‘Empire’ Recap: Cookie and the Clapback Backtrack

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Warning: This recap of the “One Before Another” episode of Empire contains spoilers.

Roughly 12 years ago, it seems, Empire aired its previous episode, so we can all be forgiven for not remembering many of its plot lines. Something about an undercover agent? PTSD? A man getting beaten with a laptop? A bonsai garden? All the details are lost in a haze of baseball and election coverage. (How’d those things turn out, anyway? Haven’t been on the ‘net in a while.) But the beauty of Empire is how entertaining it is even if we don’t have encyclopedic recall of whatever on earth is happening. Trust and believe that DRAMA is happening, and if we’re lucky Cookie’s right in the middle of it.

“One Before Another” was Empire‘s return to our lives, and apparently it followed up on a cliffhanger I’d nearly forgotten about: Shyne was mad about having been beaten with a baseball bat and forced to sign a multimillion-dollar contract, so he grabbed all his friends and guns and was ready to BATTLE with Lucious and Andre. And for a brief, truly tense sequence, it felt like Empire really was going to capitalize on that cliffhanger. Then it quickly turned into a regular episode where nothing very shocking happened. Yes, good ol’ Empire was truly back. Let’s talk about it!

We began, as all great television does, with a montage. What was each member of the Lyon family UP TO that fateful day when Shyne brought out his gun collection for a show-and-tell?

Jamal was in the studio laying down what the teens might call “hot jams” while also swatting his ex-lover-slash-producer’s hands away from his body and booty. Unprofessional!

Meanwhile Lucious and Anika were being driven around in an armored Hummer just to go to the pediatrician’s office. Why that was any different from how Lucious normally rolls was a mystery.

Jamal was just relaxing and having a casual afternoon of stepping over passed-out groupies so that he could send text messages to his #1 crush, Nessa. For her part, Cookie was on a coffee date with Taye Diggs and was not too thrilled when Lucious’s goons showed up to whisk her to “safety.” In other words, the entire Lyon family was equal parts endangered and annoyed by Shyne’s promised clapback.

When Shyne finally did decide to strike, he barged into Jamal’s apartment and pointed a gun at Andre, who was trying to make eggs dressed only in expensive slacks! Except, classic rookie mistake, just as Shyne pulled the trigger he realized his gun wasn’t loaded (or it just jammed). Very embarrassing.

But before Shyne could revert to Plan B (pulling out a second gun), his sister Nessa ran in and pushed his gun aside! Andre was not going to be murdered this day. Nessa somehow convinced her brother to chill out a little bit so they could talk about it later. To be continued! (It was very nice of Andre to palm a cash tip over to his security guard, who’d just had a gun pointed at his head for 10 minutes. That’s just good management.)

Shyne’s attempted clapback was reason enough to call a family meeting, and it was nice seeing the entire Lyon pride in the same room at the same time. Though they were distracted by the giant flatscreen indicating how many subscribers were signing up for their streaming service (LOL), Cookie still managed to berate everyone into being more vigilant and also getting back to work. You tell ’em, boss!

Speaking of Cookie, only hours after she casually mentioned to Taye Diggs that she had an appointment to check in with her parole officer, she showed up to her meeting with a tray of coffees and a great attitude! Move over Santa, there’s a new gift-giving hero on the scene.

Unfortunately Cookie’s parole officer was SUPER MEAN to her for some reason, which surprised Cookie. They used to be tight! Had this lady received instructions from Taye Diggs to make Cookie’s life harder? And if so, why? He, of course, denied it, because the most obvious reason was that Lucious had done this. But for now she was real mad at Taye Diggs. (The mean lady later apologized at Taye Diggs’s request.)

I loved later when Hakeem and Jamal were planning their brotherly team-up livestream (so that Jamal could practice performing for people again) and she slapped Hakeem upside the head for some reason. Well, all reasons. There is always a reason, and nobody can lovingly slap someone upside the head quite like Cookie.

We also got this touching scene of Lucious putting Baby Bella to sleep after reading her a bedtime story about thieving and “destroying souls.” He clearly had high hopes for this baby girl, but in my opinion this was not great parenting. Sorry. Being kinda judgey here.

Lucious then switched on his expensive thunder-and-lightning machine and invited Shyne over for a meeting. Things were tense when they each accused each other of being shady (they were both right!), but Lucious knew he needed to remain on Shyne’s good side so that Shyne wouldn’t snitch on him to Agent Tariq. Unfortunately, Lucious is terrible at making peace, so things started going south real quickly. But guess who swooped in and salvaged things? Anika! She lied and told Shyne that Lucious was going to offer him his own vanity label at Empire, and Shyne basically did a cartwheel. Lucious went along with it, and before we knew it, a path to peace had been paved! Sometimes all you need to do to drop a grudge is offer your enemy millions of dollars and tons of power. A valuable lesson for us all.

Meanwhile, Becky and Whiteguy were put in charge of Tiana’s new song, and even though Cookie commanded them to record one song in particular, Becky decided on a different one. It takes tons of moxie to overrule a Cookie order, so Becky was definitely on thin ice here. But Whiteguy seemed to be into the track, and Tiana was pretty stoked about it too. Was Becky an A&R genius? Stay tuned, folks.

At Hakeem and Jamal’s joint livestream (I only realized in this episode that it’s called Empire “X-Stream,” which made me LOL) things went well at first. Jamal managed to shriek out a jam without daydreaming about getting shot, but by the time Hakeem was ready to take the mic, Lucious told him that Andre and Nessa were sexing, which made Hakeem SO STEAMED. So steamed he started READING both Andre and Jamal via his new freestyle verse.

It felt especially low for Andre to go after Jamal with homophobic lyrics for no reason, but he later claimed it was because the livestream was Jamal’s idea. OK? Perfect revenge. Anyway, as you can imagine, the Lyon boys started brawling live on air!

It’s always embarrassing when a family feud is broadcast live on a Japanese Jumbotron (uh, what was the time-zone situation here?) but the entire thing had been orchestrated by Lucious, who had attempted to get his sons to beef in order to attract new subscribers. Cool business plan? Now everyone was ticked off at each other for real.

The next day Tiana discovered that Becky had lied to her about which song she was supposed to record, and this made her very unchill. She borderline tried to fire Becky! So much for being close friends. Cookie wasn’t happy with Becky either, and you better believe Whiteguy did not have Becky’s back in the end. It was a pretty bad day for her overall.

We’ve all been there. I’ve honestly been there for a few days now.

In the end, Shyne STILL snitched on Lucious despite the new record deal. He sort of just STRONGLY hinted at the idea that Lucious had ordered the murder of Freda Gatz’s father (Chris Rock). As Cookie would say, it was “lightweight snitching” but snitching nonetheless. Poor Freda had only been out of prison for a few days, and it looked like she was about to get roped into whatever it is Tariq’s up to. Leave Freda alone!

The final scene was supposed to be chilling, but the only thing shocking about it was how normal it was. Basically Lucious suggested to Jamal that they work on new music together. BOOM. Can you believe it? What twists will Empire cook up next?

“One Before Another” was a solid, if anticlimactic, episode. It’s probably not Empire‘s fault that it’s been off the air for one hundred thousand weeks, but there was a certain amount of anticipation following Shyne’s THIS MEANS WAR moment, and not a lot resulted. Don’t get me wrong, this show is crazy-entertaining, but the reality is they can’t all be mind-benders. As it is, “One Before Another” was an aborted clapback of an episode. Maybe next time it will remember to load its gun?

What did YOU think of “One Before Another”?

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Watch clips and full episodes of Empire for free on Yahoo View.