What’s more exciting than Cookie deciding to start her own company? There’s so much that could go down — both good and bad — but mostly it means an extended focus on Cookie. In “Without A Country, Cookie decides to compete with Empire with her own company: Lyon Dynasty. It’s Cookie’s time, and I am on board.
The episode begins right after the premiere, with Cookie, Hakeem, and Andre walking out their boxed-up possessions from the Empire building. They are barely out the door before they realize all the challenges ahead, perhaps the biggest one being Hakeem’s album. He only needs to record another song for his album but it belongs to Empire, and there is no way Jamal and Lucious are going to give it up. There’s the question of whether or not Andre is going to be involved with the new company, and the question of whether Cookie will let Anika join (she’s good, Cookie admits, but she doesn’t trust her). And then there’s Hakeem’s other plan outside of his album: He wants to start a girl group similar to Destiny’s Child.
Hakeem is actually more business savvy than we give him credit for (although, yeah, he fucks up again by the episode’s end). A girl group is actually a good idea, particularly the specifics: one white, one black, and one Latina. The name “Rainbow Sensation,” however, is pretty terrible and even both Cookie and Anika can agree on that. Through Hakeem’s auditions (which he advertised using Instagram), we’re introduced to a new character, Valentina (Becky G) who kills it at the audition but balks when she realizes it’s for a girl group and not a solo career — but that doesn’t stop her from hooking up with Hakeem, of course, but she’ll only want to be in the group if it’s Empire and not Dynasty. The girl group storyline also brings back Tiana (Serayah McNeill). in what you can maybe call an outfit, when Hakeem tries to recruit her — another smart move by the youngest Lyon — but she’s not into sharing the spotlight either.
Jamal spends much of the episode dealing with Empire business (and drinking more) and displaying some shades of Lucious in his dealings. He’s also being interviewed about everything: female fans having crushes on him, his father’s trial (“can’t say too much about it”), and his attempts to juggle his music (not sure when a new album is coming out) with making smart business decisions. It’s actually a spot-on depiction of interviews with pop stars, and Jamal plays it off perfectly. But then Cookie bursts in and interrupts to talk secretly with Jamal about Hakeem’s album: “You already won. You run the Empire. All Hakeem has got is his music.” But Jamal doesn’t budge.
Lucious’ prison stint is getting a little rough. He’s being refused his medication, leading to some wheezing health problems. At the same time, prison guard Officer McKnight (Ludacris!!) makes no attempt to hide his disdain for Lucious, and aims to screw him over whenever he can. Their confrontations are tense and the power balance between them is interesting: McKnight is clearly in the obvious position of power but Lucious can command power from anywhere, even behind bars.
Lucious gets the genius idea to record and release a song from prison but has to somehow get the contraband recording equipment. Enter sly lawyer Thirsty (Andre Royo). Yep, THIRSTY. Why not? He takes a particular interest in Lucious’ case and even later gets Lucious the stuff he needs. In an inspired scene, Lucious and some prison inmates record an obviously-great (in the show’s world) song inside of the storage room and finish just in time to have McKnight burst in and confiscate everything before sending Lucious off to solitary. But, as mentioned, Lucious has power in prison, too. McKnight gets jumped in a parking lot, and is forced to hand over the song, thanks to Lucious’ new lawyer.
Back to the Empire/Dynasty brewing feud, Hakeem is frustrated about not being able to own his own music and he has absolutely no intentions of returning to Empire. His solution? To leak his own album online — “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he says in response to whether or not it’s illegal, “All I care about is that my music is out to the world and that it’s going to be legendary.” Hakeem doesn’t believe that Jamal will sue him but when the two confront each other, Jamal shows his Lucious streak and says that he will.
But even that pales in comparison to the biggest moment in the back-half of the episode: thanks to Thirsty blackmailing a judge, Lucious is officially released from prison.