SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched “Empire” Season 2, episode six, which aired Wednesday, Nov. 4.
Hakeem, whose kidnapping was the big cliffhanger of the last episode of “Empire,” returned Wednesday night, but he wasn’t the same. Filled with anger, Hakeem came face-to-face with his kidnappers, a group of three men who all donned matching tattoos on their upper backs.
Throughout the episode, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) was comforted by his brothers Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Andre (Trai Byers) who helped get him back on his feet, resulting in a high-energy performance with his Lyon Dynasty girl group, led by his new love interest Laura (Jamila Velazquez). But before he bounced back, Hakeem found comfort in Anika (Grace Gealey), quickly rekindling that flame with a quickie. (“That was more than a kiss,” showrunner Ilene Chaiken tells Variety.)
With the Lyon brothers banded back together, Lucious (Terrence Howard) felt like he lost control and so he latched onto his rapping protégé Freda (Bre-Z), the musically-inclined daughter of the late criminal, played by Chris Rock in the Season 2 premiere.
On the relationship front, Jamal’s boyfriend previously cheating on him inspired his music, but Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) was singing a much happier tune, mixing business with pleasure, hooking up with a new character J-Poppa (Mo McRae), an artist that Andre is wooing over at Empire.
However, Becky wasn’t the only lady getting lucky in love, as Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) got closer to her new flame Laz (Adam Rodriguez) — but is she so lucky, or is Cookie in danger?
“We clearly need to be concerned. Cookie’s falling for a guy and she doesn’t know who he is, and he’s not the great guy he appears to be — or at least he has some affiliations that are unsavory,” Chaiken says, explaining the episode’s final scene in which Laz takes off his shirt mid-hookup with Cookie, only to reveal his back tattoo. And yes, it matched those of Hakeem’s kidnappers.
Here, Chaiken gives more insight on Cookie’s dangerous hookup, plus tells Variety that episode six was a favorite for the entire “Empire” cast.
Just to clear things up: I’m assuming Laz’s tattoo is not a random coincidence?
This is not a coincidence. I can tell you that he and Big Heavy (one of Hakeem’s kidnappers) have been working together — effectively they’re partners. That doesn’t mean that Laz isn’t going to turn out to have real feelings for Cookie, but they came at this with a very specific plan to extort and this is the way they run.
So it’s safe to assume that Laz was behind Hakeem’s kidnapping?
We don’t know that definitely, but it’s pretty clear by the end of the episode that he was behind the kidnapping. He certainly knew about it and probably helped plan it.
Obviously Cookie doesn’t know who Laz really is so with that aside, what are her feelings for him at this point?
At this point, she’s falling for him. Cookie is not an easy mark. She’s smart and she’s street smart. She knows her way around — but, he’s kind of a sexy guy and he’s good at his game. Also, I venture that there’s something real going on between him so it’s not like she’s misreading. He just didn’t expect to feel for her the way that he did, and yet, he’s still got to do his job because it’s his job.
Becky also got some action! What can you reveal about J-Poppa?
Becky is doing what so many A&R execs do — she’s falling for an artist who’s also falling of her. It’s understandable that they would fall for one another, but ironic and distressing that Andre might be coming in the middle of that romance. In a weird way, J-Poppa is caught in a love triangle in between Andre and Becky.
For how long will J-Poppa stick around?
I’m not sure we’re done with him. We’ve got him for a couple more episodes and we’re figuring out where the story goes or whether it’s just a little moment that’s indicative of Andre’s state of mind and what he wants for Empire. Andre is going to try to reconcile his desire to be a better man with his position in this corrupt Empire. He’s looking for places to find that reconciliation and J-Poppa is the first opportunity that he sees.
We didn’t see much of the Jamal and Michael storyline on this episode. Are they done for good or is there hope for that relationship, after Michael cheated?
His relationship with Michael is parked for the moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s done. Michael is kind of Jamal’s one, as we see it for the foreseeable future. It’s a relationship that could go away when something like this happens, but they’re not finished with one another. They’ll encounter one another again. The feeling are too deep.
You warned at the beginning of this season that Anika would be pulled in so many directions — and she is. What was that kiss with Hakeem all about?
Hakeem went to Anika coming off of this traumatic incident because he needed solace, but he just needed to be with a woman to feel like a man and she’s the woman he went to because he knew she would be there for him, and obviously she made him feel like a man in a moment when he’d been emasculated — and yet, he doesn’t thank her for it. He took from her and then put her aside. Anika gives the Lyons everything and then they just kick her to the curb, and she’s starting to feel it and there will be consequences.
As one would expect, Hakeem is not the same after being kidnapped, but by the end of the episode, there’s some resolution when Laura perks him up on stage. Is she the only one that can get him back on his feet?
I think Laura got him a little out of his funk, but I think it’s his brothers. Laura gets him the last inch of the way, but it’s really Jamal and Andre who came in and give Hakeem something to grasp on that enables him to overcome the drama.
Will Hakeem continue to be haunted by his kidnapping?
It toughens Hakeem and it doesn’t leave, but he’s not going to be traumatized in an ongoing way — he’s not going to have post-traumatic stress disorder. I think he’s going to be more wary and a little stronger.
The scene where Hakeem pulls out a gun on his kidnappers is really intense. Was there any discussion behind the scenes on how to approach it, in light of the national conversation on gun violence?
We didn’t talk about it from a social issue point of view. We talked about it from a a character point of view. It was a scene that Taraji was excited to play because it’s so real to Cookie and the world — she’s on the one hand, excited to save her son from repeating her and Lucious’ mistakes. And yet, in that moment, it’s second-nature to Cookie to take that gun from Hakeem because she knows that she’s got to do it because she’s been there. We’re writing about a real world in which people have guns…I think it would be safe to say that most of the people who work on “Empire” behind the scenes are probably very anti-gun and believe in gun control firmly. But we’re portraying a world in which probably most of our characters don’t even give it another thought. We’re just simply portraying these characters as they exist in that world.
Taraji posted an Instagram video a while back, and I believe it’s from the table read for this episode, right?
The cast loved this episode. If you go on Taraji’s Instagram, she posted a video at the end of the table read because the cast went so crazy. They were just screaming and falling off their chairs and shouting and just loving it. I remember being astounded by the decibel level.