‘Empire’ Recap: A Baptism and a Kidnapping

To love Empire is to accept the absurdity of Empire, to nod as ridiculous events occur minute after minute, to take everything in stride even as everything goes off the rails. Empire is a soap opera above anything else: It prides itself on dramatic turns, on eliciting shocked gasps from the audience, on provoking that “What the hell just happened?” response at the end of the episode. It may not always be good, exactly, but it’s never boring.

Take “Be True.” As always. there’s a lot happening that’s packed tightly into one episode, and it all leads up to a shocking ending. The episode opens in a celebratory mode at Empire, as Lucious is cleared of all charges and Andre returns to the label to become president of Gutter Life records (the grittier, raw label that new artist Freda Gatz is on — you know, after Lucious had her father murdered in jail). It’s a little rushed — the Feds quickly label Vernon’s death a suicide, which is why Lucious is free — because the trial is what was apparently going to hang over the season in a long arc but instead has been disposed as quickly as Vernon’s body was, freeing up the series to focus more on … Empire vs Dynasty, I guess? But hey, that’s Empire for you.

Plus, there are plenty of other things to be concerned with. Lucious has officially put Thirsty on Empire’s payroll which means that this feud between labels is going to get even dirtier. It happens almost immediately: Tiana gets mugged by two “fans” (one with a razor blade hidden in her mouth) who later put on masks reminiscent of the Purge movies and release a video showing everything that’s in her purse. Then, later on, thieves break into Dynasty to try and steal masters but are fended off by Laz Delgado (the super hot promoter who has undeniable chemistry with Cookie) and they reveal that they were sent by Thirsty.

Next up: Jamal. He’s still recording and planning a tour with Ne-Yo (who guest stars as himself and also offers up plenty of romantic advice to Jamal because hey, why not?) and getting conflicting advice on whether or not he should bring his boyfriend with him. It’s further complicated by Rolling Stone artist Chase One (ugh) who, in the course of a single episode, talks shit about gay marriage, tries to blow Jamal (“A mouth is a mouth!”) who immediately rebuffs his advances because Jamal wants to remain faithful to Michael, and then later succeeds in hooking up with Michael — and is caught in the act by Jamal. So that’s a whole thing for whatever reason.

Next brother: Andre. He’s proud to be back at Empire (even though he’s probably the worst choice, aesthetically and brand-wise for something called Gutter Life records) but understandably wary of Thirsty’s intentions (especially during the party full of strippers that opens the episode). He’s determined to do things differently, which includes not having sex with Rhonda in his office. Speaking of, Rhonda’s actions have been a little suspicious. The way she reacts to Andre’s mention of the baby makes it seem like she’s actually faking the pregnancy, right? It would certainly make sense — a quick lie to convince Andre that they can’t go to the police about Vernon’s murder — but if true, it’s definitely going to bite both of them in the ass once Lucious finds out.

That’s not even the biggest Andre story of the episode: He is also getting baptized! Way to wash away those sins of murder, Andre! (Side note: In a weird bit of synergy, ABC’s Black-ish also had a religion-heavy story airing at the same time). It’s a slight point of contention within the Lyon family: Lucious knows that no amount of tap water can get rid of Andre’s sins, and Jamal is wary of going to church (understandably so: the “pray away the gay” mode of thinking is still happening and still incredibly offensive). But everyone shows up anyway, Cookie and Lucious have a spat in the pews, and when Andre emerges from the water, new and clean and free of sins, the first thing he sees is his father’s back as Lucious walks out of the church.

Finally, Hakeem. Dynasty’s hottest artist is in mogul swag mode as he finally puts together his girl group with the help of Laura, the beautiful singer he discovered last week. She rejects his advances, so much so that she walks out of a party and he later has to chase her down on the street to convince her to trust him. But all of that good work (which, let’s face it, had “ulterior motive” written all over it because, well, it’s Hakeem) pales in comparison to Empire‘s ultimate moment: Hakeem is jogging in the park, in broad daylight, when he’s kidnapped by three men and shoved into a van.

It’s ridiculous (I mean, how was Hakeem jogging by himself anyway without getting mobbed by fans? Isn’t he one of the hottest rappers out there right now? Also, again, broad daylight!!) and it’s pure dramatic flare, but it’s going to make for a killer episode next time.