Empire seems to have hit a plateau, and this was never more evident than it was in last night’s episode, “Strange Bedfellows.” Read all about in this Episode 12 Empire recap,

‘Empire’ Season 3, Episode 12 Recap: ‘Strange Bedfellows’

The story is becoming overstuffed with several character sub-plots that don’t seem to lead to much.

First, there’s Jamal, (Jussie Smollett), whose ex-producer and brief fling Derek aka ‘D-Major’ (Tobias Truvillion) attempts, once again, to prove to the middle Lyon son how much he loves him. Jamal wakes up one day to find D-Major finally coming out as gay in a Facebook Live video, in which he adds how much he cares about Jamal. However, Jamal becomes angry with D-Major for including his name in that public statement. After D-Major drunkenly attempts to get into Empire’s offices, he finds his ID is invalid and he is not allowed access by swiping in. Jamal and his new boyfriend Phillip (Juan Antonio) confront D-Major about his obsession with Jamal and, following a brief altercation with Phillip, D-Major leaves, indignant, as does Jamal. D-Major tried to rekindle a relationship with Jamal in last week’s episode, but Jamal said he didn’t like the fact that D-Major was being dishonest by hiding his homosexuality.

Meanwhile, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) continues to try to assure Angelo (Taye Diggs) that she has told him everything he needs to know about her, and the drama between the two remains virtually the same, although we do learn one interesting fact about Cookie: she shot someone when she was a high schooler. After Angelo discovers a golden handgun in Cookie’s apartment, he asks her why she has it and becomes upset with her, reminding the Lyon matriarch that if the press or anyone else found out about this, it could severely hurt his bid for New York City mayor. Cookie promises to dispose of the gun, which Lucious (Terrence Howard) gave to her as a gift, and after Angelo asks her if she ever used it on anyone, she says no. However, a flashback of a teenage Cookie reveals she shot one of Lucious’s friends/acquaintances after he attempted to force himself on her while she was lying in a motel alone, doing homework.

Hakeem, (Bryshere Gray) for his part, is trying to enlist all the help he can get to plan his 21st birthday party: friends, family, and more. He even attempts to convince Lucious to buy him a fancy new car, though Hakeem’s father says he is far too busy dealing with other things at the moment. Unsurprisingly, Hakeem proves once again that he is the most irresponsible and immature of the three Lyon sons when he hires Empire security guards by bribing them with cash and watches to serve as his protection for his party. The guards even threaten to physically hurt a man who refuses to pay for champagne and other drinks and food at Hakeem’s party, and although the guards initially remain loyal to Hakeem, one of them begins hitting on one of Tiana’s (Serayah McNeill) friends named Kennedy at Hakeem’s huge party, which includes performances from Jamal, Tiana and Hakeem himself. After Kennedy rejects Hakeem’s de facto bodyguard’s advances and invitation to dance, the unofficial guard hits her, starting a fight that quickly escalates into an all-out brawl and throws Hakeem’s party into chaos.

Andre (Trai Byers) scolds Hakeem once again, using his knowledge of law and business to show his younger brother how stupid and illegal his actions were and how bad the consequences could have been for Empire. Andre re-iterates he is convinced Lucious never punishes Hakeem as much as he should because he is the baby of the family, so that makes him ‘special’ in a certain sense. Andre tries to act as a sort of stern father and makes an executive decision as Empire’s CFO: he bans Hakeem from ever using the company’s live-streaming service, Empire XStream, ever again.

However, we soon find out that Andre and Lucious actually plotted against Hakeem to ruin his birthday by instigating that fight, though Andre denies this when Hakeem accuses him of it. Tiana becomes upset with Hakeem for only caring about himself and not her or her friends’ safety, and angrily leaves to go visit her friend Kennedy at the hospital. Jamal also tells his younger brother that he believes his ruined party is his own fault, and says ‘it’s time to grow up.’

Hakeem realizes that nobody likes him or thinks he’s mature enough yet, and goes to see the one person he knows he will feel good around and who won’t scold him: his daughter Bella, who is being taken care of by Lucious while Anika (Grace Gealey-Byers) is away to testify against Lucious and Cookie. Lucious gives Hakeem a serious talk about how he must learn to take responsibility for his daughter and the things that matter most in life, and the youngest Lyon son walks out with Bella.

Anika’s sub-plot appears to be the most important and season-defining one at this point, since it may or may not lead to Lucious’s downfall as head of Empire. Anika is on the other side of town preparing to go on record at Tariq’s (Morocco Omari) request, receives help from her parents, who give her a pre-paid phone so she can make any calls without being traced, presumably. After Cookie, Lucious and his mother Leah (Leslie Uggams) threaten to kill Anika if she rats out Lucious or Cookie, Anika, unsurprisingly, decides to play it safe and walks away, promising to not reveal anything. Lucious’s mother Leah even stealthily takes Lucious/Cookie’s handgun from her purse and points it at Anika in a completely crazy moment! (Surprisingly, however, Leah does not pull the trigger, after Lucious implores her not to, despite his own wishes for Anika to die.) The way Lucious convinces his mother to not kill Anika seems too easy and unrealistic, to say the least. Anika explains to the three of them that her plan is to become romantically involved with Tariq so that he gets taken off this investigation

Tariq, meanwhile, does something unexpected and offers Anika personal protection instead of government protection should she cooperate with his/the FBI’s investigation. Anika thanks Tariq profusely and hugs him, though a brief smile she gives during that hug appears rather devilish, which makes us wonder yet again if Anika is again using her manipulative ways to simply use Tariq and then hurt him. Is she as much of a ‘snake’ as Leah makes her out to be?

Finally, we have another storyline that could potentially lead to Lucious’s demise, although with this one, the ‘how’ is much less clear. Andre continues to pursue a deal with Juliana (Nia Long), the woman who killed her abusive, strip-club mogul husband Rafael in the last episode and took over his business dealings. Andre and Juliana appear to get very physically close and even suggest a sexual encounter in order to seal a deal that would allow Juliana to get close to Lucious in exchange for his girlfriend, Empire singer Nessa (Sierra McClain), being allowed to perform at the new club Empire is trying to establish in Las Vegas. Either way, the sexual tension between the two is palpable, and one can’t help but wonder if Andre will actually cheat on Nessa, or simply seduce Juliana but not actually do anything physical with her. After all, back when he was still married to Rhonda, Andre and her had an agreement that he was allowed to cheat on her by sleeping with other women (like that woman from the mayor’s office in season 1) if it was the only way for him to secure a business deal. So Andre doesn’t seem to be lying when he tells Juliana, “This is how I’ve always done business.” When Juliana asks him if that means Nessa and him ‘have an arrangement’ when it comes to this type of thing, Andre says they do, though this appears like a total lie, since there has not yet been a single scene where Andre and Ness have that type of conversation.

Juliana also meets with one of her late husband’s clients named Gino who has been trying to do business with Lucious for a long time. After Juliana refuses to concede Gino access to Lucious and Empire without receiving anything in return, Gino threatens to hurt her, but Juliana seems unmoved.

How exactly this Las Vegas club-storyline fits into Andre’s ultimate plan to kill his father — or at least overthrow Lucious as head of Empire so Andre himself can take over the company, potentially — remains to be seen. Hopefully the next few episodes will make this more clear. From the previews, we can see that Lucious’ illness, MG (myasthenia gravis) — which was initially misdiagnosed as ALS in season 1 — seems to have returned to a fatal state, and Anika appears to be prepared to make a big move.

Will Anika kill Lucious while he’s on his deathbed before he or anyone else tries to kill her? Will Cookie be safe and stay with Angelo? Will Andre and Juliana really take Lucious down? Will Hakeem finally prove to be a responsible person and father to Bella? Will Jamal finally get his love life in order and walk away from D-Major for good?

Find out next Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on FOX.

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