(Caution: spoilers from the most recent episode of Empire ahead.)
Empire got hacked! In one of Empire's most tight tales this season, Lucious (Terrence Howard), Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) are all doing their thing — sensitive Lucious playing a lullaby for the baby, Cookie playing with her boo Angelo Dubois (Taye Diggs) and Jamal making music with D-Major (Tobias Truvillion) — when they get a cryptic message on their phones. As the story unspooled, this whodunnit with whispers of Mr. Robot compromised the entire Empire family, ruined relationships and instigated motives for revenge.
By the end, we're aware why we didn't see Andre (Trai Byers) get one of those spooky messages; the once godly elder brother has sold his soul to the devil — or at least, he's communicating with the dead, i.e. his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday, who apparently planted a strategy in his head for rising to the top of the food chain. For a show whose battles typically revolve around beats or contracts — and guns the means of enforcement — Empire's decision to make information the prize and weapon felt refreshing. Relevant to, well, everyone who's read the news at least once this year, the hacking storyline made the show stronger, ironically, by exposing the record company's vulnerability in a way that seemed believable and paved a smooth path for more drama to come. What else happened? Here are some of the biggest moments.
Cookie's bares her cookies and her soul
Poor Loretha learned the hard way that you should really set up a separate account for hot antics. Embracing her inner nasty woman, Cookie slid up in Angelo's DMs with a pic of her doing God knows what exactly, but enough to humiliate her clearly. How priceless was Hakeem's (Bryshere Y. Gray) reaction, by the way? In the wake of her snickerdoodles getting exposed, she preemptively dumped Angelo assuming she'd irrevocably screwed up his mayoral campaign. But he's a mighty mighty good man that Angelo, and he demonstrated he has her back by stripping on the news (not enough, TBH) in a move that surely has his mother Diana outraged. Cookie, giggling on her cream sheets with a glass of red wine (that's money for you guys — totally fearless of red wine stains) blurted out that she loves him. I'm personally rooting for this relationship but, this being Empire, you know disaster is around the corner.
Jamal and D-Major and Philip, the therapist
Jamal is super fortunate; he doesn't need Tinder or Grindr or the club to nab a man. Nearly everyone he works with is also a potential romantic partner! Must be nice. Anyway, Jamal and his producing partner D-Major — whose flirtations he's put on ice as of late — were getting busy in the studio (on music, I mean) when the hacker wiped everything they've been working on clean. Being not savvy at all about how hacking works, I thought the execution of it seemed a bit silly, frankly, with that avatar gobbling up all the data like Pac-Man. But that's a technicality. All their lost work sent Jamal into one of his PTSD fits, and he gobbled up wine and booze and then... invited D-Major over. It's not long before Jamal sauntered over to D-Major in a chair and then knelt before him, inviting some gasp-worthy innuendo about what he'd do if this was HBO and not Fox. What followed was low-key remarkable: we see Jamal and D-Major in bed practically spooning and D-Major kissing him. It felt like a watershed LGBT moment: seeing two black men in a touching, vulnerable light that, either by coincidence or cunning, recalled Moonlight, the buzzed-about film that's literally about the same thing. But Jamal is knocked out and D-Major called his therapist Philip (Juan Antonio) instead of paramedics as to avoid public gossip (which actually made a little sense when he explained it) and Philip brought Jamal back to life with a cold shower. Now we're effectively asking who cares for Jamal most, and who he can most rely on in times of good or bad. A black gay love triangle on network TV! 2016 y'all.
Leonard Bernstein works at Empire
After having his goons beat up Gram (Romeo Miller), convinced that he's solved the hacking mystery, Lucious took the stage at an event and introduced an executive... named Leonard Bernstein (Will Kinnear). I seriously thought the real Leonard Bernstein was going to walk on stage — he died in 1990 but that's of trivial importance for this show — but no, he's just an Empire employee with the same name. How delightful.
Becky wants revenge
Although we really, really miss Porsha (Ta'Rhonda Jones) and her round-the-way-girl antics, an increasingly important Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) presence is a good thing. She's gone from being an accessory with cute one-liners, essentially, to a character with purpose and stakes and it's working. So now, even after she got burned last week by Xavier Rosen (Samuel Hunt) — whose allusions to Hot 97 radio DJ Peter Rosenberg seem hard to ignore — she trusted him again this week when she expected him to sing her praises so she could get a promotion. Instead, and not surprisingly, he didn't, and Ms. Becky was taking her earrings off and about to go OFF. Now Becky has real beef, and it'll be interesting to see how she goes about unleashing her full mad black woman fury.
Andre is a cartoon villain now
Ooh! A twist! Andre is going dark and yes, Anika is in a lot of trouble — dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight again. Actually, the reveal that Andre was behind the hack isn't as much a departure for him as it as a return to form: when we first met him in Season 1 he was a conniving creep with an MBA aiming to eat his brothers' hearts for a seat at the throne. Empire promised us it would get back to the family story and here it is: a woman, Nessa (Sierra Aylina McClain) at the heart of a feud between Andre and Hakeem; Andre being willing to rat out his dad since he's being squeezed by FBI agent/Lucious' brother-in-law Tariq (Morocco Omari); and now, a slightly out-of-the-blue renewed mission to snatch Empire from the inside out. That Andre orchestrated the hack is a juicy development, obviously, even if his reveal was a little hokey. Leading Nessa to a janky, abandoned industrial place on the spooky side of town reeked of a bad Batman scene and his admitting to her, of all people, that he's the mastermind just made no sense at all. Of course she's going to use this information to one-up him. Her shocked, trembling reaction to the depths he's willing to plunge in order to become king said it all. Or maybe she was spooked by his admission that he was communicating with his dead wife from beyond the grave. Or, it might have been his staring up into the night like one of the bad guys in Dick Tracy. Whatever it was, this isn't going to end well, which is great for Empire.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Fox.