We are a little late in posting this particular “Empire” review, but we’re very happy to get this one out into the universe now, a couple of days before the next new episode airs.
Why is that? It’s because “What We May Be” may be a seminal episode in the history of the series. While it may not have been the craziest, the most musical, or the one that draws the most headlines, it focused entirely on what a good television show should be about: The characters. Namely, Cookie Lyon, a woman who already had to be in the conversation for one of the best shows on TV.
The entire backstory for Cookie in this episode was heartbreaking, as a music video Jamal was working on for his new song about her brought back memories of her father, and the circumstances that led to his death. He suffered a heart attack three days after he forced Cookie to leave home, feeling that Lucious’ influence on her had grown too much to the point that it would start to impact her sisters in a negative way. The trauma of this caused her to temporarily have tunnel-vision, and caused her to miss a very important dinner with Angelo and his mother, an extremely powerful (but also judgmental) woman in politics who seemed predisposed to hate her even before the two parties met.
Cookie’s scramble – In order to turn things around and repair the already-broken relationship, Cookie decided to renovate her entire place and invite Angelo and his mother (Phylicia Rashad) over for a fancy family dinner. You could see how hard Cookie was trying in order to make this work, and it was rather sweet! However, at the same time you knew from the moment all of this was put into motion that it was probably going to have a terrible end. After all, she invited her kids, and all of them were going through far too much to focus. Jamal showed up high on new medication, Hakeem was in the middle of a heated argument with Anika and by extension Lucious over their kids, and Andre didn’t even show up in order to support Nessa as the character looked back at her own past.
The remarkable thing about this dinner is that it took everything going completely off the rails for Cookie to buck up and realize that this was the time to be her true self — and this is who Angelo’s mother really seemed to enjoy more than the facade she was putting on. She appreciated the effort, and while it certainly doesn’t seem like the two women are going to be getting lunch every week for the remainder of their lives, it also doesn’t seem like Angelo and Cookie are going to be on the rocks because of family drama.
Every moment in this dinner scene was fantastic, largely because it mixed together so well everything that “Empire” really does right. You had the right amount of comedy mixed in with a few heartfelt family moments, and then there was that look from Lucious to Cookie as he left in the middle of Jamal’s performance. This cemented further the dynamic between these two characters and why they’ll likely forever remain so close. They’re magnetic in so many ways, and as she’s said, they had to raise each other after her father’s death. When everything else goes to waste, there’s still Lucious and she can’t get away from that. He understands her better than anyone, even though said understanding is not always welcome.
It feels like Taraji P. Henson does receive extensive praise for playing Cookie already, but even with that, we struggle to think of a better episode than “What We May Be” in terms of her ability to create a humanizing snapshot of this person and why we continue to root for her so much.
Other odds and ends – Freda was at the memorial event with Nessa and Andre, and chose to bust out a performance of her own, noting how the circumstances reminded her of her own father. Right when you think we’re getting something resembling a simple ending here, along comes Shyne recording her! How this story will unfold in the weeks to come should remain interesting.
As for Lucious creepily spying on Anika in their final moments of the episode (after he bolted from Cookie’s dinner party), that’s a little harder to read. It may just boil down to his desire for some sort of companionship, but his inability to get it from anyone other than Cookie. Think of this as further explanation of how lonely it is at the top.
Overall – The best “Empire” episode of the season bar none, and a further reminder that often, simple storytelling is great storytelling since it allows you to dive into the meat of some of these characters. Grade: A.
Next episode – Head over here to take a look at a promo for what’s coming up! (Photo: Fox.)