Throughout Empire‘s Season 1 finale, Lucious Lyon seems hellbent on reinforcing the damning assessment of his life — and in particular, his parenting skills — made last week by his ex-wife Cookie: “Everything you touch, you destroy. Look what you did to my sons.“
He punches his youngest, Hakeem, right in the face. He attempts to corrupt his troubled eldest son Andre’s spiritual adviser — just to prove he’s “more powerful” than God. And as for his middle child, Jamal, the one he’s repeatedly beaten and scorned just for being gay? Well, good ole Lucious finally bestows on him some paternal kindness — but only after he’s driven the heretofore reasonable young man to the brink of murder.
Did I mention all of the above takes place in the first 60 minutes of the two-hour telecast? You can hardly blame the pragmatic Cookie when she seizes an opportunity to snuff out Lucious’ life with a goose-down pillow. (OK, I didn’t read the actual label, but you don’t think any member of the Lyon clan is slumming it on a polyester blend, do you?)
To quote (future Emmy winner) Taraji P. Henson’s endlessly quotable alter-ego: “Hell wants the devil back — and Lucious is on his way.”
Oh, grrrrrrlllll, if only it were so easy.
Wait a second — I’m burying the lead here: BOO-BOO KITTY IS SLEEPING WITH HAKEEM! No, wait, that’s not the big news. JAMAL IS INHERITING THE EMPIRE CROWN! Actually, lemme try that again. COOKIE AND ANIKA AND ANDRE AND HAKEEM ARE UNITED AGAINST JAMAL! OK, that’s pretty huge, but perhaps even more shocking… LUCIOUS DOESN’T HAVE ALS AND ALSO UNCLE VERNON IS DEAD — AND (A PREGNANT) RHONDA KILLED HIM! (Note I left out the fact that Jennifer Hudson’s music-therapist chick is now a Gospel artist signed to Empire Entertainment — I just cahhhhhn’t with the way her eyelash-fluttering naiveté parallels Olive Garden breadsticks… in that they’re both endless!) AND LUCIOUS GETS ARRESTED IN THE END — FOR BUNKIE’S MURDER! (WHO RATTED HIM OUT, THOUGH?)
Side note: Best.
Catfight. Fight Scene. Of 2015.
Porsha, get my damn shoes — because I pretty much threw all of ’em at my TV set over the course of the epic rollercoaster ride called “Die But Once/Who I Am” — and now it’s time to break down the action.
COOKIE GETS SOME NOOKIE | Cookie gets her weekend getaway with Malcolm — and despite the snowy scenery, things get so hot it’s like a chocolate fondue for two in front of the fireplace (if I’m not being too subtle). In their subsequent pillow talk, Cookie learns Camilla actually rejected Lucious’ walk-away money — and it’s clear whatever love she had for her ex is just about gone. “I wish he would just drop dead already,” she says, promptly envisioning his legacy concert as a memorial event with jacked-up ticket prices and proving she’s the best businessperson in the Lyon family. Alas, though, when Porsha lets slip to Lucious that her boss is “in the Berk-Shires” (¡same as Malcolm!), Lucious flips out, fires Cookie and has her banned from entering the building. He then confronts her in the lobby and tells her that as a convicted felon, she was never actually allowed on the Empire board — and that Andre knew it when he promised her the position. “You’re on a dark path, Lucious. You’re goin’ down — and I’m not gonna let you take my company with you. Seventeen years, bitch!” Cookie screams, with a gleam in her eye that says she’s just lost a pawn, but it’s far from checkmate. “Everybody’s just waiting for you to die.” With this in mind, she’s not ready to clear the board and accept Malcolm’s offer to run away with him to Washington, D.C., where he’s accepted a government gig. “My time is up,” she sighs. “That’s a phrase I’ve heard many times before.”
Eventually, at Jamal’s urging, Lucious apologizes to Cookie for “overreacting” — but she freaks out when she realizes both Jamal and Hakeem have gone to Beretti’s. It’s a little out of character that she allows Lucious to head to the lion’s den alone – this seems like a good time for our protagonist to take her earrings off and pick up her broom — but perhaps she’s still reeling from the fact that she doesn’t have as much definitive power as she thought she did.
HIS THREE SONS | Lucious is shaken when Beretti tries to stop his legacy concert with a court injunction having to do with ownership of his early Empire tracks. And in his desperation, we see him repeatedly prioritize his business over his children. When Hakeem interrupts Empire’s pre-IPO concert (and announcement that Snoop Dogg is joining its roster) with a scathing freestyle verse (sample lyric directed at dad: “that mofo can’t even keep his family together”), Lucious punches him in the face. Hakeem spits blood, kicks rocks (my new favorite expression) and then hits back where it hurts — vowing to sign with Beretti. Jamal argues that his kid brother should at least maintain loyalty to the Empire label. “I want the company to be around when he’s not,” Jamal says, while offering up a laundry list of ways Lucious has hurt him, too.
Andre, meanwhile, can’t find the strength to return to work and instead starts hanging around his music therapist’s church — though whether it’s God or J.Hud’s form-fitting dresses that are inspiring him is unclear. Lucious, naturally, is disdainful of the decision — even though he doesn’t try to pretend Andre will ever be more than CFO. “There’s no higher purpose than being a maker of music” he huffs to his one son WHO DOES NOT MAKE MUSIC FOR A LIVING. Damn, Lucious, you’re just the worst. But wait (as all the informercials say) there’s more! When Andre rejects his dad’s subsequent offer to ring the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange — sample Andre zinger about his dad being on the brink of death: “I’ll send a prayer down to you in a flame-proof jar” — Lucious offers a record deal to a blindly delighted Michelle. Andre is crestfallen that this woman who’d been guiding him on his religious journey (ummm… how come Michelle and Andre never discuss his wife Rhonda’s role in all this? #somethininthemilkaintclean) has so easily given in to the lure of fame and fortune. “My father is the devil — and you just spread your legs for him!” he snarls. Then again, it’s a Gospel record — not a cover of Rihanna’s “S&M” — that she’s agreed to record. What’s that “judge not lest ye be judged” line from the Bible, Andre?
Lastly, there’s Jamal — and if we really wanna get biblical up in this recap, it’s very much a case of “The last shall be first.” Lucious has rejected him his entire life — but suddenly, on the day of Jamal’s album release, Daddy Dearest is softening — or at least learning to respect his son’s craft. He’s even quoting reviews saying Jamal might be the one to inherit the crown. “I wouldn’t believe everything I read,” Jamal smiles back — his mother’s penchant for shade-throwing clearly passed down to the next generation. “I saw that you were a devoted husband and father.”
Ultimately, though, we see Jamal is indeed tempted by the idea of taking over as CEO from his father — even after Lucious tells him he “needs to know you’ve got that monster in you that does what he has to do.” (Ugh.) With a promise to bring Cookie back into the Empire fold, Jamal agrees to help his father with his nagging case of writer’s block — bringing them back to the Philadelphia apartment that’s packed with memories good and bad.”You want me to throw your ass in the trashcan again?” Lucious sneers — and it’s absolutely bone-chilling juxtaposed with both men’s flashbacks of the young Jamal being treated like a literal piece of garbage and pleading with his father for mercy. But Jamal is made of stone — or something close to it — now. “I worshipped the way you made music,” he confesses to his father, not taking the bait. And these two men — who are maybe as much alike as they are different — suddenly connect in the most visceral way, cooking up a new track called “Nothin’ to Lose” that I cannot cannot cannot wait to download. As they sing, Lucious flashes back to another murder he committed in cold blood back in the day, which makes it all the more jarring when they finish singing and he exclaims, “That’s how you murder a track!”
It’s not enough, though, to fully win over Lucious. He insists Jamal get his masters back from Beretti — by any means necessary — and before you know it, the child who’d been dismissed and abused has unleashed the monster planted within him. He visit’s Beretti’s penthouse, dangles him off the edge of his balcony and gets the scared businessman to sign back the rights to his dad’s music. “My daddy thinks I’m a killer — and I think he’s right,” smiles Jamal, in an absolutely terrifying moment. Does this mean Jamal is “worthy”? Maybe in Lucious’ eyes, but it’s a fork in the road I didn’t want to see him travel.
IT’S A MIRACLE! | In the midst of all this drama, Lucious learns he doesn’t actually have ALS, but rather MG (myasthenia gravis) — a similar but treatable condition. In other words, the Devil’s gonna have to be patient. (Lucious’ subsequent gleeful response at the dining room table proves to be one of Terrence Howard’s great moments in the series.) His new drug regimen, though, causes some powerful hallucinations — and just in time for Cookie to enter the bedroom (looking like a very tough but beautiful angel in white) and to hear her ex do a Robert Durst-style confession to the “Bunkie” sitting at the foot of his bed: “You can’t be here man — I killed your ass.” As he prattles on about being a phoenix from the ashes and Jesus back from the dead, we hear J.Hud’s soaring Gospel soundtrack, we see Jamal and Ryan having sex on Lucious’ desk, we see Anika and Hakeem snuggled together in bed, and Andre taking solace in church. And that’s when Cookie picks up that pillow, holds it over Lucious’ face and says, “It’s over.”
GIFTS FROM DAD | Hour Two starts with Lucious sharing with his sons and Cookie the “good news” that he’s going to live. He gifts them all with apologetic words and symbolic trinkets: A gold-wing necklace for Hakeem (who’ll have a jet with which to tour and promote his music); a cross for Andre (who’ll run Empire’s new charitable foundation); and a scepter for Jamal (who’s been chosen as the successor). Oh, and Cookie gets a little pillow — because apparently LUCIOUS KNOWS ABOUT THE THWARTED MURDER ATTEMPT. (In his hazy state, he grabbed her arm and stopped her, BTW.) #thiscantbegood
ONE WHO TAKES OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST | Anika puts in Hakeem’s mind that he needs to stage a hostile takeover (because Machiavelli had a disdain for “effeminate princes”?) and he takes the bait. Andre isn’t on for the plan — not until Empire artist Black Rambo crashes a press conference and expresses his disgust at the company being placed in the hands of an out gay man. But when Lucious and Jamal dismiss Andre’s idea that dropping Black Rambo will “alienate so many of our customers” — and when Rhonda expresses her disgust that he gave up his plan to take over as CEO without any fight at all — the eldest Lyon changes his mind. Also in on the plan? Cookie! Yep, after sweeping up after Hakeem’s haircut with THAT BROOM, she throws out the idea that they build their own legacy together. (Did I mention she’s persona non grata at Empire after Lucious shows Jamal video of his mother coming at him with that pillow? I kinda wish Jamal hadn’t been so quick to acquiesce to Lucious’ position. Is it just me?) And that’s when Hakeem lets her in on the takeover scheme.
And yes, let me tell you that all this leads to the best catfight on TV since the Dynasty era — because Hakeem, Andre, Anika and Cookie end up in a room — and the two women THROW DOWN. Cookie throws a drink and a punch that send Anika to the ground as easily as a chainsaw might fell a sapling. (BAM!) Anika grabs Cookie’s hair. (WHOA.) They end up exchanging dozens of body blows on a pool table. (“WHO’S BOO-BOO KITTY NOW, BITCH?”) And Cookie decimates Anika’s pearls — because let’s be honest, fake-ass Halle Berry had it comin’.
Speaking of decimations… Jamal hits a nightclub and challenges a freestyling Black Rambo to a freestyle showdown – and his beautifully sung verse (complete with a sly wink on the line “maybe you need to get on your knees”) sends the iPhone-recording crowd into thunderous applause. That’s how you shut down a homophobic bitch – and add to your street cred in the process! (Definitely this ranks in my Top 5 moments of the finale.)
The IPO launches with Lucious ringing the bell at the Stock Exchange — but little does he know, Team Takeover has met with billionaire type Tony Trichter who specializes in hostile takeovers… and Anika and Cookie promise to launch his “punk ass” grandson’s career if he puts up half the $500 million they need. All they need to do is come up with an additional $250 million, and discredit current CEO Lucious with some type of scandal. (Can I add how happy I am — and can I admit that I cry — when Cookie visits Jamal in rehearsal for the legacy concert to remind him, “I got you.” Damn, Empire’s flashbacks > everybody else’s flashbacks. Though when it’s all said and done, I’m not 100% sure where their beautiful mother-son dynamic stands.)
Also, Vernon reappears and tells Cookie that, yep, Lucious killed Bunkie (a fact she refused to admit previously to FBI Agent Carter). Vernon’s next meeting — a drag-out brawl with Andre — goes, um, less well, especially when Rhonda arrives and breaks it up in the deadliest way possible. (White Woman in the Living Room With the Candlestick!) She doesn’t want Andre to call the police though — ’cause she’s got a baby in her belly! (Now we know why she threw up her bourbon on her salad at the rich-creepy couple’s home a few weeks back!)
At the legacy concert, Lucious gets arrested for Bunkie’s death (and assumes it’s Cookie who ratted him out). Jamal rises up the stage steps to perform his dad’s song with Patti LaBelle (juxtaposed with his flashback self descending the stairs in his mom’s heels), and Agent Carter is all, “Where’s Vernon? He’s our star witness!”
The hour ends with Lucious behind bars — promising that “you may think you’ve gotten away with this” but God, the streets and disease couldn’t kill him. He’ll be back (because there’s a Season 2) and “it’s game time, bitches.” Sounds like exactly the kind of thing Cookie would’ve said while she was behind bars, no? Here’s hoping he brings it just as hard (and humorous) as his ex when he arrives back on the scene.
On that note, your turn. Grade the Empire Season 1 finale in the poll below — then hit the comments with your thoughts!