'Empire' season 3, episode 7 recap: Family ties spawn mayhem and magic
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Fox’s most dysfunctional family returned this week with a riveting new “Empire” episode called “What We May Be.” Three seasons into the fray, we all get that the Lyon family lives by their own code of honor. They’re tight – maybe in some instances to an unhealthy point of strangulation. But, they are who they are and they offer apologies to no one. Least of all Angelo’s (Taye Diggs) sophisticated mother (played to sublime perfection by Phylicia Rashad) who Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) desperately tries to impress. Of course, Lucious (Terrence P. Howard) tries to sabotage his baby mama’s efforts. Meanwhile, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is inspired by a heartbreaking part of his mother’s past.

Daddy’s Girl

The “Empire” creative team continues to make brilliant use of flashbacks to reveal more of Cookie and Lucious’ troubled past and the events that sealed their lifelong bond. This week, Jamal gets inspired by old home movies and makes a “visual” presentation that could be a game-changer for his static-to-sagging career. He invites Cookie over to show her what he’s done and she’s thrilled until images of her father flood the screen. She storms out, warning Jamal he can’t use the films.

Later, we find out Cookie’s dad had pinned all his hopes for a brighter future on a young, smart, beautiful Cookie. But, her burning attraction for bad-boy Lucious spiraled into bad choices – guns under the bed and drug money. So, her angry, heartbroken father kicked her out of the house to spare her sisters from harm. Then he had an unexpected heart attack and died. Cookie was devastated and as she explained to Jamal, she and his father practically raised each other on the streets and did what they could to survive.

This entire sequence is heartbreaking. Now we understand why it’s so hard for Cookie and Lucious to totally cut ties. They were family to each other at a young, vulnerable age. They had each other’s backs when they had no one else. The sad fact is, Cookie lost her innocence and her potential during those young, hustling years. She’ll never get it back but Taraji P. Henson does a brilliant job showing us just how far Cookie has come since her dark and troubled beginning.

Welcome to the Family Jungle

Cookie and Angelo finally consummate their relationship after his shirtless act of solidarity on live TV. Yahoo! We were hoping they weren't split for good! They make such a cute opposites-attract-in-the-best-kind-of-way couple! Angelo’s mother demands to meet the woman that prompted her son to make such a bold declaration and we’re cringing at the thought of how these two strong, driven women are undoubtedly doomed to clash.

Phylicia Rashad is perfectly cast as Angelo’s sophisticated mother Diane. She sees right through Cookie’s attempt to impress her by having her entire apartment redecorated for their family dinner. Things couldn’t go much worse for a well-intentioned Cookie than Jamal showing up high, Hakeem bringing over his screaming baby and Lucious and Anika (Grace Byers) crashing the party to claim her child. Lucious unveils every skeleton in the Lyon family closet. Instead of crumbling, Cookie tells a remarkably unruffled Diane this is who they are, like them or leave them. Would we expect anything less?

Disaster Averted – For Now

The chaotic evening brings its own brand of magic when Jamal valiantly smooths things over with a heartfelt, emotional tribute song he penned for his mama to honor the woman she is despite all she’s endured (even lecherous Lucious is touched). Cookie listens on the verge of tears (and so do we!). It’s such a sweet moment and speaks so much to Cookie’s resilience. We couldn’t agree more when Diane compliments her for having “fire.” We hope Cookie and Angelo have a real shot. But, it’s hard to believe Lucious is going to lay down and let her go so easily. The immediate impending disaster is averted and we’re glad. However, Jamal is still hooked on meds and this is a huge concern, given his recent overdose. He can’t make a comeback if he’s not alive to do it. Plus, Nessa is getting in deeper with Andre and is oblivious to his dark mental demons. Danger is always lurking in the Lyon family ranks, even if they enjoy a rare moment of joy.

There is only one episode left before the fall finale. We can only imagine the trouble that’s brewing from here ...

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