If Empire executive producer Lee Daniels intended to leave us feeling surprisingly satisfied with an epic midseason finale Wednesday night, well, then he definitely succeeded. The previous episodes of the hit show's sophomore season generally kept us gawking at the drama and bopping our heads to freshly polished rap songs, but the showdown in the 10th episode proved to be an emotional rollercoaster that had us reaching for the nearest box of Kleenex.
In the midst of continuos competition between Lucious's (Terrence Howard) Empire and Cookie's (Taraji P. Henson) Lyon Dynasty record label, the episode spans the course of a day in which the music industry's boldest stars anticipate the nominations for the fictional American Sound Awards. With guest appearances by Jason Derulo, Da Brat, and Nicole Richie, the plot line first highlights Empire's recent acquisition of Swiftstream Records, which the company accomplished with the help of boardroom executive Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei).
Tensions rise as Tiana, whom we've sadly missed for most of Season 2, takes the stage to not only slay in a gilded ensemble from The Blonds, but to also announce another slew of nods in which Freda Gatz is applauded and arch nemesis Hakeem is not. The youngest Lyon naturally fires off; however, he's quick to appear with Cookie inside her Family Day concert series at the jail where she served her time. As a refresher, the Lyon matriarch canceled her Cookie's Cookout concert once she learned her old beau was ultimately up to no good.
Meanwhile, romance oddly continues to spark between Jamal and Skye Summers (Alicia Keys). And while Lucious is excited for Jamal's unexpected interest in women ("she fixed you," he tells Jamal), the barely-a-couple pair decide to break it off considering the crooner ultimately still misses Michael.
Pepsi also had a shining moment last night as the soda company introduced a seconds-long commercial that showcased Jamal's on-stage skills both in the show and IRL. As former Pepsi spokespersons like Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Pink have done, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) nails his role as the new face of the brand.
Fast forward to the final minutes of the night and the tensions rise to unprecedented heights. Whiteman basically proves to be a conniving fraud and dramatically introduces Camilla Marks (Naomi Campbell) as the new CEO of Empire just moments after the company's board takes on an emergency vote. So what resulted in the dethroning of Lucious? Hakeem ultimately agreed to let his father lose the top spot.
Naturally, Lucious loses his mind and begins shooting his at-home office up with a gun, but Cookie manages to calm him down and remind him of his family priorities. In perhaps the season's most endearing moment yet, the two hug out their differences and we experienced a tear-jerking dialogue that brings up memories only the dynamic pair can share. Moments later, both Lucious and Jamal receive separate nominations for the AMA Song of the Year Award (one Lucious has always wanted to take home). And while you'd think the proud father would be supportive of his son, he simply threatens him.
So how does the showdown conclude? Rhonda wakes up from her sleep thinking her and Andre's alarm system is malfunctioning; however, she's pushed down the stairs by an in-disguise intruder who is obviously trying to get rid of the baby she's carrying. Considering the two have been chatting it up as of late, we presume the prime suspect is Anika, who's not only pregnant with Hakeem's son, but also wants to return to the family.
And just like that, we're once again on hold until next time. Empire's second season picks up again March 30, 2016, but make sure to click here to see the most daring fashion looks from the season so far. Visit Empire's costume designer Paolo Nieddu on Instagram for more style details—and tune into Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays special next Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.