'Empire' season 3, episode 17 recap: Secrets, lies and a shocking death
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The “Empire” season three penultimate episode aired last night on FOX as part one of the two-part season finale. Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) seeks revenge against Giuliana (Nia Long) but all of her sons bow out of the plan. Meanwhile, Tariq (Morocco Omari) finally bonds with Lucious (Terrence Howard). He finds baby Bella but a shocking last-minute twist prevents him from disclosing her location.

“Empire” is the new “Ocean’s”

We can’t watch staged casino brawls and Las Vegas safe-cracking heists without thinking of Steven Soderbergh’s popular “Ocean’s” trilogy. Cookie wants to “take Giuliana out” because she’s “a cancer” to the Lyon family. We have to agree, Giuliana is bad news and Lucious is out of his mind for allowing her to control him. He even fires Thirsty upon her suggestion and we love Thirsty!

Cookie gathers her troops and plots to steal Giuliana’s “cooked books” and turn them over to the gaming commissioner. But, all three of her sons bail out on the plan. Who can you trust if you can’t trust your children? Your sisters, of course! The three ladies plus Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) and Thirsty forge ahead. Becky learns to crack a safe from her bestie Thirsty in a hilarious sequence. She fails miserably but doesn’t give up until she finally nails it and then all systems are go. Cookie causes a big scene on the gaming floor which enables Carol to lift the ledgers. Everything works like clockwork and then …

Keep Your Enemies Close

It turns out Charlotte, the gaming commissioner (played brilliantly by Eva Longoria), is on the take too! When Cookie hands her the ledgers, she barely flinches as Lucious delivers a duffel bag of money for her to turn her head. Poor Cookie! Foiled by her ex again! Then Andre (Trai Byers) steps out from the wings and starts working his own scheme with Charlotte which includes seducing her.

Unfortunately, Nessa (and her recording contract) has been kicked to the curb. But, it turns out Andre has some family loyalty because he lets Cookie know Charlotte will fold up Empire’s Vegas shop quickly if she catches wind of any thug activity. It looks like some wheels are set in motion for next week’s finale here, doesn't it?

Jamal (Jussie Smollett) tells Cookie he’s putting When Cookie Met Lucious on hold to help his father launch Inferno. Of course, Lucious is always going to push his own agenda hard. But, it’s disappointing to see Jamal cave so quickly to do his father’s bidding. Something tells us it can’t be smooth sailing for this Inferno launch. Nothing good comes of turning a child against his mother. Especially when a father’s eldest son has a death wish for him.

Brotherly Love … Almost

None of us have forgotten last week’s shocking twist that Evil Mama DuBois has indeed taken baby Bella. Desperate times call for desperate measures so Lucious hunts down his fugitive brother and asks him to use his “expert FBI” skills to find Bella. We can’t believe Tariq agrees and these two former bitter enemies actually spend a few minutes bonding. It looks like real brotherly love is going to bloom between them – in a never warm and fuzzy, always street smart kind of way.

Tariq finds Bella (yay!) and we’re enthusiastically clapping our hands as he struts in to tell Lucious where she is. Then BAM! Crazy Mama Leah (Leslie Uggams) jumps out of nowhere and stabs Tariq in the jugular. He drops to the floor, bleeding out and unfortunately takes a really important secret to the grave. Yes, he’s messed up, but we’re going to miss Tariq and the awesome job Morocco Omari did bringing him to life. Sniff, sniff.

Overall, Lucious always seems to be skating on thin ice but somehow outsmarts his enemies every time. Will this be the case when the season ends next week? Will Inferno bring more than music? Will it bring a fiery death? This “Ocean’s”-themed episode was action-packed and fun. We can’t wait to see what happens next!

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