Last night’s episode of Empire is titled “True Love Never.” But that heading just feels incomplete. I kept finding myself trying to fill in what appears to be the start of a “fill in the blank” situation. After I tested out a bunch of different words or phrases, I started finding reasons why I used them. Here’s what I mean. If it were titled “True Love Never Dies,” that could totally refer to the relationship that we see between Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). Jamal needs her when it comes to being creative. We find him on the precipice of creating an instant classic in the studio, but he just can’t swing it without Cookie’s tutelage. After a few text messages, they find themselves eating a meal together and sipping on bubbly. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing for Cookie to get Jamal to creep on over to Lyon Dynasty to lay down one helluva track. He later performs that track at a Quincy Jones type’s legendary “living room session” and brings the proverbial house down. If the episode were titled “True Love Never Lived Here,” then that would definitely refer to the twisted situation between Laz Delgado (Adam Rodriguez) and Cookie. Clearly she can be blinded by the booty. After her misstep into Lucious’ (Terrence Howard) bed last season, I thought Cookie had learned her lesson. Not so. She and Laz have been locked in an EPIC three-day smushing session and, while she might be falling in love with him, he’s falling deeper into her pockets. Laz and his gang of Texas Longhorn-tatted thugs plan to price-gouge her on security for her upcoming “Cookie’s Cookout” concert (not too thuggish by street standards in my opinion *shrugs*) and possibly take her for everything the label is worth.
Then I thought, what if it were titled “True Love Never Lets You Down?” That would certainly be in reference to Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Laura (Jamila Velazquez). After Cookie makes clear that the singer doesn’t have what it takes to be a real star, she orders Hakeem to relegate Laura to back-up singer status. But Hakeem sees something in the young vocalist and is hell-bent on turning her into a diva. He cajoles her into singing “I Will Survive” in Spanish in the middle of a crowd, thus bringing out her inner Ariana Grande. That, of course, brings out her feelings toward Hakeem… as I predicted (see No. 6). If the episode were titled “True Love Should Never Bring Out Jealousy,” it would definitely be talking about Lucious’ jealous ass. Lucious is backstabbing, vindictive, malevolent, rude, sexist, vengeful, and homophobic. But not until last night did I learn that his green eyes are fueled with the sweet juices of jealousy. Jamal’s talent and connections have landed him an intimate performance at Clarence Williams III's legendary “living room session” — something Lucious has been angling for. You see, he’s suffering from “always a bridesmaid never a bride” syndrome. Apparently a “living room session” will guarantee Lucious a myriad of coveted awards he’s only been nominated for, but has never won. But as Jamal CRUSHED his living room session, all Lucious’ dreams of winning an award are visibly and viscerally crushed, too.
Finally, if it were titled “True Love Never Counts You Out,” then maybe it would be pointed at Andre (Trai Byers). There’s nothing like a little bit of blackmail to kick-start the ol’ love engine. As is the case with Andre and his battles with arguably the deadliest of the seven deadly sins… LUST. In the first season, he and the deputy mayor get it all the way on, but now that Andre has given himself over to the Lord, lust isn’t on the menu… but blackmail is! Lucious intentionally sends Andre to the hot-in-the-pants deputy mayor to clear up Freda Gatz’s pesky little gang injunction. And just like Lucifer himself, Lucious wants to knock Andre off his holy path. Instead, Andre gets the best of the kinky civil servant and shows her their sex tape — and threatens to show it to New York's real-life mayor Bill de Blasio if she doesn’t comply. Boom!