Empire Season 3, Episode 13 Recap: “The Naked Villainy”

Lucious is sick. He’s got a virus that’s made him bedridden, overly paranoid and stressed out. Hakeem asks “does he have ALS again?” It’s a call back to something Cookie mentioned in a previous episode. “No, that’s not how ALS works,” Andre snaps back. There’s a lot being set up here, even in such a small moment.

Last night’s episode made me realize that Empire won’t end until, well, Lucious ends. It was hinted back in season 1, when Lucious’s ALS was the driving force of the plot. The characters also casually talk about death like it’s not a big deal: in the last two episodes alone, people have either threatened to kill Anika or she’s talked about her own fatality: “If I get caught, he’ll kill me.” We’ve seen Lucious off people, we’ve seen Rhonda get pushed off a balcony, we’ve seen Frida Gatz attempt to kill Lucious, we’ve seen Grandma Lea point a gold plated gun at Anika. On top of all this: Andre wants to kill Lucious. One of the themes behind Empire, besides music, love, power and competition, is how murder is a means to eliminate an obstacle, to cover up something, or to gain more power.

Although I don’t like the idea of this show possibly being determined by Lucious’ mortality, I’m prepared to watch him fall, and shamelessly expect it to be an intricate, dramatic, lengthy demise. Lucious’ illness at the beginning of the episode was a way to scare the characters, but also to remind them that he still has the most power, even when he’s vulnerable. When Anika stands over his sick bed, punctures his air bag and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t comply with her, he pulls out a gun that’s been hiding under the blankets. Lucious is probably too weak to shoot it, but the reveal of his armor is enough for Anika to walk away. Lucious still got it, even when he can’t breathe.

Desperate, and doubting that she will live much longer, Anika turns to Cookie. She asks her to take care of Bella as her own, in the event that she gets arrested or killed. Cookie agrees. There must be a reason why this scene is in place, but I hope it isn’t to hint the obvious. If so, that is extremely poor foreshadowing. Perhaps it’s Bella’s other parent, Hakeem, who gets arrested, which will give Cookie even more reason to take care of her step-granddaughter.

Jamal is still working on his album, the one dedicated to Cookie and Lucious, but this time he’s brought back former collaborator Estelle to sing on a track. They record a music video that’s supposed to be a reenactment of Cookie and Lucious falling in love, but instead it comes off as a poor ’80s parody. As Cookie watches the shoot, she’s once again reminded of how much she loves Lucious, and relives flashbacks of their teenage love affair. “That feeling… It’s a feeling you chase, you never let go of. I never imagined I’d feel that way until I met Lucious.”

Jamal uses Cookie’s quote in the music video teaser, which causes problems for Angelo and Cookie later. Angelo thinks she’s still in love with Lucious (obviously) and he’s worried that the clip will interfere with the primaries. Cookie placates him, but she’s really trying to placate her emerging feelings for the manipulative, good-for-nothing Lucious.

Meanwhile, Kennedy, the woman who was assaulted at Hakeem’s birthday bash last week, is suing Empire. Andre suggests they reach a settlement, but that’s not Thirsty and Lucious’ style: they want to dig dirt on the woman and discredit her case. When Kennedy and her lawyer meet with Thirsty and Hakeem, Thirsty brings up other moments in Kennedy’s past when she’s accused a man of assault, suggesting that she’s a fraud. It’s an awful moment of victim blaming, and Hakeem just sits there, knowing damn well that his acquaintance punched her. It’s what ignited the fight at his party! But instead of standing up for a woman who’s been hurt, he’s standing by a man who’s guilty of harming someone.

Cookie and Jamal school Hakeem on his misogynistic ways, pointing out that having a daughter doesn’t excuse him from being a misogynist, that his song lyrics have not only proven he’s sexist but also homophobic, and that he has much work to do on himself to become a more gracious, socially aware, and woke individual. So what does Hakeem do to relieve his guilt and shame? He records a song about his love for women, with a call to action that men start seeing us as equals. The whole thing stunk with the scent of so many faux woke rap songs out there, and it illustrated the common trend amongst misogynistic rappers: the idea that recording one positive song will negate the countless records they’ve made that verbally degrades us. It’s more self indulgent than it is a ploy for gender equality. Hakeem would’ve shown true solidarity if he just admitted that Kennedy had indeed been assaulted at his party, instead of recording a song that ultimately brings attention back to him and his musical career.

Andre is, once again, furious with Hakeem. He says the new song is a public admission of guilt. The relationship between these two brothers is slowly becoming more contentious. Is this just sibling rivalry, or a lead up to a bigger conflict? Speaking of conflict: in a seriously overdramatic scene, Lucious tries to fire Andre — right in his bedroom, with all the board members present — because he found out that Andre made a business deal without his consent. But it’s pointless, because everyone is on board with Andre’s Vegas deal. Lucious is tight, but I’m amazed by how laid his hair is right now. Bedridden or not, he manages to keep up with his boujee style.

Earlier in the episode, Giuliana tells Nessa that she is totally on board with Andre’s “arrangement” and that she would love to partake (Yes! Threesome!). But Nessa isn’t having it. She confronts Andre, telling him that their relationship isn’t like the marriage he had with Rhonda. Either Nessa will get hurt of Andre will have to change his ways.

Speaking of changing ways, Lucious, now healed, goes to club Leviticus where Cookie and Angelo chill and await the primary results. Angelo wins, of course (were we even introduced to the other candidates? I feel like Angelo has always been Mayor, honestly). Lucious tries to take credit for Angelo’s win, explaining that by sponsoring his opponent, he made Angelo a better competitor. Whatever. He plays “You’re So Beautiful,” the best song in Empire history as of yet, and Cookie, overwhelmed by love or embarrassment or guilt or all three, looks like she wants to die right there.

Lucious is Cookie’s kryptonite, but I’m not so sure that’s reciprocated. Yes, they drive each other crazy, they are filled with passion, but Lucious never really chooses Cookie, even when she’s giving him an opening. For Cookie, Lucious is chemistry, danger, intrigue, history. He’s got a hold on her. But Lucious, although he loves Cookie, isn’t entangled by her. If he was, would he treat her as terribly as he does?

Here’s my hypothesis: Giuliana is really the one who makes his blood boil, the one who could’ve driven him to an early grave. As Lucious plays Cookie’s song, Giuliana glides next to him. “Why don’t you play the song you wrote for me?” She purrs. Lucious’ face floods with fear, and something else, something enticed, as if he met lady death herself.

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