Much like the series itself, when Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is given a chance to slow down and breathe — and not worry about who might come up shooting at him onstage — he actually makes really beautiful music.
In “Sound & Fury” (Mar. 22), he does just that — with the help of his new rehab friend Tori Ash (Rumer Willis), a fellow musician who burned a little too bright and wound up falling from grace. The two young musicians form a quick bond, and by the hour’s midpoint have already produced a moving duet.
Even Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) take a break from their usual screaming match to pause and appreciate the beauty of what their son has produced. After finding out that Jamal skipped bed check back at the hospital, they come running to the studio where Jamal and Tori are recording, hellbent on keeping them from relapsing… But seeing the two sitting across from each other in the recording booth, singing happily into the mics gives the Lyons pause, and we actually see smiles on their faces as they watch their son do what he does best: Sing.
It’s a calm moment in an otherwise blazing return to form after the tame (by “Empire” standards) fall finale, bookended nicely by two very different interpretations of burning fire: The first a promo shot of Lucious talking about his new “Inferno” album, engulfed by CGI flames, followed by real flames on display… During a Remy Ma performance!
Now this is the “Empire” we all know and love. That’s hilarious and dramatic all at the same time, just as we like it.
Backstage at said pyro show, Cookie and Lucious have returned to their normal state too, lobbing shots at each other with the heat of a thousand alley cats. Cookie is still fired up about what Lucious did to Angelo (Taye Diggs), ambushing him with a camera crew after the People’s Ball about his DUI record and the death of an innocent girl (and for putting on the Inferno showcase without telling her). She demands that Lucious announce he’s stepping down as CEO to work on the album, leaving her sole CEO. “That’s what you get for dry snitching on Angelo. You wanna play me?”
Lucious responds with what should now be a canned Lucious response that he can just text to people when needed: “I don’t play, I war. You want a war? Take a shot.”
And of course, she does. In this case Cookie’s shot is having Tiana (Serayah) and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) crash the next showcase, which was set up for new artist Nessa (Sierra Aylina McClain), resulting in an on-stage catfight and weave-pulling between the two ingenues. Like anyone else in the Lyon family, they (and by proxy, the King and Queen) know it’s best to restrict your fights to when the camera lights are flashing.
Meanwhile, still having issues with her boss Xavier (Samuel Hunt), Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) goes on a little joyride with Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo) to see if he can help her figure out how to handle him. What she gets is a day spent running errands with the lawyer — including picking up and delivering Bam Bam’s mother to him as a warning from Lucious to stay quiet when the Feds come about Frank Gathers’ murder; dropping off a “package” to a radio station manager; and essentially babysitting Lucious’ mom all day.
When Becky finally calls him out for wasting her time, Thirsty coolly responds that she must be patient and let karma do its work: “Man, that is some Shaolin Monk Bullsh*t!” she shouts, and we were ready to agree… Until of course, the very next scene, a board meeting in which Xavier is summarily fired for taking kickbacks from station managers, and escorted from the building.
After putting up with all that condescending maneuvering, it seems Becky finally got what she wanted: Karma… And now that Head of A&R is open, she’s sure the position is hers… But since it’s “Empire” and Becky is a nice, respectable human being, things do not go her way. After a long speech even by Lucious standards, we learn that he’s re-appointed Anika (Grace Gealey) to the position, as her “DNA is all over this company.” Shots fired back at Cookie, it would seem.
But the final blast of fire comes in Cookie’s response — interrupting Lucious in the studio with a baseball bat and smashing up just about every record that has her DNA on it… Which is pretty much everything, of course. They chase each other through the halls of the company (luckily everyone’s gone home for the day), ending up in Lucious’ office where Cookie smashes up his grand piano, and — after a heated exchange leads to a passionate kiss — Cookie finally shuts things down, claiming “I said I was done with you” and walks out.
Which is satisfying, and nice for her, but… We’re pretty positive that’s one flame that will never quite go out.
“Empire” airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.