The episode starts with a flashback of Cookie (Taraji P Henson) saying goodbye to her family for the last time before she goes to prison, assuring them that she loves them, with Lucious (Terrence Howard) singing a bit of what will become one of his biggest hits – “You’re So Beautiful” – to her.
Cut to the present: The morning after Lucious and Cookie have had sex for the first time in seventeen years. Apparently, he’s the only man she’s ever slept with, and even though Lucious has slept with many women, he’s always been looking for Cookie. But she assures him that he will not get to sleep with her again unless he promises to leave Anika (Grace Gealey): “No nookie from Cookie until you ditch the bitch.” He promises to do so and then they have sex again.
Cookie also has big plans for Lucious. She wants to do a whole project, called “Lucious Lyon’s Legacy”, which would include a documentary about the family, and a greatest hits album with a remix of “You’re So Beautiful”, featuring Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) on the track. Lucious is all about it and immediately hires a film director, Ryan Morgan (Eka Darville).
Production on the song starts immediately as well, with Hakeem and Jamal getting into the studio with Cookie producing. It doesn’t take long to get Cookie and Lucious into the studio with them, and they all record a take together as a family. Except, of course, poor Andre (Trai Byers), who glowers at them from a darkened corner. This is the last time you will see them together as a family.
Anika, remember, had seen Cookie and Lucious together, and that isn’t all. She’s found out that Lucious had her father falsify documents stating that he was in good health for the IPO. She confronts him about it and he promises that he never meant to hurt her. She wants him to prove it and move up the wedding. To when? Next weekend. He agrees.
Cookie and Hakeem get a small reconciliation when he throws a fit about her notes on his song. Cause he’s a spoiled man-baby. Sorry, was that my outside voice? Anyway, Lucious gives them both a talking to, since he’s going to be dead soon and they’ll have to work together. Hakeem comes clean about how he feels that Cookie is too bossy and how she loves Jamal more than him. She assures him that she just knows Jamal better, that’s all. So they promise to get to know each other better. Shortly thereafter, Lucious and Cookie have sex again in the studio. Sorry, Boo Boo Kitty.
Andre has his own machinations in the works. He wants to put forward a motion to the board that if anything happens to Lucious, he would be the temporary CEO. Vernon (Malik Yoba) assures him that he has the votes of the family, but he needs one more in order to make it happen. So he enlists Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) to sleep with the husband of a board member, but when they arrive at the house for dinner, the man is at least seventy and wheelchair bound. Rhonda gets drunk and ends up vomiting at the dinner table. Yikes.
Needless to say, Andre doesn’t get that vote. But he does sew up one of the other board members to vote yes. So he goes into the meeting feeling confident, however his plans go awry when Lucious votes no. Andre confronts Lucious about it, and tells his father that the only reason Lucious doesn’t want him running things is because he’s not talented, and because he went to college, trying to be accepted by mainstream society. Turns out, Lucious isn’t just homophobic, he’s borderline xenophobic, claiming that “they” will never accept Andre, no matter how many white women he marries, and his marriage to Rhonda means he’s not really part of the family. Way harsh, brah.
Hakeem and Jamal have their own drama, as usual. Camilla (Naomi Campbell) thinks Hakeem should go last on the “You’re So Beautiful”, since that’s the power position. Hakeem brings it up to Cookie and she says she’ll talk to Jamal about it. Jamal goes on a date with the doc director, Ryan, who encourages him to come out and be truthful for the sake of his daughter. He then spends some time with the little girl, playing and singing with her in a truly adorable scene.
Then comes the “big event” of the episode (every episode seems to have one): The White Party. Everyone looks fly, and the stage is set for all of the drama. Anika tells reporters that there will be a big announcement at the end of the event. Cookie wastes no time in confronting Lucious about it and he admits that he’s not going to leave Anika. Cookie asks Jamal about the track, and he states that he doesn’t want to be on the track anymore if Hakeem is starting up again, and he warns Cookie that Lucious is incapable of loving anyone but himself.
Cookie takes that advice to a point: she tells Anika about her and Lucious’ tryst in the studio, throwing Anika for a spin. Then she sets her sights on Camilla, meeting her for the first time. This is some of the best verbal sparring of the episode, with Cookie calling Camilla “Yoko Ono”, since Camilla has opinions about Hakeem’s position on the track.
Camilla: “I’m not one of your jailbird mates.”
Cookie: “That’s too bad. You look like you’d make a good bitch for me, you look like you have a long tongue.”
Cookie definitely wins the round, but Camilla’s not done: she promises that Hakeem won’t be on the song.
Jamal and Lucious have a brief conversation about family, with Lucious maintaining his position that as much strife as there is in the family, music is always the answer. It is the legacy, it is what makes the people feel, and move, and dance, long after they’re all gone. Jamal has an arrangement of “You’re So Beautiful” that he brought with him and Lucious agrees to let him perform it.
This is where my heart started racing. Before he sings, Jamal announces to the crowd that he is honored to use one of his brilliant father’s biggest hits to tell some of his own truths. Have you figured out what he’s gonna do? I kept waiting for the moment, and then it came. He changed a lyric: “This the kind of song that makes a man love a man.” Then comes some amazing editing of the flashback where Lucious put Jamal in a trash can, intercut with everyone’s reactions before leading back into the song. Cookie, Hakeem, Andre and Vernon are all supportive while Lucious remains stonefaced.
The song is a hit and it’s all the news is talking about the next day. As Cookie points out, nothing really changes, the world is still spinning. But Lucious is pissed and he calls off the Legacy project. Hakeem apologizes to Jamal for the drama about the track and they agree to share the last verse before Hakeem tells his brother that he’s proud of him for coming out and it’s the bravest thing he’s ever seen. Anika is pissed at Lucious and goes to see Beretti, setting up the major drama for the next episode. And Andre seems to be going off his meds again, as he sits in the studio and puts a gun to his head, pulling the trigger. There is no bullet, but he screams in agony. Things are not going to go well for him coming up.
The episode ends as it began: in flashback. Cookie sits in her cell, photos of her family on the wall as she sings “You’re So Beautiful” to herself, alone in a cold, dark, silent prison.
Empire is soap, drama, music and sass. But this episode showed that it can be more. Characters were more honest in this episode, moving plot forward, and while there was plenty of drama, none of it felt forced or too much, as it sometimes can with this show. And where the episode started with a family together, it ends with everyone alone. Danny Strong is a master storyteller and he brought his A-game to this episode, making me wish that he was the writer/director on every episode.
Were you as thrilled by Jamal’s coming out as I was?