Empire co-creator Lee Daniels promised a boost in drama, fashion, and celebrity cameos for the Fox show's second season, and last night’s highly anticipated premiere delivered just that. Taraji P. Henson's Cookie Lyon returned in all her fierce glory wearing a sheer feathered Gucci gown that suggests we're in for a storm of runway-inspired frocks.
“I wanted everybody to really reflect the current fashion that’s going on right now as well as inspire people with the way we put clothes together,” Paolo Nieddu, Empire’s costume designer, told InStyle. But while Ms. Lyon may have dangerously descended from a cage and stepped out of a gorilla getup to greet eager fans at a #FreeLucious concert in the premiere, it wasn't enough to distract us from the plot twists that followed.
Just minutes into the episode and after guest appearances by Swizz Beatz, Al Sharpton, and CNN’s Don Lemon, we learn that Cookie is once more plotting a hostile takeover of the record label. So how’s she planning to do so? The matriarch attempts to impress Mimi Whiteman (played by Marisa Tomei), a money-loaded “investor lady.” Terrence Howard's Lucious, who saw both of them together on TV from prison, eventually identifies her as the “lesbian bitch in a red suit.”
While Becky, Porsha, and Andre continue their daily routines inside of the office, it’s clear from the get go that at day’s end, Lucious is in charge. The company’s founder doesn't hesitate to gleefully greet Frank Gathers (Chris Rock), who entered jail thanks to Cookie, and the two seem to become instant, behind bars friends. Jamal—who looks particularly sexy in low-cut T-shirts with bulging muscles—soon pays his father a visit in jail, where the two discuss upcoming singles and Hakeem’s artwork.
Back in the free world, Rhonda and Andre repeatedly stress over the fact that they indeed killed Vernon Turner and battle over how to keep their secret under wraps. As tensions rise, Cookie throws Mimi a party in hopes of closing in on her $250 million investment. Being the sneaky corporate queen that she is, Anika tries to make a boardroom-like move on Mimi, but Cookie, of course, reigns supreme and makes her dance with “Anita.” We then proceed to learn that Jamal is back together with his chiseled boyfriend Michael Sanchez and the two have moved into a luxurious marble-covered apartment.
As if matters couldn't be worse, Cookie’s sister Carole frantically attempts to warm her that the Lyon family is in danger and Gathers is out to seek revenge. Back in prison, Lucious wards off a power-hungry prosecutor, Roxanne, and meets Gathers’s talented daughter, a bona fide rapper. Moments later, Hakeem, Anika, Andre, and Cookie march into Empire’s main conference room to announce that the team has tapped Mimi Whiteman to help remove Luscious as CEO of the company.
The tables rapidly turn and Jamal, who leads the meeting, faces Mimi, who reveals that she met with Luscious that morning and as a result chose to follow his more profitable offer, despite the fact that she slept with Anika the night before. “Luscious Lyon is Empire. Empire is Lucious Lyon. Without him, the company is nothing,” she adds with a punch of bravado. Jamal turns on the conference room screen and Lucious appears in a video professing few choice words: “Game over, bitches.”
Following the twist, Cookie receives a rose from Frank Gathers in addition to the gift-wrapped head of an imprisoned friend that Gathers evidently murdered. Wearing a gilded Moschino patchwork denim jacket, she rushes to visit Lucious in prison to ask for help. Scenes then flash to the Lyon family hastily seeking shelter in Luscious’s home, while things in jail begin to heat up.
Luscious confront Gathers, and just when we think the two reach a peaceful agreements, Luscious manages to get him killed, though not without adding that he’ll sign his rapper daughter to the label. Before the episode wraps, Jamal and Hakeem take a moment to battle over who will have better album sales. As the two are amid a fight, Cookie returns to the family explaining that there’s nothing left to fear. Unfortunately, Jamal kicks everyone out of the house and he and Cookie take part in a heart-wrenching mother-son disagreement—he’s convinced her vice is to betray the company and all that they’ve worked for. So what’s next? We’re counting down the days until next Wednesday, when Empire airs at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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