Fox‘s Empire Rise by Sin TV Review. Empire: Season 2, Episode 17: Rise by Sin boomerangs back from last week’s soft and sweet episode with a whole lot of drama, providing the perfect storm to amp up the series’ sophomore season as it reaches its end.
We open at a night-before band rehearsal for the ASAs. Lucious (Terrence Howard) pushes his band all night to get Chasing the Sky perfect… or maybe, as Cookie points out, he pushes them all night to avoid going home to face his mother, who last week expressed her strong interest in killing him.
Leah (Leslie Uggams), meanwhile, is hanging out at home, watching ASA coverage and asking Juanita (Claudette Burchett) why she’s back after being fired. Leah comes across footage of Lucious’s music video depicting her supposed suicide, and gets pretty angry, calling Lucious a liar and making us ask ourselves whether Lucious was lying about more than we know.
Carol (Tasha Smith) is also getting amped up for the ASAs, and she plans to accompany Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), asking what “skank” Lucious will bring with him to replace her. Carol’s life right now is just too exciting; she’s also going on a date with “Tariq the Freak” (Morocco Omari) tonight, following their supposedly unexpected reunion last week.
Last week’s flames continue as D Major (Tobias Truvillion) sits in with Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Freda (Bre-z) work out a new song. D Major is supportive, but as soon as Freda leaves he throws a wrench in things, casually suggesting that Jamal needs to let Cookie go as producer. “It’s time for you to be more than a musical mama’s boy,” he says. What’s more, D Major actually wants to produce Jamal’s next album. Things are moving pretty fast here.
Leah’s making moves too. After swerving around Andre’s (Trai Byers) questions about how she’s feeling and whether she’s keeping up with her medications, Leah shares that she wants to go to the ASAs to see her son onstage for the first time. That’s kind of a problem, seeing as how everyone who saw the video believes her to be dead, but she promises that she won’t let on about Lucious’s lie or her real identity.
Speaking of lies, ever since Rhonda’s (Kaitlin Doubleday) weird vision back to her fall (or push?) last week, she has been avoiding Anika (Grace Gealey). Anika thinks that it’s difficult for Rhonda to watch Anika go through pregnancy after losing her own baby; Rhonda tells Anika that she’s really busy with dressing artists for the ASAs, but in fact she’s pretty sure that it was Anika who pushed her. Does Anika know that Rhonda knows? At this point that’s still unclear.
Amidst all the drama, we can’t forget that there’s a wedding to be planned! Laura (Jamila Velazquez) and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) discuss the things all couples discuss: color scheme, cake, and whether to give US Weekly an exclusive… wait, that’s just them. Laura wants to invite the media, hoping that it’ll help her career. Hakeem, on the other hand, has already resigned himself the fact that- through his own faults- Laura just isn’t going to be the star she wanted to be. He concedes that they can still do the US Weekly exclusive if she wants, but Laura says that’s okay; her dream “right now” is just to marry Hakeem. This all sounds very healthy and stable.
As usual, so does Cookie’s and Lucious’s relationship. Apparently, Lucious was going to ask Cookie to the ASAs until he heard she was taking Carol. “That’s alright,” he says, “Imma take a supermodel,” and with the perfect delivery the line is actually a little bit funny and self-deprecatingly sweet. One thing the two of them agree upon, though, is that Tariq is not to be trusted; they know he’s a fed. Cookie shows up to his and Carol’s date uninvited to tell Tariq flat out that he’d better not be planning on coming for her family,. Tariq coolly responds that his interest in Carol is just to catch up and hang out, and then casually drops the information that Lucious killed Cookie’s cousin Bucky, at which point Cookie skedaddles.
The next day, Carol and Cookie all but brawl. Cookie thinks Carol is making a mistake with Tariq and that she’s fallen of the wagon. Carol thinks Cookie doesn’t care about her, and that she just wants to steal Carol’s boyfriend like she always does. Cookie, never one to compromise, tells Carol that she can forget about living with Cookie or coming with her to the ASAs.
It seems like nobody has the date they want for the ASAs at this point. We return to D Major and Jamal, who are in the studio giving a new song a try. Although D Major loves it, Jamal is skeptical- and he’s also not thrilled that D Major is taking a girl to the ASAs, as much as D Major promises that it doesn’t mean anything. Lucious interrupts this intimate conversation, and although D Major gets out of there stat, Lucious knows exactly what’s going on. He tells Jamal as much: apparently D Major has an undercover reputation for doing exactly what he’s doing with Jamal.
It turns out that this secret relationship isn’t really what bothers Lucious, though. In one quickly escalating moment it all comes out: Lucious can’t stand Jamal being gay, no matter how hard he tries. “You ain’t nothin’ to me but a disappointment,” he says, “and the day you die from AIDS, I’m gonna celebrate.”
When Jamal furiously tries to relay this story to Cookie, he gets no further than the first sentence before Cookie freaks about his continued collaboration with Freda. Finally Cookie admits her problem: she got out of prison early because she snitched on Frank Gathers (Chris Rock)- Freda’s dad. Cookie doesn’t say as much, but it looks like Lucious then got to Frank before Frank could get to the whole Lyon family.
Following this confession, it’s finally time for the long-awaited ASAs. Just as Andre and Leah head out of the house to the show (unclear on whether they have Lucious’s blessing or not), they run into none other than Thirsty Rawlings (Andre Royo). Acting on “Daddy’s orders,” Thirsty locks Andre and Leah into some sort of cell- although they do have four TVs so they don’t miss out on the ASAs. Priorities, right?
Just before the show, Lucious and Cookie share possibly the only scene devoid of secrets and lies in the entire episode. Dressed in furs and diamonds, the two of them reminisce about the “raggedy” old days selling CDs (and drugs) to get by; finally, they’ve made it. Lucious asks Cookie to be his date, and a series of flashbacks hints that he’s always loved her even when he didn’t let on.
The couple arrives at the ASAs to walk the red carpet, where we also see Freda, Jamal, Hakeem and Laura (who’s asked to step aside so the press can get some photos of Hakeem on his own), and D Major and his supermodel beard. Amidst the flashing lights we catch Jamal giving a brief interview, telling the press that he’s shelving the grey album and that “this is the last time you’ll see me on stage with my family.” Then he warns Freda that she needs to get away from Empire.
Lucious gives a few interviews of his own, speaking of mental illness, losing his mother, and how music helped him to go on. Of course, this all goes over well with Leah, who is currently locked up and furious at Lucious for lying to her and for imprisoning her yet again. Even more of Lucious’s lies are brought to light when Carol shows up to the ASAs drunk, managing to tell Freda that Lucious did something to Frank before she’s dragged away. Upon receiving this news, Freda’s world goes quiet. She relives all the moments she had with Lucious, everything she knows about him and her father. Then she hits a cop, grabs his gun, and shoots.
The shot misses Lucious, instead hitting Jamal in the stomach. At home Andre loses his cool, screaming at Thirsty to let him out, and they head to the hospital along with Leah. The ASAs go on without the Lyon family, who watch together in the hospital waiting room while Jamal undergoes surgery. After all the fighting between Jamal and Lucious, the two of them split the vote; the ASA for best song goes to somebody else.
By the end of this episode, cliffhangers abound; Freda’s attempted attack provides more fodder for Tariq’s piecing together of the life and crimes of Lucious Lyon, and the next item on his agenda is an interview with Anika. Meanwhile, Lucious laments his last conversation with Jamal (that line about celebrating Jamal’s death has just become way too real), while Leah walks out of the hospital unnoticed. Inside, a doctor approaches Lucious and Cookie; outside, the media asks Leah who she is. Cut to black.
It seems almost like everything that could come to a head in this episode did. Our breath is held until next week, and we’d better find out what’s going on with Jamal and Leah first thing. There’s one thing that we do know, though: Empire sure knows how to do its drama.