the rise of an EMPIRE – season recap

EMPIRE is like GODFATHER for the music industry… This impressive new TV drama keeps gaining popularity. I’ve been watching it since Day One, and thought it was time to write something down.

EMPIRE is a record label controlled by a legendary hip-hop artist LUCIOUS LYON played by TERRENCE HOWARD. He’s grown to mogul status. His three sons are involved in the company. And his health is deteriorating. Lucious has ALS and his days are numbered. With this ticking clock scenario the drama is infused with urgency.

The simple premise that drives the series is who will inherit the EMPIRE and the leadership role once Howard dies? The story-lines get more and more complex each episode. Choosing his successor won’t be easy. 

His oldest son, ANDRE, has ambitions on the business side of things. He’s been groomed to tackle the white collar duties. His complications arise from being bi-polar. His mental illness, if untreated, threatens his ability to perform with the suits. His wife adds another dimension as she seems to surge his drive for power.

His other sons are musicians trying to break into the biz. The youngest one, HAKEEM, is a braggadocious swag-obsessed rapper. He’s the entertainer. His love life gets him into trouble. He’s in love with an older woman (NAOMI CAMPBELL), while he’s been dating a fellow young artist on the label Rhianna– dur, I mean TIANA.

The soap opera aspects come out here, as Tiana is really a lesbian or at least a little bi-sexual. They both have mistresses, but it’s better for their career if they are seen as a couple in public. EMPIRE also manages to comment on the music industry and its shallow aspects.

The middle-son JAMAL is the artist – a lyricist who sings rhythm and blues. His homosexuality causes a lot of conflict with his father. He hasn’t accepted his son’s lifestyle yet. But he’s getting there. His son has broke free from the family money, trying to make it on his own. He puts together songs in an independent studio in a bad neighbourhood.

And there’s COOKIE (TARAJI P. HENSON – sure to be nominated come Emmy / Golden Globe time). She’s the former wife of Howard. She went to jail for a long time – never ratting out Howard and the unlawful way they made money to buy their first studio and create Empire decades ago. At this point in the series their relationship seems to be mending.

Cookie takes control of her half of the company. She butts heads with Howard. They both have different ideas on how to make music. She manages the artist, while he handles the entertainer. This creates a great back-and-forth battle arcing across the season. Which son will make it big first? And how far will each go to ensure their artist’s success?

EMPIRE isn’t all about relationships and music making. There’s also a large crime element like a music industry (BILL)BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Howard has already proven he’s lethal, killing a long time friend because he jeopardized business. Cookie isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty either. It’s like two cut-throat GORDON GECKO’s willing to get (literal) blood on their hands in order to make some coin.

The more we get to know these characters, the more we care for them, the more we want to see them succeed, and the more we laugh with them. Cookie guarantees a few laugh out loud / yell at the screen moments each episode. Let’s just say… Cookie is delicious.

The acting is on par with heavy hitters normally seen on pay TV series. EMPIRE airs on regular TV but takes its cues from HBO by providing a long story arc with complex character motives. Every character has enjoyed the spotlight with their own moment to shine. I think the focus on character comes from show-runner, LEE DANIELS. His movie adaption of PRECIOUS proved that character is King… or Queen, rather. Drama is much more effective when we care about the characters or when we’re intrigued by people we hate.

My favourite sequences each episode are the songs. I love seeing how they are brainstormed and worked on in the studio. It’s interesting to see the creation of an idea, as its molded into its final form. It’s so enjoyable to watch the song end up as a music video or a live performance. With TIMBALAND behind the music, these songs seem radio ready. This level of attention to detail helps EMPIRE’s authenticity.

At first, it seemed like EMPIRE was verging into DYNASTY-like melodrama. I’m more intrigued by the darker elements they’ve decided to explore like corrupt business dealing and the underbelly of the crime world. There is an aura of danger, especially with a new focus on the show’s baddie, rival producer (JUDD NELSON, from BREAKFAST CLUB) recruiting away Empire’s talent (and Howard’s fiance, Anika AKA neo Halle Berry) as the Lyons prepare to take the company public on the stock market.

My favourite moment from the most recent episode was actually a sort of emotional one. I’m not talking about the hilarious purple drink incident, but rather the final musical performance at the end. The whole family joins in with a potential new artist singing Howard’s popular hit from back in the day. It seems like these guys are finally coming together, after so much emotional conflict from earlier in the season. How long will this unity last?

This series mixes soap opera with crime elements and artistry. It’s about the underdog becoming the big deal in the music industry. It’s about power, exploitation, greed and artistic expression. All of these ideals crash into another, and are weighed with opposing factors.

EMPIRE is driven by a strong concept, with each episode promising laughs, twists and turns, complex relationships, deceit, creativity, and some of the best acting on network television.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Who is your favourite to inherit the Kingdom?

Will it be Cookie? Will TARAJI P HENSON win an EMMY?

What do you think of the co-stars like COURTNEY LOVE (from HOLE), NAOMI CAMPBELL,  and Lucious’ ex-fiance, ANIKA ? Will we see more of them in upcoming episodes?

What about Tianna? Will this character continue to collaborate with Hakeem?

Will Lucious find a way to extend his life? Will this series be bold enough to follow through? How will this weigh on our other characters?

Will we see the new Emperor and how they handle the Empire?

So... What'd you think?

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