‘Empire’ Recap: Let’s Never Talk About That Threesome Again

What is going on with Empire? It’s always been an utterly ridiculous show, endlessly entertaining even when it spins in wild directions, but it’s starting to get maybe a little too out there? “True Love Never” was busy and scattered, with big set pieces that ultimately didn’t amount to much.

Let’s break it down. Cookie and Laz, a character whose name I have to look up every time he appears on screen, have a three-day long sex marathon where she somehow doesn’t notice his cow skull/Donnie Darko rabbit tattoo. Laz offers to add the Lyon Dynasty artists to a radio station summer jam concert but Cookie prefers to go her own way with an old school cookout. Cookie’s Cookout! But she needs money, and Laz suggests that she get it by taking up the kidnappers’ protection offer. Or something? OK, I’m going to be completely honest here: I’m not entirely sure what is happening with this kidnapping/Hakeem/ugly tattoos storyline. Later, they sit down to have a meeting that Hakeem bursts in on and they negotiate and come to some agreement that, I don’t know, will probably backfire? Who knows!

Cookie’s better plot this episode involves her and Jamal (no surprise there!). He’s having a hard time getting his song “Heavy” up to his high expectations — and he really needs to because he’s been invited to perform on Huey’s living room sessions (over his father, scandal!) — and knows that Cookie is the only person who can help him. They work on the song together, despite being part of rival record labels, because there’s nothing like a mother’s touch on an emotional R&B song. It’s not without complications though — they have to keep it a secret from everyone else, though I’m pretty sure Lucious can tell Cookie’s had a hand in it when he watches Jamal perform.

Lucious has a packed plot in “True Love Never.” He’s trying to get a streaming deal which somehow results in a boxing match meeting, a man in the hospital, and a drugged-up verbal agreement. That’s one way to do business! He’s also working with Freda Gatz, still trying to get her song perfect but having a hard time figuring out what it’s missing. He also orders Andre to sleep with the deputy mayor in order to get Freda cleared from a gang injunction, but more on that later. Through multiple flashbacks, we learn about him hiding bullets to (fail to) prevent his mother from committing suicide. Then there is an incredibly silly, awkward, and just plain uncomfortable aborted threesome involving Mimi Whiteman and a woman they jointly picked up while drunk at a party. There is so much happening in just that one scene but it’s so over the top and misguided that it ultimately doesn’t mean anything.

There’s a strange moment  involving Lucious interrupting Mimi’s serious phone call, and then Mimi seducing the woman with her makeup running from crying? It’s a terrible music video. Ultimately, it’s all a catalyst for Lucious’ “genius”: Traumatized by the sight of a gun tattoo, he exits to grab the gun his mother used and orders Freda to the studio at 4 AM to record with the gun as an instrument. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.

As for the other brothers, there’s some of Hakeem being taken a little more seriously as he gets Laura to become the badass group leader that she needs to be (instead of getting butt-bumped to the back while performing a song that is essentially about brunch). At least we’re treated to a fire, Spanish version of “I Will Survive,” which was easily the musical highlight of the entire series. Andre also gets a weird non-starter plot in which he talks to his pastor about how he doesn’t want to cheat on his wife anymore so his pastor instead instructs him to blackmail the Deputy Mayor instead. Sure!

“True Love Never,” while definitely intriguing at times was mostly a mess. Not necessarily a bad mess, but one that doesn’t exactly bode well for the season.