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Empire episode 4 play-by-play recap: Is Cookie crumbling?

In the face of a huge feud, Cookie and Lucious unite to fight a bigger battle. As the FBI swoops in to raid both Empire and Cookie’s company, Lyon Dynasty, Vernon’s body rots in a shallow grave. They have to find a way to make all of their troubles disappear. Will joining forces halt the ravenous D.A., Roxanne?

This recap is a summation of all of the wild and crazy things that float through your head as moment-after-moment of jaw-dropping lines and action push you to the edge of your leather seat and zap your spirit animal with a candy-coated Taser. This recap is for the fans and the foes, and all of Empire’s woes running through the six.

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Say what? Like all of Empire’s episodes, this, too, has themes that tap into the heart of pop culture, elite literary memes and Shakespeare. While Becky tries to film the FBI raid with her smartphone (which every urban dweller knows to do by now — good call, Lee Daniels), Jamal swoops in from his recording session to halt the madness of the raid. Lucious cuddles a sweet nothing in his chambers across town. (Sidebar: Andre Royo is magnificent as the street-ready legal eagle, who gets down and dirty with the driven district attorney, Roxanne, as he protects Lucious’ rights (and wrongs) and freedoms — by any means necessary. And I mean any. Means. Necessary. The title, “Poor Yorick,” an ode to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is spot on.)

Lucious roils in the brackish waters of decay as the affable clown, Vernon, lies rotting, Empire crumbles and Lucious’ legacy festers under the bright lights of the vengeful Roxanne. Andre, always on the verge of destroying or destruction, is used like a common garden tool. His loyalty to man that has — thus far, proved to be more of a snake than a lion — is heartbreaking. He begs for remittance to the Empire kingdom. Lucious tells the vulnerable, mentally ill Andre: “If you make this mess go away, you can have anything you want.” With that, Lucious leaves Andre to literally do the dirty work to resurrect the ailing body of Empire.


The name inspires awe, shock, respect and wrath. And in this episode, it also inspires empathy. Faced with a raid by the FBI, she keeps her eyes on the prize. Her single focus at the start of the episode is keeping Empire at bay and Dynasty at the table. But then… My chuch (no typo) community knows the phrase “But God” in the hands of the right pastor, priest or deacon, can sway a whole congregation to a pulsating crescendo of glorious emotion. Same emotion, different phrase. A brief spat with Lucious at his office leads to one of the best tit-for-tat lines ever, with Lucious’ nasty-nice greeting:

“Damn, you coming in here with a whole lotta demands, Miss Cookie Monster.” Ha. Haha. Ow. He ends by calling Cookie “Grandma Moses.” Never one to let a fool test her, Cookie fires back as she leaves a truly glorious GIF-able moment: “Tell me a Grandma that got an ass like this.”

But then Cookie is arrested on the streets for a trussed up charge — a common occurrence in urban communities across the U.S. If you’ve watched TV at all in the last year, you know this. In a high-camp, “keeping it real with the streets” moment, she shouts out one of the best lines of the show: “If I die in police custody, I did not commit suicide.” #SandraBland, we continue to say your name.

Fast-forward to the jail cell where Cookie is dressed like Eddie Murphy in Raw 3.0 and obvi having none of this. The cold chairs and Plexiglas window in the interrogation room pull her into time’s quicksand warp. The pain of 17 years in prison chokes her pride, scratches tears out of her eyes and claws at our collective hearts with non-compromising, good-ass acting. Pause. Go Taraji P. Henson. I see you, boo. The indomitable D.A., Roxanne, slithers in, eyeing Cookie like a bully at the playground at recess, and sits across from Cookie. Roxanne scoops Cookie’s heart out with a surgeon’s precision when she tells her: “Honey, I will hurt your kids. Real bad.” I mean, dayummmmm. That right there? Enough to make the blood run cold in any mother.

To stop Roxanne from leaking Andre’s mental illness to the press — thus possibly forcing the dear boy to take his life — Cookie gives Roxanne a nugget about Lucious’ ploy to take over the radio stations. This nugget is wrapped in a layer of “and then Vernon went missing” by the agile-truthed Cookie. Beweaved and ruthless, Roxanne has one goal: the downfall of Lucious. Meanwhile, hours have passed since the arrest and her release, omitting her from one of the most dramatic scenarios of the episode. The family music video! Late, Cookie arrives and molds her shaken soul together, looking at what’s left of the music video set and, quite possibly, her dynasty. Gathering herself from the shadows of the aftermath of the set is Anika, twisting like a puppet in the wind, as she winds close to Cookie. She’s got Royal-T ready to sign with Lyon Dynasty. But, nah. Turns out, Cookie “don’t trust” her and doesn’t want her at Dynasty after all. Anika is cut loose. But then…

Hakeem and Jamal

OK. The chemistry between the both of them is nothing short of nuclear. Hakeem, piloted by ambition and desire, reflects the drive of Lucious in his quest to mount his own legacy, Lyon Dynasty, with his audacious mother, Cookie. By choosing to align himself with her, he has taken himself out of the semi-protective — but always destructive — umbrella of Lucious’ long reach. Jamal, Empire’s appointed heir, revels in the glory afforded him by teaming up with Lucious, though his artistry has been allowed to atrophy. The “ish” hits the fan when Hakeem is recruited to come to the set of a video that’s being shot to show a united front in the face of an onslaught by the FBI. The video — directed under the spurious eyes of Marisa Tomei, who plays Empire investor Mimi Whiteman with pure sass and whit — is the perfect setting for these gladiators to battle. Looking like an abstract end-of-world Thunderdome, the Empire family music video is meant to establish that Empire is here to stay, Dynasty is legit and the Lyons are united against the man (FBI, D.A.). Where’s Cookie to guide Hakeem out of that madhouse? Remember, she’s in jail being grilled by the D.A., but no one knows this. Never one to let a weakness go unnoticed, Lucious taunts Hakeem, (who, remember, doesn’t know his mom is being grilled by Roxanne) letting him know that he appointed Jamal as heir to Empire because, “He ain’t a mama’s boy.” Ouch. Later, for good measure, Hakeem plugs a knife into the neck of a portrait of Jamal, created by a seedy, horny Rolling Stones photographer for the cover. Best part? Michael, Jamal’s slighted boyfriend, kept his eyes rolling like eggs on a conveyer belt. Will the brothers make it? Will Lucious destroy their bond? Post video shoot, Hakeem sits at a bar sipping on that brown liquor, trying to get his head right. He hears an amazing singer take the stage. Will she be the new girl singer he needs to front his shattered girl band? Erasing an apology text to Jamal, Hakeem homes in on the one thing he seems to be a master at — spotting talent. The father is the son is the father…

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Andre and Rhonda

Can you say ride or die? In an attempt to get back into the good graces of Lucious, Andre asks if he will be let back into the fold if he makes the whole “missing Vernon” issue go away. See, with Vernon missing and presumed on the lam, Roxanne will continue to taunt and terrorize the Lyons, destabilizing Empire and Dynasty until she gets something to help her punish Lucious for all his Lucious-ness. But, the obedient Andre has been keeping a lil’ secret with his wifey. Vernon is rotting in a grave in the woods, making it kinda hard for him to be a witness against Lucious. Knowing this, Andre and Rhonda hatch a plan to dig Vernon up and get his body in a safer place, so that the D.A./FBI/The Man can’t find him. In the darkest of nights, they dig only to find out that they don’t know where the body is. Yikes! Never fear, Lucious and his street legal eagle, Thirsty Rawlings (the name says it all) stroll into the thicket with a corpse-finding device that eerily resembles a metal detector. Yes. A homing device that finds rotting corpses just happens to be in Thirsty’s hand and Lucious’ power. Ta-da! Vernon’s putrid, black-plastic-bag-wrapped corpse is discovered. Always true to himself, Lucious leans into the trunk where his ex-bestie is now crammed post-exhumation and wishes him a farewell. Of sorts. “I hope you rot in hell, you snitch.” Well, OK, that about sums up that relationship. Lucious is proud of the dastardly deeds of Andre. More importantly, he is now safe from prosecution from the D.A. and, thus, the FBI! Love and redemption is in the heavy air as he hugs Andre and welcomes him back into the covenant. In a biblical twist, God’s been speaking to Andre in dreams, and Andre may be having some issues about the dirty deeds he’s done to save the dirtiest of all, his father. Rhonda, a real trooper, gags in the corner as the stench of Vernon’s body wafts through the bushes as they lug his body. Now, ain’t that love? A midnight dig will melt a girl’s heart. Talk about commitment! The father is the son is the father…

More: Ludacris puts Chris Rock’s Empire cameo to shame, while a Dynasty is born

Next week?

Teaser points us towards Andre’s baptism, Cookie knowing God’s heart and Lucious grinning in that way that he does at a church. There’s also some talk of guns and the track that plays as the teaser? “God’s Gonna Trouble the Water.” I’m bringing a life vest, popcorn and a shank to my couch, as me and the kids tune in next week. Come back on Oct. 20 for my next review. But then…

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Image: The CW

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