Last week, we ended with Dwight telling Cookie he wanted to know everything about her time in prison — and this week picks up right where we left off. Cookie recounts scenes from that time as we watch them in a flashback: She explains which groups she and her Philly women got along with behind bars, and which were their enemies.
One particular woman from D.C., Poundcake, seemed to hate Cookie for no reason, and the two got into a rough physical fight just before one of Lucious’ visits. As she tells the story, Dwight starts remembering it on his own and chimes in about a time little Jamal came to visit his mom behind bars. Dwight (it’s easier to refer to present-day Lucious this way since that’s how he refers to himself) starts apologizing for Lucious’ behavior toward Cookie all those years ago. He refers to Lucious as “him” — a totally separate person — and says that he’ll try to be a better man for Cookie now. He wants to come to Empire with her today.
Dwight enters Empire to wild applause, as people like Becky and Porsha give him squealing, chatty hugs. But things are less nice when they go up to listen to Hakeem’s new song, which is full of the toughness that makes Dwight cringe now (ironic, since Hakeem is the Lyon who takes after Lucious the most musically). “I didn’t like the nature of the song, but he was so passionate in how he delivered it,” Dwight says diplomatically. I know I’ve said this in every recap, but I really like amnesia Lucious — even though, as Mrs. DuBois points out in yet another info-gathering lunch with Warren and Angelo, the whole amnesia thing is little too “like a soap opera.”
Empire is having a tough time deciding which artists will be part of the 20 for 20 series, so Andre pretends it’s Dwight’s idea to have them compete with each other for the top spots. This turns Empire into American Idol for a bit as different artists perform for the judges (Cookie, Lucious/Dwight, Becky…and Porsha?). Tiana is consistent as usual; Cookie kicks Tory Ash off the stage immediately. (“No. The first one out the gate cannot be a white girl,” she says, to which Dwight argues, “That sounds really unfair…”) A guy comes out and gets accused of stealing a beat, so he’s out, and then Empire’s answer to Janelle Monae confuses everyone with her concept album about warriors in space who have left Earth. (Dwight’s response to this: “Was there a problem on Earth, why the warriors had to leave?”)
Then some dude named “Tommy” — who apparently is Empire’s most Grammy-winning artist even though we haven’t seen him until season 4 — does a show-stopping vocal run. The judges all decide he’s The One, until Dwight tells him he saw “visions of burnt umber mixed with a deep magenta” while Tommy was singing, “like hope coupled with a tremendous amount of fear.” “Are you suffering?” Dwight asks. As a matter of fact, Tommy’s brother was shot last week and they’re not sure if he’s going to be okay — so Dwight tells him to go be with his family, and Empire will be here to support him when he gets back. It’s a wonderfully compassionate response as a human being, but not so much as a CEO who needs strong performances for this crazy 20 album push.
Dwight is disturbed by Cookie’s attitude all day, yelling “NEXT!” every two minutes and cutting people down left and right. But she reminds him that not only is she running a company — but she’s acting like him. Well, like Lucious. She sends him home, which is probably for the best.
While all this has been going on, Jamal and Tory started working on a duet about love being like a drug, as if they’re the first artists to ever put that simile together, Hakeem has been planning Bella’s Prince-themed first birthday party, and Anika runs into Angelo DuBois on the street, who reminds her that the Lyons will bite her eventually, and she should call him when she’s ready to bite back.
Dwight doesn’t go straight home though — he stops by Andre’s office first and notices the strange, anonymously sent bouquet of flowers on the desk that have puzzled Andre all day. Dwight tells Andre the flowers are “crimson…the same sharp, bleeding pain that I see in you,” and asks if he’s okay. Is Dwight going to end up being…an art therapist? I might still watch that show. Andre just tells him he seems so different, and that he’ll walk him out.
Back at home, Anika is at the house to plan Bella’s birthday (cue Hakeem saying, “I can’t get that many berets in that raspberry color!”). It’s the first time Anika has seen Dwight, and she immediately starts yelling at him for, among other things, not visiting her in jail, forcing her into a sham marriage, ripping Bella from her arms, etc. “You were in prison, too?” Dwight asks, prompting Cookie to reply: “Jail ain’t prison, and she wasn’t there long enough to break a nail!” When he apologizes to Anika, Andre freaks out on her (Trai Byers does not get enough credit for this role) and reminds everyone that not only is the anniversary of Rhonda’s death right around the same time as Bella’s birth, but also Anika murdered Rhonda and Andre’s baby. Andre tells Dwight how Rhonda was murdered, too, and that Anika got away with it because the rest of the family was more concerned with protecting the Lyons’ secrets. He’s not wrong.
Later that night, Cookie tells Claudia that she was right about Dwight not being ready to return to Empire. But apparently Claudia gave Cookie some book to read about his condition, which involves finding the “crossroads” of his identity. Cookie tells her she thinks she knows where it is: the lion statue in Philly that he slept underneath as a homeless 9-year-old, when Dwight Walker became Lucious Lyon. Claudia begs Cookie not to take him there yet because it’s too soon, and Cookie doesn’t seem like she’s going to disobey her anymore.
Back at Jamal’s, he realizes with Warren that he shouldn’t sing generic, Taylor Swift-y songs about women with red lipstick and smeared eyeliner when what he really wants to do is sing about his love for men. This makes sense, but also hasn’t Jamal already been out and proud? Didn’t he already sing songs about being gay? (Okay, I do get that this is a little different.)
They decide they’re going to do the duet together, as two sexy men with amazing voices singing to each other, and perform it at the next day’s Empire Idol session. Everyone’s sold (surprise, surprise), except Tory who’s mad about being replaced and has obviously forgotten about when she betrayed Jamal last year. Seriously, when did these two make up? And why is Tory still on this show?
That afternoon is Bella’s birthday party, where everyone’s dressed like Prince, and Hakeem and Jamal perform as different versions of him on stage. Bella clearly cares very much about the theme since she’s a year old (just kidding, she doesn’t really care).
Outside, Detective Pamela is waiting for Andre. Turns out she is the one who sent the flowers, since she knew Rhonda’s death anniversary from his file. She’s been unprofessional enough already, she says, so why stop now. Andre gets in the car with her and they go. I just want him to be happy!
Everything’s going fine until Anika comes in with Angelo. Despite the two of them being a match in bougie heaven, he’s actually here as her lawyer: Anika is suing for full custody of Bella. (Yep, this is definitely when those photos of Hakeem and Bella at the DuBois house are going to come in somehow. What’s Mrs. DuBois’ move here? Child endangerment?)
Finally, conniving Claudia decides to use Cookie’s discovery herself and takes Dwight to the lion statue in Philly. Dwight can see his younger self in flashbacks looking sad and alone, to which Claudia says, “I understand. I know what that feels like, to be sad and alone.” Okay, she is crazy, right? Dwight is concerned because he really doesn’t want to go back to being Lucious, this monster he so fundamentally disagrees with on every front. Claudia tells him he can choose a different path instead, and he asks, “Would you come with me?” She gets close to him and says breathlessly, “Yes, if you want me to!” They don’t kiss, but they look two seconds away from it. When are we going to find out her game plan?! I DO NOT LIKE THIS WOMAN!
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