I’ll admit that my head was spinning after the season finale of “Empire” last spring. It seemed like the writers crammed everything they could into a two-hour story block, and it left me feeling off kilter and befuddled. During last night’s season premiere, I felt the same way almost until the very end of the episode.
The season premiere of “Empire” picked up three months after Lucious’ initial incarceration. With Jamal still in position as the head of Empire; the rest of the Lyons are playing nice for the time being. Cookie and Jamal have put together a Free Lucious concert hosted by Swizz Beats and attended by nearly every black celeb known to man. From Al Sharpton to Andre Leon Talley, it was cameo overload, and not in a good way. When Don Lemon popped up out of nowhere, I really wanted to fight my TV screen.
Still, nothing could have prepared me for Cookie dropping on the stage in a cage while wearing a gorilla suit. As talented as Lee Daniels is, this was just #teamtoomuch. Though I did appreciate the show driving home the fact that thousands of Black men are unfairly incarcerated, Cookie’s chanting “How Much Longer?!” did not make me feel sympathetic towards Lucious. Even Reverend Al said he was a lost cause.
After Cookie gets the crowd riled up, Jamal takes the stage to perform on his father’s behalf and we cut to Lucious watching all of this on a rather fancy television from prison. It turns out that Lucious is basically The Godfather of jail and he already has his minions set up to do his bidding. A shifty prisoner (who turns out to be another one of Cookie’s cousins) Jermel (played by DeRay Davis) begs Lucious to protect him from a gangster named Frank Gathers. Lucious isn’t too keen on the idea, he has no beef with Gathers and he’s not trying to start any. Lucious gives Jermel a swift brush off just in time to see Hakeem take the stage.
Back at the concert, Hakeem is doing his thing on stage while Cookie is scheming behind the scenes. Mama Lyon greets a woman named Mimi Whiteman (played by Marissa Tomei). Apparently, Andre (who should obviously have control of the company) has connected them because Mimi is looking to invest in Empire to the tune of a half billion dollars. It seems like Mimi likes what Cookie has to offer, in more ways that one.
Back in fancy Rikers or wherever Lucious is being held with all of those delicious chocolate gentlemen, Lucious sees Cookie and Mimi all cozy on screen and he is NOT pleased. As Lucious wallows over Cookie’s new gal pal, Frank Gathers arrives at the prison. It turns out Lucious and Gathers (played by Chris Rock) go way back. Cookie and Lucious used to move product for him back in the day. Though they haven’t seen each other in over 20 years, they’re still cool. Gathers even asks about Cookie.
Post-concert and back at Empire headquarters, Cookie and Jamal are momentarily distracted by Krispy Kremes. Becky and Jamal are trying to have a serious conversation as Jamal’s dejected assistant runs behind them. Obviously, because he cannot bear to be ignored, Hakeem rudely tries to interrupt them several times about his album artwork. Jamal quickly brushes his baby brother aside. Becky doesn’t have time for either of them. She tells Jamal, “You’re rude, he’s crude and the both of y’all are socially unacceptable.” From the looks of it, Jamal is barely holding it together. As the big bad boss, he has a ton on his plate and no time to spend in the studio. Frustrated, Jamal runs off to see his Daddy in jail.
Updating Lucious about the goings-on at Empire, Jamal remarks that his album is suffering because he isn’t touring. Lucious is unbothered by this news and tells his middle son to make sure Andre signs some deal with APEX Radio. Lucious tries to whine to Jamal about Cookie not coming to see him. (He seems to have figured out she didn’t snitch on him.) Jamal gives him the side eye on that one. (Sir, you didn’t see the mother of your children for YEARS while she rotted away in a prison cell for something you both did.) Anyway, these two really don’t make a good team, I don’t trust Lucious at all, and Jamal is not acting like himself.
Back at Andre and Rhonda’s abode, Andre startles awake sweating (and looking scrumptious). He’d been dreaming about burying Vernon’s body. He’s also still really bitter about Lucious giving Jamal control of the company. Rhonda calms him down and tells him they just need to wait until the takeover is finalized. (Oh and it turns out they’re having a baby boy.)
Since Cookie knows that Mimi likes the ladies she throws her a party full of stunning women. She informs Mimi that with their deal, Lucious will be removed from the company. Unfortunately, Anika is also present at the shindig, and Cookie is not pleased. Luckily, Mimi takes quite a liking to Anika especially when she begins twerking in her cream debutant sweater. It became very clear to me in this moment that Cookie would be a very successful Madame.
While all of this is happening, Jamal has finally got some down time and he has his old thang back. He’s booed up again with Michael, and Ryan (who was apparently a hoe) is nowhere to be found.
The next day, Carol (played by Tasha Smith) tries to tell Porsha to warn Cookie (she’s heard from Jermel in prison) about Frank Gathers. Of course Porsha does not heed this warning and quickly hangs up the phone because she has to “boo boo”. Now look, I’m all for authenticity but the show really lost me with this one. Once again it was #teamtoomuch.
Back at the jail, Lucious gets a visit from a prosecutor that he names Ms. Clarence Thomas who’s wearing an EXTREMELY low cut top. The two go back and forth for a bit until she reads him for filth and leaves. Walking out of this meeting, Lucious sees Gathers visiting with his daughters, one of whom is a really good rapper.
Back at Empire, Michael has set a meeting up between Jamal and GLAAD. (There is piano cameo from “Fashion Queens” Miss Lawrence.) While he’s distracted it looks like Mimi has come through with the coins for Cookie, Hakeem, Andre and Anika to gain a controlling interest in the company while removing Lucious as CEO… or so they think.
It turns out that Lucious is one step ahead; Mimi has already signed an agreement with him. (It looks like Anika sleeping with Mimi didn’t even help to sway the decision. SMH) From prison (what prison has Skype by the way?!) Lucious looks gleefully on at Cookie and the rest of the crew’s shattered dreams. After picking her face up off the floor, Cookie tries to reconcile with her middle son. However, Jamal sees her underhanded move as betrayal and is having NONE of it. Cookie warns him that he is becoming his father. She’s not wrong.
Back in prison, Jermel has had his ass whooped and in a punk move he reveals to Gathers that it was Cookie who snitched on him for an early release. Arriving back at her apartment, Cookie sees a gift box in front of her door, with Carol and her kids waiting for her inside. (By the way, who just lets kids play in good weave and wigs?!) Carol informs her that Gathers knows she snitches. After sending the kids away, they open the gift box and find Jermel’s severed head inside. This ain’t no good!! Cookie sends her sister and the rest of the Lyons to Lucious’ mansion where security is top notch. She realizes, it’s time for her to pay Lucious a visit.
This is when things started to get back on track for me. Something about seeing Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson’s chemistry on screen is magical. Cookie gets to the jail and greets her ex-hubby. They go back and forth for a tad, and Cookie let’s Lucious know about Gathers’ threat. He’ll take care of it of course. Lucious proves once again that he’s not to be trifled with.
Gathers tries to assure Lucious that his beef is solely with Cookie. In response, Lucious tells him, “I love Cookie and if you got war with her then you got war with me.” He walks away pleased as punch while his goons obliterate Gathers.
At Lucious’ mansion Hakeem and Jamal have a "come to Jesus" moment with Jamal essentially telling Hakeem he’s going to bury his album. Apparently, our favorite Lyon brother has hopped on the petty bus. Coookie gets to Lucious’ house shortly thereafter to let the family know that the threat has been neutralized. Jamal is still pissed so he puts everyone out, including his mama. Cookie doesn’t take too kindly to this, and she slaps the taste out of Jamal’s mouth. TWICE. It looks like their relationship is officially beyond repair.
What do you all think of the season premiere of “Empire”? Did it live up to the hype for you?
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami