Empire is a show known for its dramatic season finales. This season is going to be no exception – and this week’s episode is starting to build towards that. Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrence Howard) find their relationship under more pressure as a result of Lucious’ past behaviour and a combination of Cookies insecurities and her feelings towards Damon Cross (Wood Harris). Andre(Trai Byers) is dealing with a serious medical situation. Jamal (Jussie Smollet) is still struggling with his efforts to get over Kai (Toby Onwumere). Simultaneously, there is a love triangle developing between Tiana (Serayah) , Blake (Chet Hanks) and Carlito (Scotty Tovar), and Maya(Rhyon Nicole Brown) is trying to establish herself as a contributing member of the Empire team.
There will be spoilers below.
From the beginning of this episode we see the planned “Trust” tour is in action. The episode begins with the Empire directors in meetings with the performers negotiating tour contracts. We see that Treasure (Katlynn Simone) and Tiana are putting on their biggest smiles but in their private meetings still want a better deal than the other one has. By the end of these meetings Blake and Carlito have also signed to go on tour, albeit Blake with some hesitation. Naturally, since they are all in such close proximity on tour there is plenty of new drama where their relationships are concerned.
As they are preparing and leaving for tour, we see that Andre is exploring his options. There may be steps he can take, but they involve intensive chemotherapy. Andre is pleased that there are options for him. However, Teri (Meta Golding) seems very concerned at the potential side effects.
Meanwhile, the Lyons find out from Thirsty (Andre Royo) that the FBI want Damon’s head on a platter. If that means Lucious too, they are fine with that. While they are discussing how to erase Empire’s trail from Panama with Giselle (Nicole Ari Parker), Damon Cross walks in. He is angry that they are not involving him in this. However, he does promise to erase Cookie from Panama. He is going to clean up the “sloppy” job Lucious did erasing their tracks.
As the artists are getting on the bus for tour, we see that Tiana, Blake, Carlito, Treasure and Maya are sharing a bus while Jamal and Wynter (Joss Stone) are in a more private bus, and Hakeem has his own private one. Carlito is already making unwanted sexual advances, and the bus is already seeming small. Maya befriends Blake when she encourages his feelings for Tiana. He is also the only one who treats her as a person, compared to how Tiana earlier bit her head off for talking to her.
Cookie is watching YouTuber “Hey Beautiful”(Alex Newell) harshly critique the upcoming tour, basically expecting nothing from it as Empire is “trash”. As she is doing this, Damon sends her a video which shows them dancing together in Panama – footage that will be deleted. However, it has clearly thrown her back into confusion about her feelings for him and where she stands with Lucious.
At the dress rehearsal for the tour, Treasure’s manager Joe shows up demanding large sums of money. As if that wasn’t bad enough, during her performance with Tiana, Treasure humiliates herself by falling off the stage. Disaster also strikes when Carlito doesn’t show up onstage, and the lights won’t stop flickering on and off. All of this results in another scathing review from Hey Beautiful.
Simultaneously to all of the tour drama, when it cuts back to Andre we see him receive a call from Lucious asking him to get money for Joe. Teri is horrified that he is still working, but he doesn’t even make it out of the bedroom before collapsing.
After Treasure runs away crying, Lucious successfully finds her to comfort her. He is surprisingly calm about the whole thing, and tells her that she’ll have another shot tomorrow.
As the tour commences for real, Tiana and Treasure’s performance goes off without a hitch. However, when Jamal takes the stage the lights go off again, plummeting him fully into darkness. Thinking quickly, he gets the whole crowd to pull out their phones and light up the whole place. This forces him to play a song about Kai he didn’t want to play yet, breaking down in the middle.
The crowd still clearly loves Jamal and shouts their support. Wynter comes to his rescue at a very convenient time and picks up the song where Jamal couldn’t, turning it into a duet. Towards the end he regains composure, and they pull off a beautiful performance. All of this success is enough for Hey Beautiful to turn her reviews around.
Everyone is on a high following the concert, and there is plenty of alcohol flowing. Tiana is clearly wasted as she talks to Blake, but still seeming interested in him. Meanwhile, Treasure goes to Lucious and makes advances towards him as a “thank you” for having her back. Unfortunately Cookie walks in at the wrong time and gets the impression that Lucious is cheating on her and not worth her time.
For me, the best part of this episode was the sequence at the end – a lot goes down, but as well as that it’s executed so well. This sequence begins with Blake going to make his move on Tiana only to see that she has already hooked up with Carlito. As this is happening, it cuts to Jamal looking pitiful in his apartment, growing angry at someone banging on the door. Upon answering he then discovers that Kai saw his performance and came back to him, and a tearful reunion occurs between the two of them. Lucious then receives a call from Teri who informs him of Andre’s stage four cancer.
As we return to Blake, we see him run into Maya in the hall. She invites him into her room.
In the same continuous shot, as Maya’s door closes Cookie walks down the hall. As she walks she is having flashbacks of everything bad Lucious has put her through in their time together. She has finally come to stand up for herself – but this also brings her to Damon’s room. This is presumably a move that will have repercussions in the next episode.
The final thing that happens this episode is Treasure’s manager, Joe, showing up again to confront Lucious. He picked the worst moment possible, as Lucious’ family seems to be falling apart once again. It’s not long before Lucious is throwing punches – we won’t be hearing from Joe again.
This whole sequence is so well done. The pacing of everything is perfect. The continuous shots used as everyone is making bad decisions at the same time heighten the drama. The timing of everything is just about wrong, which makes it absolutely disastrous. Although it’s not an Empire original song, “Love and Hate” fits so well.
Personally, I was a big fan of the development in this episode. Where I feel others recently were a bit lacklustre, this one definitely packed a punch.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.