Empire is, for one of the better word, a Shakespearean premise told in the hip hop world (so much so that one of the characters highlight this in the pilot with ‘What is this, we King Lear now?’). Empire comes to us from the FOX Network and focuses on Lyon family, most notably the father, Lucious Lyon, is suffering from a disease and has only got a short lifespan left, thus proceeding him to find a successor to take over the Empire music label he has created in placing it in the hands of one of his three sons. As he places them into competition with one another, his ex-wife, Cookie, who gets out of jail early on account of good behaviour. For this post, I’ll be doing a quick recap of the first three episodes and then go into the positives and negatives of the show so obviously, there shall be SPOILERS AHEAD FROM HERE ON.
So following up from the premise above (which basically covers the first ten minutes of the pilot) focusing on the emergence of ex-wife Cookie, who is out of jail and is pissed at Lucious. She was Lucious’ partner in crime back when they were starting his music career, with her putting up $400,000 to get the Empire label up and running. Then she took the fall for drug possession and ended up behind bars for 17 years. Now she’s back on the scene to get what’s hers. On the sons front we have Hakeem and Jamal getting along just fine, with Hakeem being a bit of an idiot but has talent, Jamal has tons of talent too but is being stalled on progressing any sort of career with his father Lucious getting hung up on the fact that he’s gay. Then there’s Andre, the ‘suit’ who appears to have none of the musical talent (that we know of at this point) and is married to a woman named Rhonda, who shall be nicknamed from this moment on as White She Devil (probably the first of many Undercover Brother reference I’ll make in life) as she schemes to have Hakeem and Jamal play against each other to the point they’ll tear each other apart that Andre becomes the ideal successor to take over Lucious as the head of the Empire. Back on the Cookie front, she tries to reconnect with her sons and returns back to Lucious and signs away that she was the original investor of Empire Entertainment…in exchange for taking control of Jamal’s career. Another plot that comes into play is of Lucious’ friend and another important figure for the brothers, Vernon, who demands money from him to pay off some gambling debts. When he doesn’t get his way and feels he’s being treated unfairly, he blackmails Lucious for more money than he originally asked for or he’ll reveal to the cops that he killed four dealers back in the day. Obviously this don’t rest to easy with Lucious as he meets with him later that night and puts a bullet in his head.
This episode focuses on Lucious having Hakeem booked to play on the opening night of his new club, Leviticus. On that morning, Cookie pops up at the Lucious mansion and wants Jamal to perform on the opening night as well. Lucious’ girlfriend disagrees, leading to Cookie being even more pissed off, storming over to Jamal and plans the perfect publicity stunt…to have him perform and come out openly gay to the public on the same night. In the meantime, Lucious has to deal with a media shitstorm on one of the rappers on his label, Kid FoFo, as a recent mall shooting has occurred and the shooter has cited FoFo as his inspiration. That’ll go well for a company looking to go public. That’s not the only media shitstorm that Lucious has to deal with in this episode as Hakeem, after he attempts to flirt with a female hip-hop artist named Tianna fall flat on its arse, later on as he’s videoed in a restaurant he begins to act your typical drunk kid and unfortunately insults the President himself Barack Obama, calling him a ‘sell out’. He pisses on the restaurant floor, sure, but calling Obama a sell out? That doesn’t go down well to Lucious…but goes down well for the opening of Leviticus as RSVP’s have quadrupled due to Hakeem’s video and performs to a packed crowd…with Jamal by his side. He doesn’t come out though, as Lucious has a one on one with him beforehand and tells him that if he comes out to the public, then he’ll cut him off. Meaning no more money and no fancy pad that he’s staying at. In a plot that shouldn’t be forgotten, Vernon’s body is found and Lucious does his best giving a shit impression (or does he really?). In the other brother that is not really on the forefront of screentime as the other two, as its dropped to us that Andre is bipolar. Then we’re reminded that his life is Rhonda’s and…wait, what the hell is White She Devil putting a bib on for? Oh fuck away off! Empire pushing the boundaries of the parental ratings there with that scene.
In episode three we have Bunky’s funeral and the cops are trying to home in on a lead to find out who murdered him by telling Lucious that they have a witness, before he pulls out a special gift for Bunky’s funeral in Gladys bloody Knight, as well as suiting up in angelic white. He’s no angel folks, he’s just a devil in disguise. As opening scene of the series artist Veronica, her manager, would find out. Anika reveals to Lucious that she hired a private investigator to spy on Cookie and learns this way that she has been meeting with the feds, even though Agent Carter wants her to build a case against Frank Gathers, not Lucious. In the fucked up world of Andre & White She Devil Chronicles, Andre meets with the Deputy Mayor at City Hall to ask for a favour on getting information of the witness that the police have for Bunky’s murder. He gives her something else in return, and replicates the turn in kind for White She Devil who for in-the-moment she wants to be referred to as ‘Deputy Mayor’. As the Lyon family are acknowledging that there’s romance blooming between Hakeem and Tianna, we later meet his ‘mama’ Camilla, which we’re let in on their one-year secret romance, right down to their pet names (hence the ‘mama’). The main story however is Cookie tracking down an old friend/songwriter, which she does, and happens to give her on of his pre-written songs. This leads to Jamal performing it, completely redecorated and serenaded, to the Lyon household. Even Lucious is excited and amazed….then states he’s going to give the song to John Legend. Afterall, Lucious owns the rights to the song (think Puma could’ve given them a heads up on that?). This leads to the ending where Jamal’s had enough of being scrutinised by Lucious and gives up the expensive pad that he pays for and threatens to go after the Empire.
First and foremost, the main positive to take from Empire at this moment in time is the cast and their collective characters. Granted there’s already two of them that are annoying me (Hakeem and White She Devil) but I’m chalking that down to one of them being a spoilt brat that doesn’t know any better and one that is just a potential mega-bitch. That’s not a bad thing on the people playing them, it just means that they’re doing a good job with the material they’re working on. The three players, for me, at the minute at Terrence Howard, Taraji P Henson and Jussie Smollett. The music is a bit hit and miss for me but it’s not the main attraction to the overall theme of the show as it’s all about family drama…and then some. I’ll give it that some people will bracket this as the equivalent of a ‘night time soap drama’, as some of the plot points and dialogue are falling in the ‘cliche’ bracket, but thankfully some of the characters are more three dimensional (than say those on other FOX television show Gotham). So far the only character that I’m concerned about getting left behind, development wise is Andre and why he’s so set on having his own two brothers go at it, leading them to ‘kill each other’, as it were. We get the feeling he’s from a different method of thinking as the other two but there’s plenty of time to see his character get fleshed out more. Oddly enough I’ve liked the first few episodes, I’m hoping the Cookie/FBI storyline doesn’t complicate the show or be dragged out as I was just fine as her being just Cookie, looking to get one up on Lucious in the battle of the brothers and talent. I’ll definitely be seeing where this show goes for the rest of the season and enjoy the special guest stars appearing (Naomi Campbell and Cuba Gooding Jr. thus far).