Say what you want about Empire, but you can’t deny that the show is entertaining. Personally, I see it as the perfect representation of today. It’s often very busy, loud, fast and classless — a combination that often demands a good time. And episode four, “Bleeding War,” gives us exactly that.

The episode opens with Lucious making an appearance on BET’s 106 & Park. It’s the original version with AJ hosting, and immediate, complete nostalgia overcomes me (although, Free was nowhere to be found). The camera pulls out from the TV screen the show is playing on, into a prison recreational area (they have cable in prison?). Turns out this entire opener is a flashback. Cookie is in prison around watching her man’s star rise. Unfortunately, the joy is short-lived. Fellow inmate, Poundcake (I repeat, this show is a good time), decides to turn the channel. Cookie isn’t having it and delivers her verbal wrath towards the large inmate. They fight and she basically loses, gaining a bruised face and razor-blade slashed hand.

We’re back in the present. Cookie is reliving this entire experience, detailing to the new Lucious her painful moments behind bars. Lucious hates what he’s hearing and apologizes, vowing to do better. He wants to start by officially going back to Empire, this time with Cookie. Cue Claudia, who is right on time to hear the plan, and question it.

Lucious returns to the company he built (this time through the front door, unlike the visit with Jamal) to great fanfare, and he actually jumps right into the happenings around the office. First up is a listening session of Hakeem’s obviously flop single, “Shut Up.” Nobody in the session is a fan. This is a problem because Hakeem’s music was set to be the “alpha” of the Empire 20 for 20. Not anymore! The song is so bad that it actually inspires Andre and Cookie to hold a competition between Empire signed artists for the now vacant first release of the 20 Empire albums.

The competition is fierce. Empire literally has an army of signed artists. I’m not exaggerating. There are a lot of people at this competition. It honestly looks like an open call. They each perform (which is odd in my opinion; they should’ve just submitted records) and Lucious is thoroughly entertained, giving great, honest feedback. Cookie thinks his criticism is soft, and for a minute, transforms into old, evil Lucious (she even admits it herself).

Jamal, who is entitled and doesn’t think he should have to compete for a spot, runs away to a studio. His friend, Tory Ash, finds him and convinces the superstar to create something fresh to win the alpha spot. Together, they write a ballad. While working on the song, Jamal is moved to confess to Tory that Warren could actually be his “one” (LOL). Speaking of Warren…

The DuBois family is in full on “destroy the Lyons” mode. At dinner with Angelo and Diana, Warren is overflowing with the tea he’s been gathering via his time with Jamal, and Lady DuBois is sipping every drop. Angelo, on the other hand, is annoyed. This time, his annoyance drives him to randomly find Anika. He scares her into thinking that she should watch her back with the Lyons. Angelo hands her his card and informs ‘Nika to call him if she ever needs help, and, for her, it honestly isn’t a bad idea. The Lyons have had this woman in jail for five months for a murder she didn’t commit, Andre (rightfully so) wants her dead for throwing his wife over a balcony and Hakeem is acting like baby Bella didn’t slide out of her body. Mama def needs help.

Back at the Empire 20 for 20 competition, Jamal debuts the duet he created with Tory, except, to her surprise, the duet partner is now Warren. Jamal claims that singing the song with a guy makes it more authentic for him, but I must say that I listened to both versions before writing this recap, and the one with Tory is far superior. My opinion doesn’t matter though. In the world of Empire, crazy things happen by the minute, and this time, Jamal’s duet with Warren is a bona fide crowd-pleaser, earning him the coveted alpha spot.

During all this mess, a huge, first birthday bash was being planned for baby Bella! The day of the soiree finally comes, and it does not disappoint. It is an over-the-top, ridiculous Prince (the musician) and princess (the female member of a royal family) mash-up birthday party, complete with daddy Hakeem and uncle Jamal donning Purple Rain-esque costumes while performing a dreadful cover of “Let’s Go Crazy.” I have never laughed so hard in my life at a single scene of television.

During the party, things take a serious turn. Anika decides that it’s the perfect time to inform Hakeem that she’s filing for sole custody of Bella (with Angelo by her side, as her lawyer), and Lucious is a no-show. He’s back at the mansion fighting to keep the old Lucious away. Claudia says he’s at a crossroads and can actually decide if he wants old Lucious back or not. She mentioned this to Cookie earlier in the episode, to which Cookie revealed to her a place that she thought would symbolize Lucious’s crossroad — a statue of a lion that Lucious slept under as a homeless child. Claudia decides to be shady and leads the Empire founder there first.

Photo: Jean Whiteside/FOX
Photo: Jean Whiteside/FOX

It looks like old Lucious may be returning soon (whomp, whomp). And I left out Andre’s storyline because it was so small, but it looks like him and Detective Pamela Rose are going to be growing closer. She expressed her condolences about the death of his wife. Andre was touched and they immediately went for a sex session. Speaking of, how terrible is it that absolutely no one remembered that Andre’s wife died?!

Note: The World Series is taking over Fox starting next Tuesday, so no new recaps until we find out who wins the Commissioner’s Trophy. Until then, take a breather from the Lyons’ drama and keep up with the other great content here on Shadow and Act. Adiós!