'Empire' season 4, episode 2 recap: Monsters, music and the art of breaking free
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“Empire” returned last night (Oct. 4) on Fox to deliver an intense follow-up to last week’s explosive season four premiere. Lucious (Terrence Howard) and the rest of the Lyons continue to struggle with the physical and emotional aftermath of his accident, as Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) works hard to save her ex and the Empire label. Monsters and music rocked the Lyon dynasty this week and several characters discovered the art of breaking free.

Don’t Mess with a Murderous Mama

If there was a Creepy Mama Award, Leah Walker (Leslie Uggams), hands down, would take home the prize. Lucious removes his prosthetic by himself for the first time which Creepy Claudia (played impeccably by Demi Moore) calls “an important first step.” So, he sinks into the tub for stress relief, only to have his mentally deranged mama try and kill him by forcing him under the water. Talk about traumatic! Thank God (for once) that Claudia steps in to save him. Leah repeatedly calls her own son “a monster.” But, she needs to take a good long look in the mirror.

The whole scene was a terrifying opener, balanced, of course, by Cookie’s take-charge announcement that she’s moving back into the house to take care of Lucious. Claudia isn’t happy and let’s face it, we’re loving every minute of watching her squirm.

All We Need is Love (and Music)

It looks like Warren is really getting his hooks into Jamal (Jussie Smollett). He’s working with Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) on original film song and floating around on a love cloud. He even tells Becky he wants to make an album of all love songs. She’s feeling him, for sure. However, the film producer wants him to change the song – a lot – and he resists changing it. So, Becky takes matters into her own hands as “interim” A & R, and put’s Tory’s (Rumer Willis) vocals on the track. It sounds great, actually, but Jamal is mad at Becky for her perceived “betrayal.” The thing is, the client was thrilled with the change and so was Cookie. She stripped the “interim” away from Becky’s title and rewarded her with a 30 percent salary bump. She deserves this – but, maybe she should have been more up front with her pal Jamal before making her first real “executive” decision behind his back.

We Got to Break Free

Strangely, Lucious and Anika (Grace Byers) are in similar predicaments. Lucious is imprisoned by his amnesia and Anika is literally behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit. They both long to break free of their horrible circumstances. Lucious gives Claudia the slip at one of his old neighborhood diners and tries to reconnect with his friend Eddie (Forest Whitaker). In a sad, intense moment Eddie tells some other guys about a time Lucious locked someone in a trunk. Lucious is disturbed by sudden flashbacks of the incident and visibly reels from the images. Will poor Lucious ever get his mind back?

Later, we discover he doesn’t remember Eddie at all as Eddie plays a great cover of 'I Don't Want to Be Right." When Cookie tells Eddie about the extent of Lucious’ injuries and how Empire is suffering in his absence, he wisely suggests Empire relies on music to pull out of the hole. How brilliant is that? Cookie announces Empire’s new 20 for 20 plan to release 20 albums – one for each year the company has existed – all within one year’s time. This is an ambitious goal and Andre feels undermined by it (of course!).

Meanwhile, Anika tells Hakeem to tell Cookie to come see her because she remembers the date Bucky died. Next thing we know, Cookie and Thirsty are visiting the angst-filled inmate and they work a plan to get her out. So, we don’t really like Anika – she can be very self-serving and manipulative. But, she didn’t kill Tariq. (Crazy Mama Leah did, in that shocking season three finale moment we’ll never forget!).

 Anika did, however, kill Rhonda and her unborn baby. So, it seemed like a certain poetic justice in finding her locked up for murder. However, her plan works. Thirsty gets the charges against Anika dropped as she tearfully tells the prosecutor how Tariq terrorized her. He buys every word. How could he be so naïve? “Empire” being what it is, though, we understand the drama must be heightened by another round of blackmail and release. When she goes to Hakeem’s to try and see Bella, she’s stunned by the sight of Tiana holding her. Has she been replaced while she was gone? Do we sense a cat fight coming on?

Mad Mama Takes a Much-Needed Rest

Lucious, Cookie, and Claudia band together to have Leah committed to a mental institution for a much-needed rest. This happens after she brags to Cookie about killing Tariq and setting “that whore” up for the crime. Leah is outraged as she is being led away. She might be detained for now. But, something tells us Lucious and Cookie should not let their guard down where Mad Mama is concerned. We’re betting none of the Lyons have seen the last of her.

Some huge questions remain at the end of this week’s episode: Will Jamal find out he’s being played? Or, will Warren really fall in love with him? Will Anika swoop in to steal her job back from Becky? And most of all, is Claudia slowly stealing Cookie’s man away from her?

“Empire” airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Fox.