Lucious is in the studio with a live band, recording a song for the Inferno album, with Snoop Dogg and a whole entourage chilling on the other side of the booth. But it isn’t going well — Lucious senses that something just isn’t right with the song. We don’t linger on him for too long; soon we’re peering into Jamal’s studio session, where he is also recording a live song, and — surprise — he isn’t feeling it either. We switch back and forth between the two Lyons, and eventually they both throw fits and walk out the studio, or kick everyone out. Like father, like son.
This was one of the more difficult hours of Empire to get through, which is disappointing for me, as I was really feeling last week’s episode. It was...excruciatingly bad and boring, as opposed to it sometimes being bad and boujie. Perhaps this was just a poorly articulated filler episode. Either way, there were some notable moments and themes, that will definitely become more relevant before the season finale.
As you know, Cookie declined Angelo’s proposal because she’s still has the hots for Lucious. In this episode, she wants to tell him how she feels, but the moment is never quite right. Between Juicy and Anika’s interruptions and family drama, the words don’t seem to come out. Instead, she stares longingly into his eyes and says cryptic quotes here and there. Ooh girl, that won’t work. I’ve been there too many times before.
Snoop Dogg, who is apparently the voice of wisdom in this episode, tells Lucious that the only way Inferno will be lit is if Jamal is on it. Because, well, Jamal brings a certain kind of audience to the table. It would’ve been easier if he just said that queer Black people set the culture, duh. Lucious is reluctant at first, but then in the very next scene he asks Jamal to sing on a track. ‘Mal refuses: “Or what? You’re gonna ground me?” It would’ve been more realistic if he just said “whoop me," but then again, this is national television.
Cookie finds Andre and Shine in a laundromat, with a whole posse of dudes she knows from North Philly. They’re ready to go after Lucious: payback for him and Juicy kicking them off the Vegas deal. But Cookie is not about to let anyone go after her babies' daddy, who she recently realized is the love of her life. She advises them to wait, to lay low and see what happens. They listen. Never underestimate the power of the Cookie.
On the way to the club, Hakeem tells Lucious he really wants to be on his own daughter’s birth certificate. Lucious doesn’t care. What’s more: Angelo is at the club, smoking with friends, which causes a commotion amongst the guests. Remember last week when the Dubois said they will tear down the Lyons? Well, smoking in their club is step one to that plan.
A flurry of events happen in between, but none are that significant or thrilling: Lucious confronts Cookie about Angelo’s stunt, Tinashe and Jamal try collaborating in the studio, but to no avail, and Hakeem vents to Tory and Tiana about the Bella birth certificate drama, before hopping in the tub and (presumably) having a threesome with them. After having a meeting with Snoop Dog, who is still hesitant about Inferno, Lucious learns that Snoop’s advisor is apart of the Dubois family. Now he is certain that there is a conspiracy going on (when isn't he?) and whines to Cookie about it. Cookie tries to appease things with Angelo, even proposing to do a public talk to alleviate the social and political distress he must be under after accidentally admitting his illegal actions over a microphone, but Angelo isn’t hearing her out. Rightfully so? He needs time to heal, Cook.
Jamal saves the day. As a peace offering, he gives Angelo a check for $5 million, intended for a scholarship fund. Angelo doesn’t want to accept the money at first, but he eventually does, after he remembers that there are SO many students who can use that college money, including myself, a post grad with hella student loan debt. Meanwhile, Hakeem has been streaming live videos of himself, where he muses over lions on the nature channel, family, child rearing and “elevating." Cue his new song, “Elevated," which he performs live. The bathtub that he just had sex in serves as the stage.
The beauty of the internet? Everyone sees what you share — especially the one person in the world that you hope will see your post. Lucious is watching Hakeem’s feed, which isn’t surprising, but he does seem genuinely moved by Hakeem’s talk of lion cubs and redemption. Jamal is still having songwriter’s block, until he and Cookie hear the beat that Lucious has been working on. But it’s too late: Lucious has found another R & B artist to sing over the tune. Just when he’s about to blow, Jamal sings over him, belting out lyrics that perfectly match Lucious’ melody. Awestruck, Lucious apologies to the anonymous singer and eagerly decides to work with Jamal. The terms of their agreement: They squash the beef they’ve had for so long. Yeah, right.
In the final scene of this tedious episode, the Lyon family, plus Thirsty and Anika, have a family meal at Lucious’ house. Lucious, in a good mood, begins thanking all the family members who have made his good spirits possible: Anika, for getting close to Tariq and closing Lucious’ case; Jamal for (seemingly?) solving things with Angelo and collaborating on the Inferno track, which somehow sealed the Vegas deal; Hakeem for pouring his heart out on social media. Their rewards? Anika gets her “freedom” (divorce papers) and $25 mil and Hakeem gets his own Empire Xtream channel. Andre looks on, salty as ever, because once again, Lucious denies to acknowledge his efforts.
But, this family is far from achieving peace and solace. A social worker interrupts the semi-happy moment, with a police officer, stating that she’s here to pick up a child who is in an unstable environment. Hakeem?! Ah, no — Bella. I forgot Hakeem just turned 21.
When Lucious doesn’t comply, a SWAT team busts through the home. A SWAT team, y'all. For a baby. Let that sink in. Anika, torn, hands over Bella, and the Lyon family is distraught. I am too — Bella was the only stable character.
In “Civil Hands Unclean,” the Lyons are once again confronted with their twisted family issues, father-son rivalries, brother-to-brother tensions and post-marital problems. Some characters are desperate to change, while others are so fixed in their ways that change is impossible, momentary, not genuine. But sometimes, the people who suffer the consequences of our broken bonds are the ones too young to understand what’s happening, or where the drama originated from.
Changing, and forgiving, for the sake of family is sometimes the hardest thing to do: because family is the one group of people who (we expect) will never go away, it’s the easiest to take them for granted. Until it’s too late.