If there’s one thing we must never forget, it’s that Lucious is a gangster. Don’t let the sharp suits fool you, lest you want to end up like Mel in the first scene of episode 3 of Empire.
Mel is a manager for one of Empire Entertainment’s artists, Veronica. He decides to confront Lucious on the set of a music video Veronica is shooting alongside Tiana, another Empire artist and the Rihanna to Hakeem’s Chris Brown. Lucious calmly tells Mel that they can hash out the issues in Lucious’s trailer. As Lucious is walking in behind Mel, he takes a pipe from one of the crewmembers and proceeds to beat Mel down. It’s a vicious way to start the latest episode, but crucial to establishing what the writers probably want us to think: Lucious is a bad man.
The only time we get to see Lucious’s good side is ironically when Cookie comes around, which she does shortly after Lucious has beat the brakes off Mel. Cookie comes walking onto the video set with a luxurious fur and, of course, she instantly has beef. But this time, it’s legitimate: Lucious hasn’t told her the happenings on Bunky’s funeral. He tells her he’s handling it and that he even has something really “special.” As Cookie walks away, Lucious chuckles and tells Cookie “you look nice.” It’s a tender reminder that the history between Cookie and Lucious is deeper than what we know thus far.
Meanwhile, Cookie keeps herself busy by playing matchmaker for Jamal, but strictly on a business level, not personal. She wants to find her son a songwriter to help him create hit records. Being the stubborn artist he is, Jamal doesn’t think this is necessary. She reminds him that he must stay competitive with Hakeem.
The police have started sniffing around Bunky’s murder. A detective visits Lucious at his office and tells him they believe they have an eyewitness who saw Bunky’s murder. This prompts Lucious to ask Andre if he can get in touch with his City Hall connect to find out whom they have eyed as a suspect. Lucious is making sure it’s not him, but acts as though he wants to know who is responsible so he can handle it himself.
Anika, Lucious’s wife, has hired a private investigator to spy on Cookie. This is how Anika tips Lucious off to the fact that Cookie is meeting up with the feds in private, which is where we were left hanging after last week’s episode. Lucious feels betrayed and confronts Cookie at Bunky’s wake. In his smoothest but most serious tone, he tells Cookie he loves her, but if anyone tries to destroy his company or his family, they then turn into enemies who he has no problem destroying, even if it’s her.
The special something Lucious had planned for Bunky’s homegoing is a guest appearance from Gladys Knight. Unlike the phone call with President Obama in the second episode, this isn’t fictional name-dropping for the sake of storytelling. Knight herself actually does make a guest appearance, singing the hymn, “Leaning on Everlasting Arms.” It’s a thoughtful gesture, which is until we see Lucious at the funeral, crying and giving a eulogy like he isn’t the reason Bunky is in the casket. He even wears a white suit as if it’s Easter Sunday.
Cookie takes advantage of the funeral’s turnout and gossips about pre-imprisonment friendships. This is how she is reminded about Puma, who is played by guest star Cuba Gooding Jr. Puma was a songwriter from Empire Entertainment’s early days. A collaborator of Lucious, Puma always had a thing for Cookie, but of course, Cookie wasn’t trying to hear that. She was, after all, a kept woman. But now, Puma is out of the business and Cookie needs to locate him without Lucious catching on.
Andre’s plug at City Hall turns out to be a woman who is the Deputy Mayor and obviously an old flame of his. All questions about their personal relationship are answered when he bends her over the desk while making his request for the information he seeks. Later, when he’s home, the Deputy Mayor calls Andre to tell him the witness they have in mind is a homeless man. Rhonda walks in on her husband taking the phone call and when she is told who it is, she asks him how he got such privileged information. Just when it seems like Andre is about to get caught, we discover Andre and Rhonda are a lot of freakier than we thought. Not only does he tell his wife the truth, he shows her the whole truth of what went down, bends her over their bathroom sink, and Rhonda loves it to the point where she’s telling him to call her “Deputy Mayor.”
Agent Carter is fed up with Cookie’s family, specifically Anika’s plans to have Cookie followed by the private investigator. As it turns out, the person they are building a case against is a man named Frank Gathers, not Lucious. Since Lucious thinks Carter and Cookie are building a case against him, they have to figure out a way to lower Lucious’ suspicion. Cookie also uses this brief moment of vulnerability to ask Agent Carter for a favor: she wants them to find Puma.
Puma, as it turns out, is no longer working as a one-man hit factory. His present days are spent working at a ranch where he mentors underprivileged youth, and now goes by Dwayne. But Cookie doesn’t care, nor is she trying to hear all the hate Puma has in his heart for Lucious. He’s never quite forgiven Lucious for the way he treated Cookie. With some convincing we never get to see, Puma eventually gives Cookie what she wants, a record that he’s held on to since the days he and Lucious worked together: a song he wrote for Cookie.
The pre-written song is the hit Cookie’s wanted to give Jamal. Not only does she want him to record it, she wants Jamal to perform it at a family dinner party they’re all attending at Lucious’ house. That’s when things turn up a notch.
Cookie sits at the head of the table, and when Anika objects, Cookie shoos her away, telling her to go sit by her “daddy.” After dinner, it’s all eyes on Jamal. He shows out for his family, and impresses everyone including Lucious who is so excited. Excited to where he thinks it indeedcan be a hit record, but not for Jamal, for John Legend (who never actually makes an appearance). Cookie objects, but Jamal reminds her, Lucious actually owns the song so whatever he wants to do with it he can. Jamal agrees; he didn’t want the song anyway. All Jamal wanted was to show his father that his “little girl could do something” that Lucious couldn’t. “You washed up and the songs that I’m writing will only prove that I’m you on steroids,” Jamal tells his father.
The family gathering was originally intended to acknowledge the ongoing romance brewing between Hakeem and Tayana. But Hakeem, we discover, is a player. We are introduced to Camilla, played by supermodel Naomi Campbell. The couple is seen laid out in a pool table, not a bed. Things get weird when Camilla and Hakeem start sharing details of their secret one-year secret romance; such as the pet names they call one another. Hakeem calls Camila ‘mama.’ She’s sure to become an interesting character.
In the final scene, Lucious visits Jamal’s apartment in what seems like an attempt to hash things out. Jamal shows him around half-heartedly, telling his father to try and avoid looking at the bedroom where he and his boyfriend Michael “make the gay love.” Shade aside, the scene gets to the heart of the difficult relationship Jamal and Lucious have. Jamal reminds his dad how he has beat him since he was a baby, saying “you told me that was to toughen me up. That was a lie. You beat me because you hate me.” Lucious tries to tell his son that he doesn’t hate him, but he doesn’t quite have a way with heartfelt words, which only leads to words as: “I don’t know you. I didn’t bring any women into this world, and to see my son become somebody’s bitch? I don’t understand you.” Jamal makes it clear his father doesn’t have to understand him, that he’s a man (he’s a man!), and his “obedience is no longer for sale.” When Lucious threatens to take away the expensive “$12,000 a month” apartment he pays for, Jamal says that won’t be necessary. He throws the keys to the apartment at his father’s feet and tells Michael to pack his bags.
“I’m going after his Empire,” Jamal tells Michael.