Empire Season 3, Episode 14 Recap: "Love Is A Smoke"

Photo: Courtesy of FOX.
“We both know that love and romance is all bull, right?” Lucious reminds Cookie, when she walks in on him listening to an old ballad he wrote about Giuliana 15 years ago. The song is melancholy yet romantic, reminiscent of Donny Hathaway’s honey-dipped heartbreak hymns.
Cookie is displeased: once again, her hate for Lucious has brewed into a tea flavored of love and yearning, while he is back to square one: jaded, uninterested, abrasive. It’s this constant push and pull that makes Cookie and Lucious somewhat interesting: they're rarely on the same page at the same time, but when they do find themselves existing in the same moment, their passion is as fleeting and ferocious as a meticulously edited sentence.
This is one of Empire’s better episodes, I must admit. As usual, there’s too much going on, there’s dialogue that made me think “what the hell?” and stare off into my own personal camera like Jim from The Office, there’s outfits and hairstyles that distracted me from the story, and there’s useless banter. But this episode also felt like it finally answered some questions, closed some chapters and set the stage for future rivalries. Having Taraji P Henson, Nia Long, and Terrence Howard in one room is Black soap opera excellence at its finest. Plus, Nia is bad (fine as hell!) and her character is bad, too: a nasty woman. Fake feuds, be damned.
Cookie tells Lucious that Angelo will possibly propose to her. But the way she tells him feels more like permission than good news: Are we really done? her tone asks. Lucious, jaded and suave as he wanna be, cooly congratulates her: “Good. Maybe you and him will have a much smoother ride than we did.” Damn. Cue Kendrick Lamar album cover.
Then he recants himself, stares into her eyes, brooding and confident: “Whatever you and him got...ain't nothin compared to what we had.” Cookie’s panties just got wet.
But wait — let's linger on something Cookie said. Angelo hinted that if he won the primaries, he would propose to her. So what — if he lost, they would break up? Why does his political success determine their relationship? Keep this in mind folks, it comes back later.
Lucious tells Cookie that Giuliana is “a very dangerous woman.” She bad! We know. Giuliana, who dubs herself Juicy, Andre, and Shine are working on their Vegas deal, which includes planning a standout performance from Nessa. Juicy warns them that Charlotte Frost (Eva Longoria, y'all) is hard to please. Tory Ash (Rumer Willis) walks into the meeting, late, and at first she and Juicy clash — until Tory learns that Juicy is a true fan of her work. Andre and Juicy want Tory to write a song for Nessa. She complies, but — spoiler alert — we can't trust her! Shocking.
Jamal is still working on his Parent Trap project — I mean, the When Cookie Met Lucious album (Cmon y'all, you don't create a love album about your divorced parents unless you secretly want them back together). Angelo visits: he asks Jamal if it's safe to ask for Cookie’s hand in marriage. I don't know, call me new-fashioned, but what year is this, 1805? Am I the only one who would want to talk directly to my partner about marriage instead of their son or ex-husband? The proposal should definitely be a surprise, but the marriage conversation is something we should have at least 50 times before you even think of buying a ring.
Jamal gives Angelo bad advice: go for it! And adds: go big or go home. “Cookie likes grand gestures.” I don't know ‘Mal...something tells me she doesn't.
Cookie meets Juicy, formally, as they run into each other in the Empire lobby. Lucious and Juicy stare at each other like they're ready to rip each other’s clothes off, and we see a flashback of how they met. It was back in 2002, at a club in Vegas, with Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” as the soundtrack for the scene, cause you know, that was the anthem of 2002 (no sarcasm, I'm being real). Lucious had bad cornrows. Juicy never aged. Lucious was smitten. Juicy was...bad.
Cookie and her ungrateful yet undeniably handsome sons enjoy a Jamaican lunch, boujie style, in her home. Cookie ordered extra plantains for Hakeem — what a wonderful mom. But Hakeem isn't budging — he’s salty about Angelo and Cookie: “We’re too old to have a stepdad.” Jamal scolds him, says it's not about them, it's about Cookie’s happiness — and that’s why the last song on his album is dedicated to her. Andre says he supports Cookie’s imminent engagement too, on one condition: she support his Vegas deal. Why is everything a transaction with this family?
Tory records the demo for Nessa’s song, but from her vocals and her confident demeanor, it sounds like it's her song, honestly. Lucious decides to keep the demo and release it as Tory’s single — against Andre’s wishes. Lucious says something about how marketable it is for a white woman to sing soul. I'm sorry — what? It didn't sound like a soul song to me, more like a funky pop-rock song. Earlier this season they started the Tiana v. Nessa rivalry, fueled by the notion of “who can be a ‘Blacker’ singer”, and now they're trying to spruce up a white singer to a Black audience for more marketability?
Anika visits Tariq. She’s wearing a wire and acting sketchy as hell. Tariq mistakes Anika’s edginess for her being a “damsel in distress” and/or her playing hard to get, never suspecting that she may be wearing a wire. I question his credentials as a detective. Cookie visits Angelo, anticipating his proposal, but instead he asks her to accompany him on a televised interview. You already know what’s gonna happen.
Juicy holds Lucious at gunpoint in his own office, then says “I don't wanna shoot you.” Lol. In another flashback scene, we learn that 15 years ago, Lucious was ready to cash in on the Empire Vegas deal (the same exact one Andre is working on?) until Juicy and Rafael robbed him. Juicy breaks down, explains that she was in an abusive relationship and pseudo-apologizes for her betrayal. “I killed my husband for you,” she cries.
Hakeem, Tiana, and Tory release Tory’s new track live via Empire Xtream. Tiana and Tory share a steamy dance while she sings — Hakeem is excited, but I think he should be worried about losing his girl. Lucious corners Tariq, reveals that he’s got dirt on him because Anika wore a wire. He gives him a backpack full of cash and tells him to leave. This ending is anticlimactic for me. Hopefully this isn't the last we see of Tariq.
Speaking of climax, here’s where the episode gets really good. Angelo proposes to Cookie at the live interview and slides the ring on her finger before she can give an answer. Later, they argue: Cookie finally admits that part of the reason why she’s with him is to wrong her guilts about her father, then says she still loves Lucious. Angelo freaks out! He lists all the illegal shit he’s done for the love of her: freeing Freida Gatz, the parole violation, etc. And to add insult to injury, he’s still wearing the mic from the interview so everyone overheard his confessions! Damn.
Juicy swindles Andre, dropping him from the Vegas deal. We learn that she and Lucious organized a live event to impress the gaming commissioner, Charlotte Frost. Andre’s tight, and it's another notch on his list of reasons why he hates his dad.
Tory Ash performs the song Lucious wrote for Juicy, and she’s put an Amy Winehouse-esque twist to it. It sounds...good. Sigh. I'm not over Lucious’ shady talk of marketing a white singer over Black aesthetics, so I can't fully enjoy this song. Cookie comes to the performance, ready to tell Lucious her love for him, I suppose, but it's too late: she watches him share a kiss with Giuliana. She’s crushed. I'm...unphased.
I kinda like Juicy and Lucious together. They complement each other’s evil. As Lucious said, nothing will ever compare to what he had with Cookie, but Juicy ignites that fiery, dangerous passion that Lucious strives to bring out in everyone he loves. It’s why he challenges Cookie and his sons so much: because he believes that the ugly, dark side of us is what inspires us to get shit done. He’s waiting for the right opponent to not only challenge his nature, but become his ally and take over the world. That can be Juicy — unless, of course, one outlasts the other.
For Lucious, love and romance is bull: a bull that can't be tamed, appeased or softened. A bull that takes you on a ride of your life.
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