One of the more enjoyable aspects of Empire is that it is a show set in New York that makes almost no effort to be a New York show. Lucious and Cookie grew up in the streets of Philly, and, apart from a few interstitial shots of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty and so forth, there's nothing to call attention to the city as an important part of the plot or the characters. Nobody screams something stupid like "This is NEW YORK CITY, and people here don't settle for second best!"
Because, most of the time, New York is just a place. It's not particularly special or magical or terrible or soul-crushing. It is maybe different in some ways than most other American cities, but the difference is not something that always needs to be a big fucking deal. If you live here, you will still go to the grocery store, and wish you read more, and get that stupid upper respiratory infection in the winter, just like mostly everyone else who doesn't live here. You'll just do it while paying way too much in rent.
CRUMBLING EMPIRE IMMINENT WARNING LIST
3. Anika. Empire's head of A&R and Lucious's girlfriend is not having the best episode. She loses management control over Tiana, who wants to work with Cookie. And when she goes with Lucious to woo the reps for Titan, a rapper Empire wants to steal from a rival label, she ends up cowering on the floor when the meeting is interrupted for a drive-by. That scene is about two-thirds of the way through the episode...and Anika doesn't make another appearance. Probably not a great sign for her career prospects!
2. Andre. Business school son only has two purposes this week. The first is to warn his father against going after Titan because it'll be bad for the IPO because reasons. (We'll get to that in a second.) The second is to falsely claim to Detective Walker that he was with his father at home watching a boxing match the night Bunkie was murdered. That's an unusual choice. If Andre just wants to gain control of Empire, is the most calculating thing to implicate himself in a crime by lying to the cops? Wouldn't it be smarter to sense that Lucious may have a weakness here and exploit it for himself? Or is this going to lead to him blackmailing his father? It's totally going to lead to him blackmailing his father.
1. The IPO. From the very beginning, the fact that Empire is going public has been a clumsily handled element of the central plot. Lucious claims this is a response to the fact that the Internet has undercut the gains artists make off their music, though it's not clear how an IPO changes the revenue model - is he going to start paying rappers in stock? Then there's the issue that some of you pointed out in the comments: the Empire board isn't just going to let Lucious pick whoever he wants as the next CEO, so the whole contest between the sons is ostensibly meaningless.
And then Judd Nelson shows up. He's the head of the rival record label from which Lucious is trying to swipe Titan, and he's also apparently the one who first signed Lucious to a record deal before he left to start Empire. Judd's not really here about Titan, though. He warns Lucious not to take Empire public, or else he'll dig up old dirt from his past and ruin the company. Why the IPO matters in that context, I have no idea. You've seen 80s movies, Judd. The real dirtbag move is to let Empire go public, buy up a majority of the shares, and then do whatever you want with it.
(Jamal remains outside the top three because, despite moving to a shitty apartment in Bushwick and writing no new material, his boyfriend seems surprisingly chill and supportive about the whole thing and he seems close to coming up with some real "Fuck You, Dad" music. Hakeem stays out because he took a bubble bath with Naomi Campbell and somehow Tiana's only slightly pissed.)
COOKIE'S WEEKLY WEAPON OF CHOICE
Honestly? This was the most reserved Cookie's been in an individual episode so far. She doesn't throw anything, she doesn't try to rip out someone's hair, she doesn't even really get terribly sassy. That may be a good thing for her, since it means she's becoming more entrenched within the company. But it would have been nice to see her confront Judd Nelson by tossing a drink on him and hollering "DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME, BITCH."
A SCENE THAT I IMAGINE WAS CUT FROM THIS WEEK'S EPISODE
AGENT CARTER: So what's on the schedule today?
UNNAMED FBI AGENT: We should really follow up on getting Cookie prepped to testify before the grand jury about that thing we still haven't explained.
CARTER: Ugh. I mean, I guess. I was really hoping to just have a chill day, maybe get drunk and fly a drone onto White House property.
AGENT: But we're not even in D.C.
CARTER: Why are you always full of excuses? We'll deal with Cookie later. I'm sure just leaving her unsupervised won't become a problem.
AGENT: Fine, but I get to pick the booze.