Chuck Hodes / Fox

Could Empire CEO Lucious Lyon Be The Actual Devil?

And other hot-as-Hades questions from Empire's midseason premiere.

As much as I've enjoyed spending the last few months thinking of Taraji P. Henson as a brilliant mathematician (if you haven't already seen Hidden Figures, go!), I gotta admit, I'm happy to see her return to Cookie-hood.

While at this point the polymath could easily phone in Cookie's smart-ass fashion-forwardness, Henson really brings it this episode, doesn't she? You guys, I am serious -- I was on a plane when I watched the screener of this episode, and I screamed both "OH NO!" and "HELL YES!" during certain Cookiecentric moments. What a roller coaster! It's a wonder I am not filing this report from a TSA containment cell.

What other scenes from this, the midseason premiere of Empire, made me react in ways that a jumpier flight crew might have interpreted as a reason for an emergency landing? Let's discuss.

Is the show trying to tell us that Luscious is the actual capital "D" Devil?

I have no doubt that more than one character has referred to Lucious as the devil during the run of this series, but the opening scene -- during which Lucious throws some sort of Burning Man-looking event to announce Inferno, an album that not only has he yet to start work on, but he is only producing (?) -- Empire promotes this record with this creepy footage:

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Sure, perhaps we're just seeing the flames reflected in Lucious's eyes, but you know the line about the Devil convincing the world he didn't exist. Add to that his distaste of church (remember how grossed out he got at Andre's baptism?), the casual blasphemy of naming his club Leviticus, his overall fondness for evil deeds and/or shit-disturbing, and the curious smirk he has as he tells a newly-promoted Anika "Take a seat, it's nice and warm for you" ("As it will be in hell" is an inference I cannot help making). Come on, the nascent record is called Inferno. They are totally spelling it out for us! I am not a crackpot.

What kind of dumbass candidate seeks the endorsement of known criminal Lucious Lyon?

Of course, the cynical side of me wants to say that clearly no one cares what kind of vile figures support political candidates, but let's face it: even Donald Trump did not appear at a press conference with David Duke. (That might have been the first time I have written something that could pass for complimentary regarding our horrible embarrassment of a president. Someone mark the calendar.) But it strains credence that this dope John Meeks -- I can only assume that the casting notes for this lineless role were "white as fuck, like, think typing paper and the first scene of The Thing" -- is willing to stand there and accept an endorsement from a man who was recently in prison on murder charges, and is currently under federal investigation.

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I was not thrilled at the revelation that Angelo was involved in a fatal DUI in his youth -- who would be? But if his opposition is this dummy, he could basically pull a The Sweet Hereafter and still get my vote, and I'm not just saying that because he is Taye Diggs.

Will you guys forgive me for misspelling Shine's name as "Shyne" all season?

I swear to god that the night Shine was introduced (and before his character name was listed on IMDB), a tweet from the Empire Writers account referred to the character as "Shyne." But tonight we see him get a parking space at Empire, with this extremely special sign:

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"Looks like they finally spelled my name right," Shine said to Andre as the two admired the placard, a line I am totally going to pretend was directed at me. Anyway, sorry about that, guys.

Should Porsha wear this shade of lipstick ever again?

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No, no she should not.

Should Cookie give me this shirt right now?

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Yes, yes she should.

Would you watch a Better Call Saulish spinoff called Trusty, Becky, And Leah?

I think I've mentioned before that I think the chemistry between Gabourey Sidibe and Andre Royo is electric -- no, not in a gross sex way, but the two have played off one another marvelously in the few short scenes we've seen them share in the past. Tonight I got even more than I hoped for, with Thirsty snookering Becky into a road trip (with Leah in the back seat, since apparently the only way to keep her away from the media is in Thirsty's car) to commit all sorts of misdeeds.

First on the list: to pick up the mother of Bobby "Bam Bam" King, who Lucious identified as the man slated to testify against him in the Frank Gathers murder case. (Thirsty, incredulous: "Do I look like a kidnapper?" Becky, deadpan: "Yes.") Once that's done, Thirsty delivers a mysterious "care package" to a local radio station, then endures Becky's continued complaints about what a choad Xavier is, with frequent interjections from Leah.

Here's another question! Since that radio station payoff was a setup, meant to frame Xavier in a payola scandal and get him fired, does that mean Thirsty just ran a number on Lucious without his knowledge? Lucious could have fired Xavier at will, but as opposed to approaching the boss directly, it appears as though Thirsty tricked Lucious into lowering the boom on the A&R lead. Given how loyal Thirsty claims to be, I find this very interesting...and spinoff-worthy.

Is Jamal really going to stay clean?

Ugggh this storyline had BETTER pay off, because I am not liking it so far! Jamal has three weeks left in rehab, but when his (as always, selfishly squabbling and inappropriate) family comes to visit, he tells them he wants to leave treatment now, because he has some song bubbling inside him or whatever that he needs to record -- which he can't do in rehab, as they quite rightly frown on activities that distract a patient from confronting the root causes of his or her addiction.

Now, I am not an addict, but I sure do know a lot of them -- and all of them, at one time or another, have pulled that same "I'm all better now, I must return to my art" bullshit at least once shortly before an epic relapse. I'm not even saying that they don't believe they are "cured" when they say it! But the addict brain is a tricky one, and it lies to itself very convincingly, all in a ploy to fall back into the same old bad habits. So when Cookie and Lucious -- who, as drug dealers and as people who know Carol -- just buy Jamal's crap that he's better off cutting out of treatment early, I'm aghast.

It doesn't help that the person who talks Jamal out of fleeing is one Tori Ashe, who as played by a vocally adept Rumer Willis seems like a bad audition tape for a direct-to-streaming sequel to Girl Interrupted. I know I've been opposed to the Jamal pill addiction story line, but if the show thinks it's good storytelling to wrap it up as neatly as they did the Angelo DUI thing and Tariq's investigation, it's selling that plot thread short.

Are Nessa and Tiana going to fall in love and leave Andre and Hakeem in the dirt?

This whole showcase subplot is some el grande bunk, from the speed with which the event is planned to Lucious's decision to have the relatively unknown Nessa lead it instead of seasoned performer Tiana. How Nessa's selection equals "phase one complete" in Andre's plan to Who Shot J.R. his pop is unclear, since it's not like the "army" of Shine's men that it will apparently take to kill Lucious (he's the Devil, I tell you, the Devil!) will somehow be swayed by who played this goofball event.

There are only two aspects to this hokey storyline that make it endurable. First, is Cookie's delight when Hakeem and Tiana crash the party:

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And second is the undeniable sexual chemistry between Nessa and Tiana.

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We already know Tiana's toward the center of the Kinsey scale, so this is not as far-fetched as all that! Besides, Andre and Hakeem are dorks, so it's no big loss if either of those relationships tanks. Given the show's vile portrayal of Sapphic relationships in seasons past, perhaps this is Empire's chance to redeem itself.

What scene made me yell on an airplane?

The same scene that, I am sure, made you yell wherever you were. After Lucious's glowing speech to the staff describing Anika as the DNA of the company, Henson BURNS DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKING HOUSE with her incandescent rage, bashing Lucious, his gold records, and his piano with a baseball bat. It's a glorious performance, heartbreaking and angry and real in a way this show so rarely is. And then, in the midst of her rampage, this:

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Reader, I screamed. I woke the guy next to me up (sorry, pal), and got a very sharp but totally deserved look from a flight attendant. But, no, Cookie, no! Soon-to-be Mayor Taye Diggs is waiting for you at home! Lucious is the Devil! Do not go down this path again! And then:

Previously.TV

Again, I cried aloud, this time with jubilation. Thank you, god. Tonight, the devil did not win, after all.

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