The critically acclaimed musical-drama "Empire" returned in September for its third season and aired the midseason finale on December 14. While the musicians and actors always have stellar performances, it's the strong storylines and heavy family drama that made the show immensely popular. Coupled with the Black Lives Matter theme of this season, it's clear that the Lyon family won't be leaving our television screens any time soon.
Last season ended with many twists: Hakeem's (Bryshere T. Gray) fiancé, Laura (Jamila Velazquez), left him at the altar, deciding that the Lyon family was too "thuggish" for her. The corruption, secrets, lies and gangsta mentality would probably be too much for an outsider. To make the night crazier, Lucious (Terrence Howard) decided to marry his ex-fiancé, Anika (Grace Byers), only so Anika wouldn't have to give testimony about him in a pending FBI investigation (more on that later). Did I mention at this time that Anika was very pregnant with Hakeem's baby? The sham marriage devastated Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) because not only does she hate Anika, but she starts to fall for Lucious again. After the marriage was made official, Anika went out on the roof for some fresh air, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) snuck Anika from behind, viciously attacking her for breaking into her house and pushing her down the stairs earlier in the season. This murderous act caused Rhonda to lose her baby. Both Rhonda and Anika start choking one another, but it isn't until Andre (Trai Byers) stumbles onto the roof when one of them fall over.
Is your head spinning? And that's only Season 2.
The first episode of Season 3 opens with a bang. Rhonda's dead body slams onto a car, revealing that she's the one that fell over the roof. Andre tries to kill Anika, but the stress causes her to go into labor. She gives birth to a baby girl, Bella Lyon. She then moves into Lucious house, for two reasons: one, to have a space to raise Bella (Lucious has taken on more of the role of father than Hakeem has) and two, to prove that their marriage is real to Tariq (Morocco Omari).
READ MORE: Film Review: 'The Founder'
Who is Tariq? Well, that's a very complicated story. Tariq is a former cop-turned- FBI-agent who has a huge vendetta against Lucious. Why? Because it turns out that Lucious and Tariq are half-brothers. Lucious's father was murdered right in front of him for this indiscretion, but Lucious did not know it was Tariq who was his brother until he revealed himself. Now, Tariq is on a witch-hunt to take Lucious down. This is a risky storyline, as it could've gotten boring, but it's actually proved to be very exciting: Tariq will really do anything to take Lucious down, even if that means involving his sons and, in the most recent episode, freezing Empire's assets for 30 days. But Lucious has every trick up his sleeve, even using his mother, Leah (Leslie Uggams) to manipulate Tariq. Lucious is always one step ahead of everyone, and it's fascinating to see what his plans are. While Tariq isn't as sneaky, it seems that the only reason he has been stalking Lucious is because he is jealous of the fact that Lucious has memories of his father. I wonder if there's any chance that their "brotherly" relationship could be repaired.
Cookie has decided to start fresh this season: while she and Lucious are both co-CEOs of Empire, she has decided to let any hopes of rekindling their romantic relationship go. Angelo (Taye Diggs), a motivational speaker campaigning to be the Mayor of New York, soon entrances her. Cookie is initially scared of getting her heart broken, but she and Angelo eventually enter a relationship. This is hard, as she's dogged with flashbacks of her early relationship with Lucious and how this affected her relationships with her sisters and father, who eventually died of a heart attack due to stress after kicking her out for being with Lucious. It's amazing to see Cookie starting fresh, but of course Lucious has no intentions of giving Cookie up. He comes up at every corner, and whenever it seems like maybe he's given up, he hasn't. Angelo's mother Diana (Phylicia Rashad) originally went to Lucious with the hopes of ruining Angelo's relationship with Cookie, but Lucious played into this even more by possibly ruining Angelo's campaign. In the mid-season finale, a reporter on Lucious's payroll storms Angelo on live-television and asks him about a DUI he received when he was younger. It also turns out that a woman was involved and died because of Angelo's drunk driving. This storyline will definitely be explored in the second half of the season.
Lucious and Cookie's three sons are bringing even more drama, as usual. After the death of his wife, Rhonda, Andre changes drastically. He has completely let go of his relationship with God (which was the crux of his storyline in Season 2) and instead has returned to his Season 1 ambitions of gaining complete control of Empire. Every king needs his queen, and Andre enters a relationship with Nessa (Sierra A. McClain), who's a new singer at Empire and the sister of Shine (Xzibit). Shine and Lucious have a past, and Lucious has brought him into Empire to keep him from snitching to the feds. Andre and Nessa quickly fall in love, to the point where Andre is finally able to throw away his wedding ring and completely let Rhonda go. He has also let Nessa into his plans of taking over Empire, which have grown alarmingly over the past nine episodes: he hacked into Empire and released all their emails but was able to completely cover his tracks and blame it on someone else, sabotaged Tiana (Serayah) in order to make Nessa the star of a fashion show that Empire sponsored, and is now teaming up with Shine to kill Lucious. This is the real Dre, and I'm here for it all the way. Those pills were keeping the monster in his cage. Dre is more like Lucious/Angelo in one package. Totally ruthless, a straight savage, and really asserting his dominance this season.
READ MORE: Brandon Jenner Celebrates a New Album
Never one to be down for too long, Hakeem has bounced back after being dumped. With Shine as his new producer, Hakeem is releasing fire tracks and refusing to be stopped. He's also trying to build a stronger relationship with his daughter, which is adorable. While at first he had a crush on Nessa and battled Andre for her (and failed), he returned to Tiana. The two have had a special relationship since Season 1, and after a quick make-out session on the mid-season finale, one can assume these two are going to get back together in the second half.
Jamal (Jussie Smollett), on the other hand, isn't doing so well. After getting shot by Frida Gatz (Bre-Z) in the penultimate episode of season two, Jamal has been on a downward spiral. While he is still crafting music – everyone should check out "Mama" because it is such a beautiful ballad honoring Cookie – he has been unable to perform live due to post-traumatic stress disorder-induced panic attacks. To make matters worse, Jamal has developed an addiction to his pain medication and feels he cannot function, let alone make music, without it. In the mid-season finale, his family finally convinces him to go to rehab. This is definitely a step in the right direction, and I can't wait for Jamal's journey towards recovery in the second half of this season.
Shine is also an interesting character. He's incredibly violent and ruthless, and it seems that he completely wants control of Empire and to also take Lucious down. It isn't that hard since he has leverage over him. But the difference between Shine and Andre is that Shine gets sloppy. Shine snitched to Tariq about the fact that Lucious paid off gangsters to kill Frank Gathers (Chris Rock) in prison, but Andre was able to figure out that Shine was the snitch. Instead of turning him in, the two are going to team up – they've had beef all season, majority of it having to do with Nessa, but seeing them both in power will be fascinating.
Lastly, ghost Rhonda has one last request of Andre – murder Anika. My only disappointment with the first half of this season is that Anika's murders from the previous season have not been explored enough. I do like Season 3 Anika because she has returned to her manipulative businesswoman roots – the whole "scorned and obsessive lover & murderer" plot from Season 2 wasn't working. She and Lucious have seemingly turned their sham marriage into a real one, as they are sleeping together again. It would be interesting to see if Andre will take revenge on her for murdering his unborn child, and later, his wife.
While Season 3 won't return for two months or so, the series is on a roll. It's been able to weave in amazing plot points, from "black privilege" to hair care to the unjust incarcerations that often plague black men – it's important that "Empire" addresses these issues, as the show has a predominately black cast. While Season 2 had its ups and downs, Season 3 is right on track to elevating this musical-drama to another level.
"Empire" returns March 22, 2017.
Reach Staff Reporter Adrianne Ramsey here.