clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Empire season 2 premiere: the 7 best moments

Cookie Lyon.
Cookie Lyon.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

This article has major spoilers about the first episode of Empire's second season. If you don't want to be spoiled, please come back after you've watched the episode.

If you weren't up to date on Empire, then you were out of luck on Wednesday night.

The hit show's season premiere didn't skip a beat, surging out of the gate with something to prove, plus Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) in a gorilla costume. Judging by the season premiere, Empire wants to turn last season into the beginning of a legacy. The ultra-confident season premiere asserts the series' dominance as one of the most entertaining, shocking, and deliciously soapy shows on television.

Here are the seven best moments from Wednesday's night's episode.

1) Cookie Lyon in a gorilla costume giving a speech about race and mass incarceration


One second, Empire can be dripping in extreme camp. The next, it hits you in the gut with something that resonates in your bones.

The episode's opening scene culminates with a person in a gorilla costume being lowered onto the stage at the #FreeLucious benefit concert. The benefit concert stands as the show's parallel to the Black Lives Matter movement. Music blares as the costumed ape hoots and hollers.

Empire could have chosen any animal for this scene. After all, the ensuing speech is about animals in cages. But the series chose an ape, an age-old derogatory insult that's been hurled at black men and women. Then the glamorous Cookie emerges from the suit.

It's brash. It's in your face. It's campy. It's made to get you talking.

But as the theatrics die down, Cookie launches into an elegant, passionate speech about mass incarceration. With one quick pivot, Empire shows how powerful it can be.

"The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers, and our sons," Cookie screams. "It is a system that must be dismantled piece by piece if we are to live up to those words that we recite with our hands on our hearts: 'Justice for all.'"


2) Porsha reading Don Lemon about "Pederson"


The episode's opening sequence is a dance between how serious and how funny Empire can be, and how the two aren't mutually exclusive. After Cookie's speech, she meets with various celebrities (Al Sharpton and André Leon Talley have cameos) at the benefit. One of those is CNN reporter Don Lemon, who has frequently been accused of missing the story, particularly when it came to the question of racial bias in Ferguson.

In one of the show's lighter moments, Porsha (Ta'Rhonda Jones) tries to shut him down but gets the name of that now infamous town wrong (Cookie corrects her). It's funny and lighthearted, but even though Porsha makes the egregious error, it's an easy way to remind viewers of Lemon's infamous coverage.

3) Cookie admitting that Lemon's Ferguson coverage wasn't good


Cookie has to be a diplomat this second season. She was previously in jail, and if she wants the business community to trust her to run a company, she has to temper her aggression. So after Porsha insults Don, she smoothes it over … but not before admitting under her breath that Lemon did bungle his Ferguson coverage.

4) "Anita" a.k.a. Anika's dance moves


Anika (Grace Cealey) is in a weird position. She's on the outs with Lucious because she's sleeping with his son. That son happens to be allied with her mortal enemy, Cookie. And Cookie wants to take over the company. That leaves Anika vulnerable. As such, she needs to prove herself to Cookie because loyalty cannot be bought like cream-colored cardigans.

In order to get this takeover rolling, Cookie needs to get a rich woman named Mimi Whiteman (Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei) on her side. The fastest way appears to be "Anita" a.k.a. Anika (Mimi gets her name wrong), whom Mimi takes a liking to.

The takeaway: When Cookie says dance, Anita dances.

5) "Right, Mimi?"


Empire would not be Empire without a twist or four. The week's first big twist involves Mimi.

Mimi is the key to the takeover. Cookie thought she had Mimi in her back pocket. But all the time, Cookie and company (Anika mostly) spent buttering Mimi up was for nothing, as it turns out she double-crossed Cookie's company and made a deal with Lucious. Of course, this was only announced at a board meeting where a dramatic chair spin emphasized just how poorly Cookie got played.

Poor Anika.

6) Right, Frank?


This episode also featured the return of Frank Gathers (Chris Rock), a drug lord from Cookie's past. Cookie snitched on him, and he's out to get her. Unfortunately for Frank, he's in Lucious's prison, where he reveals his whole plan to Lucious have Cookie killed.

But despite being a conniving drug lord whose whole business is based on loyalty, Gathers hasn't figured out that despite their financial bickering, Cookie and Lucious are soul mates. You mess with one, you get the other. And the face Gathers is sporting (above) is one you make when you realize that you didn't realize this sooner.

Poor Frank.

7) Rhonda has had enough


It's easy to view Empire as an aspirational experience, one where you can live vicariously through Cookie's ferocity. But Cookie's daughter-in-law Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) occupies a special place on the show — its embarrassing and endearing insult magnet.

Rhonda hits Peak Rhonda when the Empire family hides out at Lucious's mansion because of the imminent threat of Frank Gathers. It's vintage Empire: Right after everyone backstabs each other in the boardroom, they're forced to hang out with one another or risk being murdered.

When the threat clears, Rhonda enthusiastically volunteers to leave. She escapes the awkwardness and steps right into our hearts.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.