Empire Season 2 Episode 2 Recap: A New Dynasty Begins

Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX.
I’m just going to say it. Did anyone else feel like they were watching the deleted scenes from the film Hustle & Flow (2005) during tonight’s episode of Empire? It had all the same plot points: Terrence Howard eased back into his role as “Djay,” trying to rise up from the bottom on the wings of the rap game, with some rudimentary studio equipment and the ubiquitous white boy engineering the 808’s in a makeshift studio. Of course this is before the whole plan gets monkey-wrenched when Ludacris — this time playing evil Officer McKnight instead of “Skinny Black” — shows up to stomp out all the dreams not quite yet realized. It was so parallel that if Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) had made the slightest reference to it being “hard out here for a pimp,” I would have thrown my slipper at the TV!

Hustle & Flow this was not. However, the theme of music was laced throughout the episode. Dee Rees, who was just up for an Emmy for her fantastic work helming HBO’s Bessie, directed this episode. Clearly, she has a knack for music.

We were reintroduced to Tiana (Serayah McNeill) rehearsing her new single. We were also treated to a studio session with songstress Veronica (Veronika Bozeman), one of the Empire artists Cookie snagged for her burgeoning new label. And, we got a taste of Jamal’s flawless voice as he crooned “Born to Love You.”

That leads us back to Lucious’ music and this episode's detour into Cornyville. He’s still locked up, which inspires him to drop a joint from the joint. As fate would have it (although I believe this was more a deliberate orchestration than fate), he’s in the visiting room with Jamal when he’s introduced to a thirsty lawyer-type who goes by the name of what else? THIRSTY!

Turns out Thirsty Rawlings, “Esquire,” comes through on many fronts. He provides Lucious with his much-needed respiratory medication, which the unfriendly, out-to-get-him prosecutor Roxanne Ford (Tyra Ferrell) had taken away from him. He finagles a recording session for Lucious so he can lay down his track “Snitchin’ Ass Bitches” (still laughing about that title by the way). He also arranges Lucious’ bail after some well-played blackmail of the kinky judge presiding over the case. And then, just like that, Lucious is a free man!

But before Lucious’ release, somebody — ahem, Thirsty — arranges for Officer McKnight to get jumped while he’s carrying the masters from the track Lucious recorded. And also for being an overall pain in Lucious’ ass. This fight scene looked so incredibly hokey that I literally LOL’d. One of the “thugs” might have even got off a “jive turkey” reference or something close to it. You really tried it, Empire.

Even with all that corniness, though, the episode wasn’t necessarily bad. There wasn’t much in the way of bombs being dropped, but something is definitely a’brewing. During Andre’s visit with Lucious, when he begs to be let back into the Empire family, we’re privy to a flashback in which Lucious is being cradled by a disheveled woman (Kelly Rowland) singing softly to him, and appearing to have some sort of mental breakdown. This could be an implication that Andre may have inherited something from HER (cue dramatic music!). I’m not sure where the show is going with this, but I don’t think it’s the last we’ve seen of Kelly Rowland.

Meanwhile, Cookie kept busy building her dynasty. She’s got her mind set on starting a brand-new label that will be bigger and better than Empire. Hakeem’s on board, and he gets busy finding a multicultural girl group. He also discovers, and quickly bags, Valentina (Becky G). Anika (Grace Gealey) can’t stand Cookie’s heat, so she gets out of the kitchen. Andre doesn’t want any part of this new label bullshit, either, so he bounces.

Empire has been getting Dynasty comparisons since it hit our collective TV screens, so it's equal parts fitting and banal that Cookie and Jamal’s new label be called Lyon’s Dynasty. Hear them roar.

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