'Empire' season 3, episode 12 recap: Cookie and Lucious dodge a bullet (for now)
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This week’s all-new episode of “Empire” on FOX finds Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrence Howard) confronting Anika (Grace Byers) about teaming up with Tariq and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) ringing in 21 with a little too much flash. Plus, Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) love triangle takes an unexpected turn and Andre (Trai Byers) moves forward in striking a deal with Giuliana (Nia Long).

Happy Birthday Hakeem

Baby Lyon is turning 21 and he wants the world to know it. He also wants his surprise gift from his parents. Guess what, Hakeem? Your parents are giving you a great big case of “Grow up and get over yourself” instead.

Hakeem should realize, after all, his parents have more pressing matters to worry about: Namely, whether his Baby Mama is going to roll over to the feds about any of their dastardly deeds. Normal family troubles, right?

We immediately know Hakeem’s intention to “party for 21 hours” while streaming it on Empire Xtreme is going to come back to bite him. Things get way out of control when one of Tiana’s (Serayah) friends gets punched in the face by some goons Hakeem may or may not owe money to for the party. Tiana is furious and storms out on her whining beau to go to the hospital with her friend.

The birthday boy is left alone and feeling glum. Even big brother Andre tells him to man up. We agree. Hakeem is spoiled and self-indulgent. He pretty much thinks the sun rises and sets on himself and commands everyone else to get on board or get on down the line.

But, what right does lying, scheming, murderous Andre have in telling his brother to pull it together? We’re surprised (but glad) they don’t pull some more sibling rivalry-fueled punches on each other in this scene.

Stuck in the Middle

Jamal sleeps with Philip only to discover D-Major is on his way to confess his love to Jamal after coming out live on social media. Uh oh. D-Major arrives and finds Jamal and Philip half-dressed and connects the dots. Jamal tries to “be there” for D-Major in this uber-awkward situation.  He tells him he needs to come out for himself, not for him or anyone else.

D-Major taunts Philip and says he’s a better lover for Jamal. Philip decks D-Major in the face and well, this really isn’t cool. Isn’t a PTSD counselor supposed to keep it together a little better than that?

We get the feeling this love triangle is far from over. The middle Lyon brother is stuck in an uncomfortable position right now. Who is he going to choose? And, how will D-Major cope with his life-changing revelation moving forward?

Cookie’s Got a Gun

Is it just us or did anyone else play a brief, imaginary flash of Aerosmith’s 1989 hit “Janie’s Got a Gun” in your head when Angelo (Taye Diggs) finds Cookie’s “present” from Angelo in her drawer? We’re not going to dwell on this too much except to say we love that Cookie is willing to get rid of it and all things Lucious for Angelo. But, we know she won’t keep that promise and ultimately, we can sort of smell big trouble brewing here.

In fact, we bet someone is eventually going to get shot with Cookie's gun. And, we don’t like how Angelo put it in his pocket for Cookie. We’re thinking nothing good can come of this …

Dysfunctional Family Face Off

We can’t help but laugh a little at the crazy level of Lyon family dysfunction. Cookie and Lucious confront Anika (who’s back!) about why she left and where she went. Lucious gives her 30 seconds to explain why they shouldn’t kill her (because this is an appropriate response to potential betrayal, right?), while she’s standing in front of Bella’s crib. Thank God it’s empty!

Anika tells them she’s hatching a plan to become involved with Tariq so she can’t be used to testify against either of them. They buy it for now. Tariq is pretty smart, though. Will Anika's plan work or is she setting herself up for a sly double-cross?

In other family drama, Lucious has a nice “sit down” with Hakeem when he arrives to take his daughter home for “the rest” of his birthday. It’s a rather nice moment in the mess that is the “Empire” world. Way to finally “man up,” Hakeem!

Killer Plot

Andre meets with Giuliana to try to “close their deal” with some physical fringe benefits. She rebuffs him and tells him she doesn’t touch another woman’s man. This whole thing feels slimy, even for Andre. When he leaves, some big guy approaches Giuliana. She's trying to get him closer to Lucious. We don’t quite get what’s going on here. But, it doesn’t look good.

Side note: We love Nessa’s slow jam for Andre in the club sequence and we’d like to hear her sing more of these!

Overall, the episode is somewhat of a sleeper after a strong hiatus comeback. But, we’re left feeling like Lucious Lyon had better stay awake and watch his back.

“Empire” airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/8C on FOX.