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Tonight’s Empire fall finale wastes no time getting into all the twists, turns, songs, and punches we all come to expect from an Empire finale so neither will I. Onto the recap!
We start right where last week ended, with young Bella innocently clutching a gun as her family urges her to put it down. With everyone in an understandable panic, it’s Lucious’ plea for quiet that manages to calm the situation as Hakeem kneels to meet Bella’s gaze while singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ Once in front of his daughter, he grabs the gun and the family breathes a sigh of relief.
With things finally calm in the house, Tiana begins to blame herself for what happened but Cookie immediately says otherwise, noting that it may be her and Lucious’ fault in part for equating their relationships. “Ride or die is a lie,” Cookie tells Tiana. “It traps you in absolutes when the truth is we grow and we change and need different things along the way.” She then tells Tiana to put her worth into herself and her children and to “let Hakeem do Hakeem.” Meanwhile, Lucious is also blaming himself for the event, wondering if raising his children around guns affected their upbringing. “Everyone in our family got blood on their hands except you,” he tells Hakeem. Lucious tells Hakeem that while he and Cookie will have to think about the karma they carry with them, it’s not too late for Hakeem to pull himself together. “Clean your house, son,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a vicious cycle unless you make it one.” These two conversations are interspersed together as Hakeem and Tiana each take the advice differently. While Tiana seems to be taking Cookie’s words to heart, Hakeem is eager to run from reality and walks away from the father-son talk.
Kai has been up all night working on the story of Empire’s data-selling scheme, using the information Lucious gave him through… ill-gotten gains. Jamal continues to wonder if his fiancé getting involved in the family drama will backfire, but Kai insists the story is of public concern. Having literally dodged a bullet earlier, Lucious and Cookie are ready for bed, but not before addressing that whole condo issue that started the drama. Cookie chalks up everyone’s “craziness” to no one in the family feeling secure, and says no one will feel truly secure until LFM gets off the ground. When Lucious questions if she’s all about money now, Cookie insists she loves him but that “love don’t pay the bills;” getting their artists signed to labels will. “Until our future is secure, we gotta be all about the money,” she says. And if the money doesn’t start coming soon, they’ll lose everything. Lucious apologizes for the blow-up and says the stress over Kingsley’s machinations has been throwing him off; Cookie immediately stops him and says not to mention Kingsley again and focus on their big moment: the LFM showcase.
Speaking of Kingsley, he and Giselle meet in the aftermath of her finding out about his family ties. Giselle makes it clear what she wants: either she takes over as Empire CEO or Kingsley’s parentage goes to the press. Kingsley, however, has other ideas; seeing he and Giselle as the perfect team to take Empire to the top, he offers her the job of co-CEO with him. “Together we can run Empire and destroy Lucious Lyon,” Kingsley says. “Thick or thin, sink or swim.” Giselle seemingly accepts, asking what the company policy is on drinking champagne before noon. Andre and Teri welcome the newly-freed Quincy into his family home, complete with an early Christmas gift. Teri takes the opportunity to thank Andre for getting his son freed, calling him a blessing to the family. When Quincy opens the gift, he finds a note simply saying “Anything! Anywhere;” Quincy’s idea of “anything, anywhere” is hotdogs on the beach. Even though it’s December in New York and beaches are essentially snow banks this time of year, Teri immediately obliges and as Andre is ready to leave the house, she invites him to join them on their special day. Andre insists he has work to catch up on but tells them to call if they need anything.
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Rehearsals for the showcase suffer a couple of snags (some botched choreography here, a Hakeem no-show there), but fortunately, Cookie and Lucious are finally able to give the event their full attention. Jamal wants to change the song he’ll perform to the number he wrote about Kai, “Loving You is Easy,” but Cookie doesn’t see the song as a showstopper and tells him to stick to the plans. As rehearsals continue to show some growing pains, Cookie rallies the troops to remind them of the stakes. “You are performing for your future,” she says. “What you do on that stage tomorrow night will define the rest of your life.” When Devon interrupts wondering why Hakeem isn’t here to listen to her speech, Cookie throws it back on him and his virginity. “That’s what wrong with you celibates.” she snaps back, telling Devon to put that “pent-up energy” into his performance.
Having seemingly closed the door on Tiana, Hakeem heads off to the pool tables to see Blake. Though the meeting starts off tense, it eases quickly as Hakeem tells Blake about the gun incident and its aftermath. After a mostly unseen conversation, Blake apologizes for the diss track drama and says nothing ever happened with him and Tiana. “I don’t know how to make that right but whatever it is I’ll do it,” he tells Hakeem. Taking his father’s words to heart, Andre shows up for Teri and Quincy’s dream beach day. In a moment alone with Teri, he shares that the last time he was at this beach he said goodbye to Rhonda. “I thought that being alone and in the dark was what I was meant to be,” Andre says. He then tells Teri she brought him a light that he desperately needed and that he wants to be with her, even though he still considers himself “a dangerous man.” “What I need to know is are you willing to take the risk of being around me?” Andre asks. Teri answers with a kiss and a new door opens in his life.
Becky and Giselle lament the holiday melancholy at Empire before being interrupted by Kingsley, Kelly Patel, and a couple of security guards. Turns out Kingsley has scapegoated Becky for the data-selling, saying that she and Lucious were in cahoots on the scheme. Claiming to have the emails to prove this (he doesn’t), Kingsley fires Becky and has security escort her out the building. As Becky is pushed out insisting it’s all a lie, Giselle asks to see the proof. “Sink or swim” is all Kingsley says as he “keeps” the “information” to himself. It’s two hours until the LFM showcase and Lucious is putting the finishing touches on the table arrangements when Thirsty walks in with some urgent news about Becky’s firing from Empire. Lucious wonders if they’ve traced the data leak to them, but Thirsty insists the device was untraceable and that Becky’s not the real target; Kingsley’s using her to say that Lucious was behind the data scheme. Lucious is apoplectic as he figures this all out and, despite Thirsty telling him to stay in place and focus, he storms out of the showcase.
As if this showcase was unlucky enough, Kai visits Jamal backstage with some new information he’s dug up from a new source. When Lucious was running Empire, he had dossiers on all of his artists containing unsavory information about the crimes they’ve committed, all of which Lucious managed to keep buried from the public. Jamal says that while it all sounds awful now, his father was only doing this to protect his artists. Kai, however, argues that Lucious’ actions silenced numerous victims. Jamal says that since Kai doesn’t know what really went down in all those dossiers, he can’t really run the story. “So you’re asking me to choose between what’s right and what’s right for your family?” Kai asks. When Jamal insists that Kai is his family, he shows Jamal the “truth conquers all” tattoo on his chest and says that he was the victim of a partial truth. “I know myself and if I don’t release this story, I’m going to end up resenting you for asking me to kill it,” Kai tells Jamal. He asks Kai to give him the dossiers, promising to do the right thing with them. After a moment, Kai agrees to hold off on the story but says that he needs to examine their relationship. He’s been offered a new permanent position in London and he’s seriously considering it.
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With the showcase finally underway, Lucious is nowhere to be found and Cookie can only look for him for so long before she decides to take the stage solo to introduce the world to Lyon Family Management. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Lyons,” Cookie tells the adoring crowd. “And tonight, we are proud to introduce to you our family.” With those words, Blake, Hakeem, and Tiana come on stage to perform the song born from Hakeem’s notebook, “One More Minute.” The rivalry that started with a song has now ended in the same fashion. Back at Empire, Giselle storms into Kingsley’s office insisting Becky had nothing to do with the scheme. As Kingsley insists Giselle is also implicated in those “emails,” Lucious storms in himself and immediately starts swinging at Kingsley. Before long, Kingsley’s face turns into a bloody mess and Giselle screams “He’s your son! He’s your son!” to Lucious. With that, the violence stops as Lucious listens to Giselle explain his history and how Kingsley’s the son of “White Tracy.” While Lucious insists it’s impossible, a bloodied and bruised Kingsley looks on and asks, “You want to hit me again, dad?”
Before long, Lucious manages to make his way to Tracy’s hospital room. While looking at a picture of Tracy in better times, Lucious flashes back to his teenage years with her. While handing her a baggy of cocaine, he tells her to slow her roll. “I know what I’m doing, Lucious,” Tracy says before inviting him out for the night. As she walks away, his friends wonder what their deal is; Lucious brushes the talk aside as a young Shyne tells him he needs to focus on one girl instead of juggling many. When we move back to the present, Tracy’s awaken from her coma as if it was just an afternoon nap. She tells Lucious she always knew he’d come back to her. He sounds confused, saying that they hung out a couple times back in the day but that nothing happened. “It doesn’t take more than that,” Tracy says as she urges him to take a look at Kingsley. “You can take a DNA test if you want but just look at my baby’s eyes.” As Lucious looks at a picture of Kingsley on his graduation day with Tracy, she asks him to “tell me that’s not your son.”
After all that “punching your nemesis then finding out he’s your son” business, Lucious finally makes his way to the showcase and meets Cookie backstage. He says he absolutely needs to talk to her but she angrily tells him that they’ll talk at home because she’s got a show to run. As Hakeem, Jamal, Devon, Carlito, and the Three Black Divas perform a supergroup number of their own, Cookie tells Lucious there are $30-$40 million in sponsorship deals on the table before the show’s even finished. But before they can bask in the afterglow of their new creation, Giselle comes in to tell the Lyons that she doesn’t believe Kingsley’s accusations against Lucious and Becky. “What if I told you I could have [Kingsley] out of Empire for good and get you back running the company you built?” she asks, telling them that while LFM is nice enough, “I’m offering you the throne.” But there’s one catch: Giselle would be co-partner in their takeover.
Cookie seems less than receptive to working with her, but Lucious agrees to think about it. Backstage, he tells Cookie the plan seems crazy enough to work, but Cookie wonders if they even want it now given what they have with LFM. While Lucious ponders whether to go back to Empire and reclaim what they built, Cookie puts it in simpler terms. “So we gotta choose between our future and our foundation?” she asks. “Says who?” Referring back to the conversation she overheard between Lucious and Andre, she wonders why LFM can’t be both the label and the management to their artists. Cookie says they can do it with the money they raise tonight and from the $5 million she just made from selling the condo, which she presents to Lucious in the form of a check. “I’m all in with you,” she tells him. “Every step, every penny.”
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But just as Lucious is about to tell Cookie about his Kingsley discovery, it’s time for them to go back on stage for the showcase’s finale. As Cookie introduces their sons for an onstage victory lap and promises news that will take the Lyon name “to higher heights,” a bruised Kingsley interrupts from the upper-level with a microphone in hand to break up the family harmony. “Since flair for the dramatic seems to run in this family,” he declares to the confused crowd. “Allow me the honors, dad.” With those words, Kingsley announces to the world that Lucious is his father and shares the story of how he met Tracy, got her pregnant, hooked on crack, and then left her alone to raise a son. We then flashback to Kingsley as a kid as Tracy walks him over to Lucious’ house and tells him that he’s about to meet his dad. Kingsley then plays with toys on the house steps with a younger Andre and Jamal as Tracy tells Lucious at the door that she’s clean and been in rehab. She then introduces “Jeffrey” to Lucious as he tells her he doesn’t deal drugs anymore and hands her a $20 bill to buy drugs elsewhere. As Cookie asks off-screen who’s at the door, Lucious shuts the door on them and tells them not to come back before Tracy can tell him about his son.
As we move back to the present, Kingsley is holding that $20 bill and announces that that was the last time he saw his mother sober. “I spent my whole life trying not to hate you,” Kingsley tells Lucious as his family surrounds him asking him if any of this is true. Kingsley says that he grew up jealous of the Lyon sons, but that he got a taste of what it was to be a Lyon today. “Got my face beat in by Lucious,” he announces. “And then I found my mother lying on the floor, screaming his name after he paid her a little visit today, then left her again. Kingsley then says that not being raised by Lucious makes him the lucky Lyon son. Stunned by this news, Jamal, Hakeem, and Cookie walk away from a silent Lucious as Andre steps to Kingsley promising to end him. “Unless I end you first, baby bro,” Kingsley says smugly. As everyone at the showcase looks on in stunned silence, we flash forward to three months later as a patient is wheeled into the ER, Cookie screaming at the doctors to “save him.” As Lucious holds an overcome Cookie away from the patient, we see that the person in need of saving is Andre…and sadly, as doctors are doing all they can to regain his pulse, the last image we see is of him flatlining.
Did Kingsley carry out his threat of ending Andre or is this another one of those cliffhanger misdirects we’ve come to expect from Empire? Is Andre the person in that mysterious casket or will another casualty emerge? How will the Lyons deal with their biggest rival being one of the family? Will Lucious and Cookie take back Empire or go their own way? How are we gonna manage having to wait four months to find out all this? Until 2019, ladies and gents.