‘Empire’ Season 2 Premiere Recap: “The Devils Are Here”

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It’s necessary that the Season 2 premiere of Empire, The World’s Favorite Show, begins with a pretty lengthy first season recap. So much happened in just the finale, let alone the season that preceded it. There was plenty that I had managed to forget about that came rushing back in a way that was both exhilarating and overwhelming. And that was before anything new was even on screen.

“The Devils Are Here” takes place three months after the end of the first season. Lucious is in prison and Jamal is struggling to adjust to his role heading up Empire. They’re putting on a big #FreeLucious outdoor concert, attended by everyone from Al Sharpton (who makes a guest appearance as himself, only to get hilariously shut down by Cookie) to Bill Clinton. The Lyon family isn’t exactly convinced of Lucious’ innocence (OK, they definitely knows that he’s guilty of killing Bunkie) but the concert is a good thing, and it also works in a larger sense.

It’s easy to laugh off — Cookie arrives in a gorilla suit, lowered down in a cage — but becomes something bigger: She gives an impassioned speech about black people being treated like animals, talking about how the system that was “built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers, our sons” and how it’s a “system that must be dismantled piece by piece.” It’s highly relevant now (and, unfortunately, always) and punctuated by shots of an NYPD officer’s badge, signs that say #OfficerDon’tShoot, and Lady Liberty herself. Plus, the look of pride on Cookie’s face as she watches Jamal perform is worth the whole scene. Another reason why Cookie is putting on the concert is to impress a venture capitalist named Mimi Whiteman (Maris Tomei). Mimi’s a lesbian with eyes on everyone and on Empire.

But first: Our favorites. Jamal is having a hard time with his new role in the company (and getting a little touchy and temperamental in comparison to how we usually see him). He hasn’t recorded any new songs because he hasn’t had the time to do so, and he’s frustrated because he would’ve been on tour by now if Lucious wasn’t in prison. Another problem: Lucious is essentially the only person who can properly deal with and manage Hakeem, who would rather smoke weed than work on his music. (Plus, there’s a great moment when Cookie & co. are power walking down the hall to Empire’s business meeting and Hakeem rides in on one of those hoverboards, signifying his role as the youngest of the crew and the one who takes this the least serious.) There isn’t much involving Andre, aside from his having nightmares about his involvement in last season’s murder, but I’m sure that’s going to come to a head soon. As for Cookie, she’s still Cookie but so far refusing to see Lucious in jail, and instead channeling her energy into making sure Empire is still thriving — but, of course, hits some bumps in the road.

Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon and guest star Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Chuck Hodes/FOX.

Maybe the easiest way to recap Empire is to break it down into the parts of its sum. First up: the label. Cookie is trying to sweet talk Mimi (or “that lesbian bitch,” as Lucious so casually put it) into investing some money into Empire and even throws what I can only refer to as a “lesbian party” for Mimi, with scantily clad girls ready to succumb to Mimi’s charms. But it’s Anika who Mimi wants, and Cookie basically pimps her out which makes for an interesting dynamic, and Anika does sleep with her but as Cookie says, Anika “can’t even dyke right.” As always in Empire, there is backstabbing and shady dealings, so as soon as Cookie thinks that she has secured Mimi’s money and will be able to effectively remove Lucious as CEO of Empire, Mimi swivels around in her chair and reveals that she made a “better deal” with Lucious.

In prison, Lucious has easily adjusted to his new “home” although he is obviously itching to get out and get back in business. He’s well-known, which helps. Early in the episode, Lucious learns that Frank Gathers (Chris Rock, with a fine performance), the person Cookie put in jail and a former boss of both Lyon parents (20 years ago) is being transferred to the same prison. Lucious has no beef with Frank, but Frank has beef with Cookie once he learns that she’s the snitch.

The drama increases when Cookie gets a flower-and-severed-head delivery from Frank, and she’s forced to finally visit Lucious in prison to ask for his help in taking care of the problem. There’s an amazingly tense meeting between Lucious and Frank, where Lucious tells Frank, straight-up, “I love Cookie and if you’ve got war with her then you’ve got war with me.” Without missing a beat, Frank orders his cronies to kill Lucious and make it “fast and quiet.” But, twist! Lucious was smart enough to have already gotten the other inmates on his side (money, music help, etc.) and tells the inmates to kill Frank: “Make it loud, and make it long.”

But by far, the most emotionally devastating scene involves Jamal and Cookie. He kicks his entire family out of Lucious’ house for betraying his father, and doesn’t back down even when Cookie smacks him twice. There is always a war brewing on Empire, and this season is all about the various battles.