The first half of Empire's second season was like that significant other with whom things were getting serious, but who starts acting like a brand-new person once you've been together for a while. You find yourself stepping back and thinking, Who ARE you? So now that you’ve called them out on their shit, your boo is trying to come clean and start over fresh. That’s what this second half of season 2 is supposed to do: serve up a good time like we used to have, some good laughs, and, hopefully, good writing. We started out so good together Empire. We can BE something. Don’t screw this up for us! Even series creator Lee Daniels admitted that things went a little funky last year with season 2 during a panel discussion at PaleyFest earlier this month. “We were going through growing pains and I think it would have happened to any show. Though we remained #1 we were [still] learning,” he admitted. So, I’m putting him to the test. Has Empire learned its lesson? Can we continue what started out as a beautiful relationship? Lee said he was scaling back on the menagerie of celebrity guests floating in and out of Empire. And I have to say he held true to that promise. Naomi Campbell reprises her role as the evil cougar Camilla Marks, with her paws all over Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) — even though she’s married to Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei). But Campbell’s less of a cameo and more of a secondary cast member at this point. There were no other celebrity surprises, and we're kind of relieved.
One of the biggest cliffhangers from the first half of the season is actually addressed: What in God’s name would Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrence Howard) do once they got their hands on their backstabbing son Hakeem. Remember: He was the deciding vote that allowed Empire to be snatched from its founder Lucious. It's a broom handle-wielding Cookie who gets to Hakeem first. She's waiting for him at the doe’.
But Cookie’s brutal broomstick beating is nothing compared to Lucious’ reaction. After explaining to Hakeem that the reason he killed Bunkie was because the guy tried to come between Lucious and his Empire — he puts a gun in his youngest son’s hand and basically tells him to execute his dad, so Lucious won’t have to “Bunkie” his own son, too. Hakeem refuses. Now it’s Lucious’ move. Camilla assumes her duties running Empire and offers Hakeem the CEO position — if he kicks his girlfriend (whom she refers to as “Mexican” as if it were a dirty word) to the proverbial curb. At first, Hakeem is torn — but, like all Lyons, he strives to be king of his jungle, and eventually caves. He picks a fight with the virginal Laura (Jamila Velazquez) and grabs the crown — in a horrible suit I might add. Then, of course, he turns back around and grabs Laura’s virginity.
Jamal (Jussie Smollett) — whom Cookie told to “get his gay back” in order to preserve his relationship with his LGBT fan base — has a plan to get Cookie back into Empire and eventually take it over from the inside. He threatens to leak his album, since Cookie's rival Lyon Dynasty owns it. The plan works, and Cookie is in! The second huge cliffhanger — who pushed poor Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) down the stairs? — has begun to unravel. We learn in an appropriately melodramatic way that the spill did in fact cause her to lose her and Andre’s (Trai Byers) baby. She has no recollection of someone — in red-soled flats — trying to do her in. Sneaky Anika (Grace Gealey) comes sniffing around her hospital room — belly full of the next heir by default — just to make sure Rhonda is none the wiser that Anika is (probably) the owner of those guilty shoes. But Rhonda has a flash of memory of the tragic fall, and now it’s only a matter of time before she remembers that a Louboutin-clad creep tried to do away with her. Yes, Empire is that significant other trying to win me back. This was a solid date night, so I’m willing to give this relationship another try. But don’t make me regret it, Empire.