The world that the Lyon family inhabits on Empire is one that most of us will never get to experience: that of a privileged hip-hop dynasty. It's a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted, champagne-soaked world of excess and ambition, rivalry and royalty.
I'm willing to accept a lot of the crazy stuff that goes on in this world, because it's one I know I will never experience for myself. To me, it's almost as much of a fantasy as Middle-earth. But sometimes, the show pushes my suspension of disbelief way too far.
At its best moments, Empire is absurd enough to be entertaining while still feeling remotely plausible. At its worst, it is downright stupid, eliciting laughs but for all the wrong reasons.
The first half of a two-part season finale aptly dubbed "Toil and Trouble," Empire Season 3 Episode 17 embodied both the best and the worst sides of the show.
On one hand, it was a hilarious comic caper, uniting some of the show's most valuable (and underrated) players for a bizarre bank heist that delivered one snarky line after another. It was outrageous, but weirdly, it made sense.
For the record, I respect your gangster. You're a good mother.Thristy [to Cookie]
On the other hand, there were a few twists and turns that threatened to knock the show off of that aforementioned wobbly tightrope and into the abyss of ridiculous, including a cliffhanger ending that caused me to groan out loud. But we'll get to that later.
After Lucious banned Cookie from stepping foot in Laviticus Las Vegas, the Lyon matriarch vowed revenge. Gathering up a group of allies that included her sons and Shyne, she tried to convince them to unite to destroy Giuliana before she could destroy their empire.
Unfortunately, everyone else had other stuff going on that took priority over sabotaging a casino. Hakeem was obsessing over his missing daughter (and rightly so), while Jamal was worrying about the release date of his new album (also, rightly so).
Giuliana is a cancer, not just to Lucious but to the entire empire. If we don't root that bitch out, we all die!Cookie
And Andre? Well, after what he did to Nessa, he and Shyne can't be in the same room without trying to kill each other.
Her original plan foiled, Cookie was forced to turn to the recently fired Thirsty for help. This is the first plot point in this episode that made absolutely no sense.
Not Cookie turning to Thirsty for help executing a nefarious plan; after all, that's what he does best. No, I'm talking about Lucious firing Thirsty at a mere suggestion from Giuliana.
We're supposed to be wary of the hold Giuliana has over Lucious, but to be quite frank, I don't understand where this hold came from, or how it became so strong that he can no longer think for himself.
I know they have a history and a dramatic one at that, but it's utterly bizarre that Lucious Lyon would lie down and let Giuliana dictate his every move, including implying that he should ditch his loyal lawyer without a second thought.
The only thing that would make sense to me is that Lucious is pretending to be under Giuliana's thumb in order to get on her good side, and once he gets his ten million dollars back, he'll turn his back on her and get back to being his old, obstinate self.
Either Lucious is faking, or Giuliana is a sorceress skilled in sex magic. There's no other way to explain these developments.
You have the chill disposition we need so you will crack the safe, Becky.Cookie
Anyways, newly fired Thirsty teams up with Cookie to obtain Giuliana's ledgers, which they believe have enough information about her crooked activities to get her thrown in jail.
The result was a batty bank heist involving Cookie's sisters Candace and Carol, as well as good girl Becky, who was coerced into trying to crack the safe containing the ledgers.
With this collection of characters plotting together, you know things are going to be funny as hell. And we weren't disappointed. I would watch an Ocean's 11-style spin-off starring all of these characters as crazy bank robbers in a heartbeat.
From Candace primly playing as a high-roller alongside her blackjack-obsessed husband to Carol struggling to seduce a security guard, to Becky's use of meditation to practice cracking the safe, there were just so many golden moments with this crew.
You're the one who wanted to have this little sisterhood of the traveling attitude on the road!Thirsty [to Cookie]
Thanks to some well-timed temper tantrums and seductions, Cookie's Eight managed to get Giuliana's ledgers our of her safe and into the hands of Charlotte, the Las Vegas Gaming Commissioner played by Eva Longoria.
Unfortunately for Cookie, the Mormon gaming commissioner is not above taking the odd payoff or two, including one from Lucious to forget Giuliana's various indiscretions.
Fortunately for Cookie, she's also not above extramarital dalliances, including one with that most infamous of business seducers, Andre Lyon.
This scene was also ridiculous. I know sex is a big tool in Andre's business arsenal, but the scene between him and Charlotte felt flat and forced.
Usually, Andre putting the moves on someone can be pretty hot, but this time, it felt goofy. So goofy that I almost thought Charlotte would turn him down!
So, with Jamal focused on performing in the Inferno show with his father and Hakeem still heartsick over his baby, it looks like Andre is the only Lyon ready to stand by his mama and take down Giuliana.
Meanwhile, there's still that whole matter of Hakeem's missing baby to be sorted out. And this brings me to the mind-numbingly stupid cliffhanger to this episode.
Charlotte: I'm Mormon.
Lucious: Oh, silly me, all this time I thought you was Mexican.
Charlotte: And I thought you were black. But I have no idea if you are Muslim or Christian or anything else. Because I don't make assumptions of your religion based on ethnicity.
Lucious recruited Tariq to help track down Bella. And he did! Except, just as he was about to tell Lucious who had taken the baby, crazy Leah leaped out and stabbed him in the throat, killing him. Give me a break.
I already found the storylines involving Leah and Tariq to be some of the most boring on the show. So not only did the writers decide to make both characters prominent again in this episode, they threw in a senseless murder that jeopardizes the family's ability to find Bella and adds more unnecessary drama to a show that has enough of it.
Cookie: Are you telling me I can't come to our casino in Vegas?
Lucious: It's Giuliana's casino, and mine. And you've been blackbooked. You can't enter the premises of Laviticus Las Vegas.
Leah's special breed of crazy was funny earlier in the episode when she prepared lunch for Tariq that was packed with glass. It seemed like the perfect murder attempt to associate with a paranoid old lady.
But stabbing him in the throat is a whole other level of bloodthirsty and just leads this whole storyline down another rabbit hole that I have absolutely no desire to explore.
Just have them find Bella and be done with it, please. And then if anyone else is going to get murdered, let's have it be Leah.
What did you think of "Toil and Trouble, Part 1"? Do you think Jamal will regret his decision to join the Inferno show? Will Andre finally get his way and destroy his father? And, will anyone be able to get Bella back now that Tariq is dead?
Remember, you can watch Empire online via TV Fanatic.
Lee Jutton is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.