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Everyone’s Fanning the Fire When ‘Empire’ Returns
March 22, 2017  | By David Hinckley

About the only way things could have gotten hotter on Fox’s Empire would be if they set the whole thing on fire.

When Season 3 resumes Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, they set the whole thing on fire. Well, Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard, top) does, as part of his high-profile promotion for a new album.

So the return of Empire becomes either a glorious explosion of heat and light or another devil dance, depending on how you feel about Lucious.

It won’t be any big spoiler to say he does little to make himself warmer or fuzzier as the season’s second round of episodes launches.

Neither, for that matter, does his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, top). They declare war on each other, which also won’t be any big spoiler since they do that as often as most couples make a pot of morning coffee.

At stake, nominally, is control of Empire Records, since they recently were named co-CEOs. Yeah, that’ll work.

The first victim of their crossfire is son Jamal (Jussie Smollett, left), and we can be quite sure he won’t be the last. Jamal spent the first half of the season slowly cracking up from PTSD, from which he has suffered ever since Freda Gatz shot him when she was trying to shoot Lucious.

There’s minimal gunplay in Wednesday’s episode, though that doesn’t measurably decrease the level of violence that hangs in the air of Empire.

Let’s just say, for one thing, that even though Cookie doesn’t have great form swinging a baseball bat, she compensates with enthusiasm.

The show also tends to its various subplots, including the rivalry between female artists Nessa (Sierra McClain, below) and Tiana (Serayah).

They’re each part of an intramural team in the Lyon family. Nessa is the girlfriend of Andre Lyon (Trai Byers, below), who is officially aligned with Lucious in wanting to feature Nessa.

Tiana is the girlfriend of Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y. Gray), who is aligned with Cookie in wanting Tiana featured.

In fact, there are several deceptive appearances in those lineups, but whatever the backstory, Wednesday’s episode sets up a public showdown between Nessa and Tiana that should make all the highlight reels.

As Empire approaches the 40-episode mark, it does run into a familiar issue. With only a finite number of core characters, more of its mix-and-match clashes become repeats.

So far, however, it has come up with enough variations that viewers don’t feel like they’ve seen the whole dance before. It also spins a number of subplots from odd acquaintances and past misdeeds of the dysfunctional Lyon family.

Lucious’s loose cannon mother Leah (Leslie Uggams) is back, the scheming Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey) steps forward again, and we definitely haven’t reached the peak of the drama with Cookie’s boyfriend Angelo (Taye Diggs), whose campaign for mayor Lucious would love to torpedo.

The Empire fire is still burning.

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