Warning: This recap of the “What We May Be” episode of Empire contains spoilers.
Few things chill the blood or terrify the mind quite like meeting your new boyfriend’s mom for the first time. That’s a first impression with potentially fatal consequences, and it doesn’t matter how delicious your impeccably chosen Cheesecake Factory appetizer is, you better be your best self. One miscalculated punchline or controversial political belief could leave you heartbroken and alone for the rest of your life! The stakes are THAT high. OK, maybe not, but have you ever dated a child of PHYLICIA RASHAD? It’s saying something that Cookie — a woman who recently spent 17 years in prison — appeared absolutely terrified.
“What We May Be” was a tight and funny exercise in parental drama, from Cookie’s sudden remembrance of her father’s death to her attempts to be the stately matriarch she suddenly needs to be. Also, Mrs. Huxtable herself showed up to give everyone the side-eye for 42 minutes! Let’s talk about it.
We began with an enviable sight for anyone anywhere: Taye Diggs at the door with a couple of lattes.
He had surmised correctly that doffing his top on live TV would win Cookie over, and within seconds they were awkwardly making out (while Cookie’s cell phone kept blowing up with the usual Empire drama). They were BACK ON.
At what appeared to be a daily business meeting during which everyone watched a local morning zoo radio show (on TV?), the DJs really laid into Jamal for not performing live anymore. They even referred to him as the “Turkey of the Year”! I honestly cannot think of anything more hurtful, and apparently neither could Jamal. He needed to do something to save face and pronto!
Andre’s big conflict arrived when Nessa and Shyne invited him to a block party they were throwing in honor of Nessa’s dead brother. As her new boyfriend (and supervillain Clyde to her Bonnie) Andre was obligated to be there. Which meant that he was probably going to be immediately invited to another, more pressing obligation. But in this case Shyne would probably murder him if he didn’t come to the block party, so the decision would be an easy one.
The fallout for Jamal’s accidental overdose was actually pretty minimal. His producer-lover explained it away to Jamal’s drug counselor thusly: NBD DEAL W/IT BYE. Even more helpfully, he gave Jamal a packet of street drugs which he claimed were better for him than prescribed painkillers. What a true friend.
I loved when Cookie arrived, mostly because she walked in with a handful of loose Red Vines, as though she maybe had a plastic barrel of them in her car. But also when she noted the TWO HUNKS leaving Jamal’s pad at the same time, she accused her son of “ho’in.” Cookie was not wrong!
Jamal then presented Cookie with a tightly edited montage of all her childhood home movies while he sang a new song about her life. She was very into it at first when it was mostly just images of her and her sisters hanging out on sidewalks. But then footage of her father started unspooling and she was NOT into it. She basically spun around flipping off every monitor and then ran out of the room. That was probably not the reaction Jamal was hoping for.
At this point none other than Phylicia Rashad entered the picture! She played Taye Diggs’ mother, and the way she carried herself projected pure royalty. They were at some function that she’d attended strictly to meet Cookie Lyon for the first time. As you might imagine, Cookie FLAKED. She was too upset about Jamal’s home movies to attend, which, OK. This did not make a very good impression on Phylicia Rashad if we’re being quite honest, and it hurt Taye Diggs’s feelings as well. Oh, Cookie.
My favorite thing in this episode was our glimpse at Carol’s new job at the hair store. It was like a superstore of affordable hair options!! Jamal paid her a visit in order to chat about what exactly had caused Cookie to fly off the handle like she had, so Carol whisked him down the hair extension aisle and told him a tale!
Do you want to know what the big secret was when it came to Cookie’s relationship with her father? OK, I will tell you. Basically when she was a teen he had forbidden her to date Lucious, but she couldn’t stop dating Lucious! One time after a date that went really late Cookie arrived home and her father had found a gun and “drug money” in her room, and had therefore packed her a suitcase and kicked her out! Just kicked her right out of that house. Oh, and then he died! That is a truly cheap way of winning an argument, but whatever. Heart attacks happen. The moral of the story was, Cookie had murdered her father by dating Lucious and to this day she did not feel great about that.
Another very fun moment came when Cookie asked Candace to help her become a classy “society bitch” so that she could take Mrs. Huxtable to dinner to apologize for flaking. First of all, anytime we get to see Vivica A. Fox is a blessing, but also I love being reminded that Cookie has spent 17 years in prison and maybe hadn’t learned all her etiquette lessons yet. Unfortunately just when her education was underway, Lucious arrived to inform her that he’d booked all the rest of the tables in all the restaurants in town! He was trying to throw salt in her game of impressing Taye Diggs’s mom! Classic Lucious.
Fortunately Candace had the bright idea of simply hiring a catering chef and throwing a dinner party in Cookie’s penthouse. Cookie was concerned about all the sensual art she’d collected over the years (“there are penises on my wall”) so we were then treated to a makeover montage! Of an apartment!
Aside from the very weird Amazon Echo product placement scene wherein Porsha commanded the service to deliver them some “yellow silk pillows,” it was fun seeing the apartment get redone right before our eyes. HGTV realness!
Bella Lyon was being a total drama queen in this episode, just crying and crying so much. Hakeem barely knew what to do about it, and Anika was off somewhere doing whatever. Relax, Bella, damn!
Guess who was late for the block party? Andre! Nessa looked sad and Shyne looked ticked. Plus Andre had promised to bring Freda Gatz and she was a no-show as well. This block party was going from bad to worse.
Speaking of bad to worse, Cookie’s dinner party was not going off as planned. For one thing, Jamal was HIGH ON DRUGS. For another, Hakeem brought Bella over so that Cookie could get her to stop crying. And then, wouldn’t you know it? Lucious and Anika showed up to stir the pot even more. (Technically Anika just wanted her baby back, but still.) And as all this chaos transpired, guess who was LIVING for it?
Taye Diggs’s mom basically entered that room and scanned it with the intensity of the Terminator. Everything around her was drama, and we were meant to believe she did NOT approve of this circus. She was, after all, the powerful mother of the city’s next mayor. But the main thing was, she simply did not say a damn WORD the entire party, she just sort of looked around with a half-smirk and mentally sipped tea the entire time. How else would a person react to a Lyon family meltdown?
The night was saved, however, when Jamal became slightly less high and he sat down to play the song he’d written about Cookie’s life. The song definitely contained a few too many details of her struggles that could maybe be considered a violation of her privacy, but other than that it was a pretty, heartfelt ode to a mom who deserved more recognition.
Even Lucious seemed touched by the performance and quietly excused himself, and it caused Cookie to think back to her father with fondness. But most importantly, afterward Phylicia Rashad took Cookie aside and revealed that she actually respected Cookie and related deeply to Cookie’s family drama. In other words, Cookie was IN.
We ended the show with a comparatively NBD tease… Andre finally arrived at Shyne’s block party with Freda Gatz in tow! Freda and Nessa took the stage together and it was all very fun. Except… Shyne recorded the performance on his phone! Can you believe it?!? Truly the most shocking cliffhanger in Empire history.
“What We May Be” may not have been heavy on twists or revelations, but any episode centered around Cookie is a good episode. I liked learning more about her tragic relationship with her father (especially in how it established even further the effect Lucious has had on her life) and her attempts to reconcile her dirty past with her new desire to be upstanding. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer the loud and shameless Cookie we first met, but I appreciate the struggle nonetheless. Plus it’s good to know that even when you think everything’s going wrong, it’ll be all right and Phylicia Rashad will end up respecting you. We should all be so lucky.
What did YOU think of “What We May Be”?
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Watch clips and full episodes of Empire for free on Yahoo View.