‘Empire’ Season 3 Premiere Recap: Cookie and the Imaginary Friend

Warning: This recap of the “Light in Darkness” episode of Empire contains spoilers.

When the phone rings and you suddenly need to get to the hospital as soon as possible, which fur coat do you choose? Obviously you don’t choose your nicest fur coat on account of all the bodily fluids you might encounter in a hospital. But you also shouldn’t choose your rattiest fur coat — the one you usually wear when you do yard work or archery — as the sight of it could potentially make your loved one feel even sicker. But among your middle-tier fur coats do you go with the dark mauve fur coat, or the seafoam green fur coat? The fur coat with tiger stripes and a full train? Picking out fur coats for a hospital visit is a tricky business, but fortunately America’s #1 academic in the field of fur coat selection has returned. COOKIE LYON is BACK.

Oh, that hospital scenario was not a hypothetical, as Season 3 of Empire began with not one but TWO shocking medical emergencies. Let’s talk about this episode!

It all began with a splat.

Poor Rhonda! That’s right, Empire WENT THERE in the premiere. Personally, after last season’s cliffhanger I figured Empire would’ve gone with a cop-out of some kind… Anika or Rhonda hanging precariously from a flagpole by a bra strap or something. But nope! Rhonda straight up DIED, everybody.

Lucious was appropriately dismayed.

After a long, hard day of ruined weddings, broken hearts, and hateful surprise marriages, Rhonda pancaking a town car was the last thing the Lyon family needed. But it was a fantastic way to start off another season of this madness.

Between you and me and the big guy upstairs, Andre was NOT happy about the fact that Anika had thrown Rhonda off a hotel, but when he went to go and strangle her, Anika’s water broke! Next thing we knew it was baby-birthing time!

Because some cops were waiting by the door for Anika to hurry up and extrude a human life, Lucious had to remind her to lie about what had happened with Rhonda. They’d only been married for a few hours and he was already being a thoughtful husband.

Except then when he found out that Anika’s baby was a GIRL instead of the promised boy, he sneered angrily at her for lying. In other words, Lucious was steamed as hell about this baby’s genitals. Welcome to the world, Bella Lyon! Enjoy the nightmare.

I loved this weird Great Gatsby moment in the backyard when Lucious attempted to wine and dine some music professionals with his collection of pool jets. Lucious had experienced a fair number of life changes in the past 24 hours, but he was back to wheeling and dealing already.

The main thing you need to know about Becky’s hair was that it was no longer blonde! R.I.P. Becky’s platinum locks! The other thing you need to know was that within minutes of Hakeem attempting to record a new track, fellow rapper Shyne (Xzibit) busted into the studio and started beating everyone up!

The poor producer got beaten to within an inch of his life with a laptop! If you’re thinking that maybe this would tick off Lucious a lil, think again. He just sort of politely asked Shyne to leave. Lucious was not in the mood.

Then Cookie and her sisters got together for a serious and frank discussion of whether ghosts exist; just kidding they talked about men. Specifically Tariq, the one who was trying to get Cookie to inform on Lucious. It would seem that Carol and Vivica A. Fox really wanted Cookie to put Lucious in jail somehow, despite the fact that Cookie had just spent 17 years proving that she wasn’t a snitch. Get real, ladies!

I loved when Anika finally brought her baby home to live with Lucious and was greeted by an elderly psycho holding a KNIFE. I’d forgotten what a weird subplot this was, the one with Lucious’ mom being a potential slasher villain. REALLY hoping this gets even crazier soon.

Tariq had taken to staking out in Lucious’ driveway, so it was a total baller move when Lucious sent his servants outside with full platters of food. The short-fused murderer of Season 2 had been replaced by a kinder, more chill version of Lucious. In fact, when Tariq refused the food (and all those glazed brownies!) Lucious went a step further and invited Tariq to dinner the next night. That’s how serious he was about convincing Tariq that his marriage to Anika was legit. Or something? Lucious was in a weird place.

I liked this new singer lady that Shyne had taken a shyne to. She was his protege or daughter or cousin or girlfriend, I can’t remember. But the best thing was how unimpressed she was with Hakeem’s shenanigans. He began the episode taking his pants off in front of Tiana and proclaimed his love for her, but now he was flirting with any girl in sight. Everyone handles breakups differently! Anyway, this new lady waved him away and then checked her texts while he was performing. Love her already.

Lucious apparently appreciated that Shyne had beaten a man with a laptop, so he gave in to Shyne’s demand to allow his protege sing backup to Jamal during his next show. Which was important because Jamal had a new song about Black Lives Matter and the Orlando night club shooting that he had written. Oh, and it was also about how Freda Gatz should be set free? Look, the song was about EVERYTHING. So it was important that the world heard it, you know?

It remains totally 100 percent bizarre that Hakeem is the biological father of Anika’s baby but Lucious intends to raise it as his own. This family.

I felt it was uncouth of Tariq to serve himself asparagus using his bare hands. That is just me and how I was raised.

This dinner scene was great. The whole point was for the family to pretend that Anika and Lucious’ marriage was legit, so Tariq had no choice but to sit there staring uncomprehendingly as they kissed awkwardly in front of everyone. But then after Lucious offered Tariq some light bribes in order to leave them alone, Tariq started insulting every single person at the table! First trashing Andre in his time of need, then referring to Anika as a “mulatto.” Eventually Cookie dragged Tariq and finished him off by offering to fix him a “to go plate.” Just another A+, drama-free dinner in the Lyon mansion!

The time had come for the big concert for Empire Entertainment to kick off their rebranding of the streaming service they’d bought. (I guess.) And it was being simulcast on all the billboards in Times Square for some reason!

But then Jamal got PTSD from the time Freda Gatz shot him, and guess who stepped up to sing the song instead? That new singer lady that Shyne had introduced! She did a great job. Meanwhile Jamal was a mess and everyone was mad at him now.

Much of Cookie and Lucious’ storyline in this episode involved her broken heart and how she was now totally done with him. See, she’d started falling for him again, and now he was married to her enemy and it was the final straw. But I did think it was extremely charming when we saw teenaged versions of them meeting for the first time. I screamed when Teen Cookie first appeared. So adorable! A world of wigs await, young lass.

Andre did not take Rhonda’s death well. First he just sat around with his shirt off yelling at himself in the third person. Then Rhonda appeared! Because Andre suffers from mental illness I think we were meant to believe he was imagining her. But I have another theory. Rhonda is a damn GHOST. Empire is taking a page from American Horror Story this year and there will be actual ghosts in the mix. That is my theory, do you like it? Anyway, Rhonda is a ghost now, and she is going to haunt Andre in a big way, stay tuned.

In the final stinger, Lucious grabbed his sleeping “daughter” from her crib and immediately began telling her about all the crimes he’d committed. But guess who was eavesdropping?

This teddy bear! Also ghosts! Also Tariq, who had hidden a nanny cam in the teddy bear. Depending on how confessional Lucious decides to get with a newborn baby, he could be in a lot of trouble. Ugh, as if being a new parent wasn’t hard enough.

“Light in Darkness” was definitely a fun and satisfying episode of television. I continue to admire this show’s audacity, particularly in how it not only killed Rhonda off, but then still figured out how to keep her around? And while this show very likely won’t return to the dizzying insanity of Season 1, genuine surprises and hilarious moments were sprinkled throughout, certainly enough to keep me thrilled and excited. Man, is it great to have this thing back. Now which fur coat should I wear to the chiropractor?

What did YOU think of “Light in Darkness”?

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox