This week’s episode of Empire began in a rather unconventional way: with moment that occurs during a point later in time. We see Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) being escorted out of the company’s Laviticus club in Las Vegas after causing a scene for reasons that are initially unclear.

This scene is put in context later in the episode: it is revealed to be part of a major plan Cookie has hatched to bring down Giuliana (Nia Long) by stealing ledgers from a safe she holds in the casino. For this Oceans’ 11-style heist, Cookie enlists a large crew that includes Thirsty (Andre Royo), whom Lucious (Terrence Howard) fires at the beginning of the episode at Giuliana’s behest, since she says she doesn’t trust him. Cookie also seeks help from her perennially bumbling assistant Portia (Ta’Rhonda Jones), Becky (Gabourey SIdibe), and her sisters Carol (Tasha Smith) and Candace (Vivica A. Fox) in order to steal the ledgers from the vault in the Vegas casino and prove to the head of the gaming commission Charlotte Frost (Eva Longoria) that Giuliana has been committing all sorts of shady financial crimes. Even Candace’s husband joins in on the action!

After an elaborate — yet poorly planned — scheme, Cookie’s squad succeeds in its mission. Her and Thirsty’s crew manages to obtain the ledgers thanks to some skanky flirtatious moves from Becky and Carol, who among the others go undercover by posing as waitstaff at the Laviticus casino in Vegas. Cookie exposes Giuliana’s crimes to Frost, transgressions that are revealed to include money laundering and racketeering, among others. However, Frost (who turns out to be Mormon?!) is not convinced, and even refuses Lucious’ multi-million-dollar bribe to stay mum about Giuliana’s felonies. Frost leaves dejectedly after feeling insulted by the Lyons’ stereotyping of Mormons, which both Lucious and Cookie partake in, especially the latter by saying she didn’t believe members of that religion “accepted payoffs.” Of course, this is all particularly relevant because earlier in the season, Giuliana was revealed to have stolen $10 million from Empire years prior when she first seduced Lucious while her husband was still alive.

In a weird plot twist, Andre (Trai Byers), who was initially part of Cookie’s team that hopes to destroy Lucious and Giuliana, breaks from that camp after continuously fighting with Shine (Xzibit). Having split from Nessa for good, Andre is revealed to strike up a new romance with Frost! We really shouldn’t be all that surprised that the volatile, bipolar eldest Lyon son would use his eerie charm to woo such a powerful woman, just like he did with Giuliana earlier this season (could this just be him “doing business” again?).

However, Andre confesses to his mother at the end of the episode that he has held “private conversations” with Frost, and suggests to Cookie that they devise a new plot to bring a lot of thugs to Empire’s Vegas casinos in order to scandalize the super-religious gaming commissioner, who expressed concern about the label’s association with criminals.

Jamal, (Jussie Smollett) meanwhile, ultimately pulls a shocking move and decides to join Lucious’ “Inferno” show in Vegas rather than release songs from his own “When Cookie met Lucious” album and perform them in Sin City. The middle Lyon son initially expresses disappointment with his father for hiring a new PR guru who suggests Jamal wait to release his own album and join “inferno,” but then inexplicably seems to believe his father is not out to hurt him again after all.

On another front, the search for Hakeem’s (Bryshere Gray) missing daughter Bella continues, and the youngest Lyon son is visibly anxious from being separated from his baby, for whom he is attempting to become a better father. He even scares several people by mistaking their infants for Bella, whom we know from the last episode has been kidnapped by Angelo Dubois’ mother. In a move likely performed out of desperation, Lucious begs Tariq (Morocco Omari) to use his skills as an FBI agent to help him find Bella, offering to give his half-brother “anything he wants’ in exchange.

Tariq brings Lucious a man named Sam, who allegedly forged documents to get Bella removed from the Lyons’ care. Together, Lucious and Tariq mercilessly beat Sam half to death after he refuses to reveal much about Lucious’s granddaughter’s whereabouts.

Just as it seems Lucious and Tariq are rekindling their relationship as half-brothers, however, horror strikes as the two enjoy a drink at Lucious’s house. Lucious’s mother Leah (Leslie Uggams) sneaks up on Tariq from behind and sticks a knife in his throat in an unexpectedly bloody scene reminiscent of “Game of Thrones.” Lucious appears shocked by his mother’s action, though we can’t help but wonder if he is really all that surprised Leah would be capable of murdering someone like that. This seems like an overly dramatic and cheap way for Tariq to go out, but maybe the writers believed he really was expendable at this point.

The “Empire” season 3 finale is next Wednesday at 9 pm EST on FOX, and there are still so many questions left to be answered! Will Cookie and/or Andre and Shine finally take Lucious down? Will Bella be brought home to the safety of her family’s home to Hakeem, Anika and the rest of the Lyons? Will Giuliana be thrown in prison? Will Andre strike up a romance with Charlotte Frost? How will Lucious’ “Inferno” show in Las Vegas unfold, and will Jamal actually participate in it and postpone his “When Cookie met Lucious album yet again?

Anika did not appear in this week’s episode, but the preview for the finale reveals she will return again, which makes sense as her subplot needs to be closed out. It seems the police (or FBI) will attempt to arrest her for Tariq’s murder! Not terribly surprising, given how much time she spent with him and how much Lucious’s mother hates her. Leah likely went out of her way to frame Anika for the homicide.

It also looks like Cookie and Lucious may finally learn to cast their differences and problems aside and get back together again after years of fighting!

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