hakeem’s kind-of girlfriend, and orchestrate another in jailed rapper Titan (Jim Beans).
Meanwhile, Lucious’s (Terrence Howard) old boss, Billy Beretti (Judd Nelson) threatened to bring Empire down should they go through with going public.
Oh, Hakeem. So spoiled. So simple. So Oedipal. Having been raised in the lap of luxury for his entire life, totally alienated from the culture that inspired his parents to make meaningful music, he’s still having difficulty writing anything worth anything.
However, when Cookie took on Tiana as a client, she convinced her to have Hakeem rap a verse on Tiana’s “Keep it Movin,” which had been missing something.
Before they could perform it at the Teen Choice Awards nominations concert (apparently that’s a thing), Tiana caught him cheating with Camilla (Naomi Campbell), the woman onto whom he is projecting all of his very many mommy issues.
When Tiana’s voice rang out through Hakeem’s apartment while he and Camilla were in the bath, we were kind of hoping for a Friends-type scenario, where Camilla would hold her breath and hide under the water. Alas, Naomi Campbell gets her hair wet for no TV show.
In the end, they managed to pull off performing “Keep It Movin’,” because Tiana doesn’t care about Hakeem nearly as much she cares about music. “What I’m not cool with is you dissing your mother and showing up to soundcheck late,” she scolded him. Good girl.
After dropping Kid FoFo last week, Lucious needed a new act. Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) suggested Titan just before he landed himself in jail by shooting a drug dealer.
Anika (Grace Gealey) was insistent that she could get Titan signed while he sat in jail, but that wasn’t really the job for a “bougie debutante,” as Cookie so lovingly referred to her.
Complicating matters further was the fact that Titan was signed under Beretti, who picked up Kid FoFo once Empire dropped him and who was the first to sign Lucious so many years ago. However, their working relationship did not end amicably – Beretti took credit for Lucious’s work, and Lucious left the label before it could ruin him. Baretti promised Lucious that if Empire ever goes public, he will bring him down.
Later, we learn that Titan was raised in the Nation of Islam, and that the drug dealer he shot had burned down a community center.
Wholly undeterred by Baretti’s threats, Lucious visited Titan in prison and promised to pay the $1.7 million to repair the community center – all Titan had to do was start recording for Empire on a phone that Lucious gave him. And he did.
Also, Lucious finally revealed to Anika that he has ALS – and that the doctors told him that he has three years, at best.
After cutting himself off from his father, Jamal is now living in a craphole in Bushwick.
Jamal continued to have more spine than sense, giving back the paycheck he earned performing with Hakeem.
He, too, was having inspiration problems throughout most of the episode – to which Cookie told him, basically, to stop being so precious about his living situation – but by the end of the episode he managed to turn the sounds of the streets into music.
It was like watching a hip-hop version of Stomp.
Cookie’s relationship with Lucious was surprisingly non-contentious this week. Instead of threats, non-disclosure agreements and shoe-throwing, the two actually enjoyed a reasonably respectful working relationship. There was even flirting!
In convincing Lucious to sign Titan from prison, Cookie told him: “You lose your soul when you feel like the world’s forgotten you.” Of course, Lucious insisted that he stayed away in order to build his empire, to give her everything she deserved. She was, rightfully, unimpressed, gesturing at her jewelry, asking, “Things? These material things?”
Clearly, she’d have preferred an actual relationship with her family. That feeling had been present in the first few episodes of Empire, but now that Cookie’s rage has simmered (albeit slightly), she has emerged more sympathetic, more emotionally vulnerable and more honest – though still a hard-ass, master manipulator focused on the music and insistent on taking back what’s hers.
We’re not too worried about Cookie.
Empire airs Wednesdays (9 p.m. ET) on FOX.