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'Empire' Season One Recap

Noah Camarena |
September 16, 2015 | 1:57 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The cast of "Empire" (Fox)
The cast of "Empire" (Fox)
One of the breakout hits of the last television season was “Empire” on Fox. The show focuses on the Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), a former rap star and current music mogul, and his family. The season drew praise for its dramatic storylines and catchy music and with season two set to premiere in a matter of days, here is a recap of the first season that caught the attention of so many.

Episode 1 'Pilot'

The first episode introduces us to Lyon, a former drug dealer, who is now the man in charge of Empire Entertainment, the record company that he started back in the day. We also meet Lyon’s three sons; Andre (Trai Byers), the bipolar CFO of the company who has no musical talent, Jamal (Jussie Smollett), the gay singer-songwriter who has always struggled to gain his father’s respect, and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the star on the rise who has always been their father’s favorite.

Lucious tells the kids that one of the three will be groomed to one day take over the company. The favorites appear to be Andre and Hakeem; Jamal would be the best suited for the job but his father has never accepted his lifestyle.

We also meet Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) as she is released from prison. She was sent to prison for drug dealing and basically running the entire operation that funded Lucious from the beginning of his career. When she gets out of prison, she is determined to get back some control in the company.

Throughout the episode we learn more about the relationships in the Lyon family. Cookie has always been Jamal’s biggest supporter and she eventually gets him to agree to allow her to be his manager as he pursues his music career. We see that Andre and his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) are power-hungry and would do almost anything to get control of Lucious’s company.

The worst relationship in the family is between Lucious and Jamal. Lucious tells his son that he should not come out as gay if he wants to have a successful career and there is even a flashback that shows young Jamal walking around in heels and Lucious picking him up and throwing him in a trash can outside.

Lucious also finds out that he has ALS and probably less than three years to live, making it a more pressing need to find his successor.

In addition to all the family drama, Lucious commits a murder at the end of the episode. Bunkie (Antoine McKay) is a childhood friend who Lucious has employed and helped fuel a gambling problem. Eventually, Bunkie becomes mad that Lucious has stopped giving him money and he shows up at Lucious’ house with a gun demanding $3 million. Rather than dealing with Bunkie and all that he knows about Lucious’s criminal past, Lucious shoots his old friend dead.

Episode 2 'The Outspoken King'

In the second episode we meet Lucious’s new love Anika (Grace Gealey) and it is immediately obvious that she and Cookie are not going to get along. We also meet Hakeem’s love interest Tianna (Serayah) who is another pop artist who he constantly tries to impress.

Lucious also has to work harder to keep his secret about his condition when his assistant Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) finds his pills and confronts him about the disease. His other secret, the murder of Bunkie, also comes to light when his friend and business chairman Vernon (Malik Yoba) receives a call that Bunkie’s body has been found. Lucious pretends to be distraught and vows to find the killer.

Empire runs into some trouble with the press as well. One of their artists is named as the inspiration for a mall shooting and Hakeem goes on a rant about the president that goes viral.

In order to deal with the bad press, Lucious has Hakeem perform at the opening of his new club and, with the help of his brother Jamal, Hakeem kills the performance and is now recognized as a legitimate star.

Episode 3 ‘The Devil Quotes Scripture’

This episode acts as a setup for what is to come later on.

Bunkie’s funeral happens but after the funeral is when things get interesting. Andre seduces the Deputy Mayor as he looks for information on the witness to Bunkie’s murder. Two detectives find the witness to the murder, a homeless man who speaks nonsense. Eventually the man goes on a rant about a lion and the detectives find out that it was Lucious who the man is referencing.

Cookie works on finding a songwriter to get Jamal his first big hit and she settles on her old friend Puma (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who agrees to help write a song for her son.

Hakeem is finally in a relationship with Tianna but we discover that he has also been having a strange relationship with an older woman named Camilla (Naomi Campbell) for about a year and she is tired of their fling being a secret but Hakeem cannot let Tianna know.

Jamal is also disrespected by his father once again. He says he is going to give the new song to John Legend and Jamal is finally fed up. He stands up to his dad and leaves the apartment that Lucious pays for and decides to make do on his own.

Episode 4 ‘False Imposition’

This episode helps show just how powerful Lucious really is in the music industry.

When famous rapper Titan is sent to jail for a shooting at his concert, Lucious makes some moves, with Cookie’s help, and helps convince Titan that Empire would be the place for him to be. Of course he offers money and help, but Lucious really only cares about having the most powerful music company in the world.

Anika finds out about the ALS but is determined to stay by his side even when she should be concerned with Tianna siding with Cookie as her new manager. Tianna not only chooses to be under Cookie’s management, she also finds out about Hakeem and Camilla and tells him that she doesn’t care who he sees as long as they can maintain a professional relationship.

Lucious is also confronted by the detectives about Bunkie’s murder but he tells them that he had nothing to do with it and he is helped by his power-seeking son Andre as they try to cover the tracks.

Episode 5 ‘Dangerous Bonds’

In this episode, Tianna has a girlfriend, Lucious proposes to Anika and Andre causes more trouble.

Andre is trying to get his brothers to hate one another so that he has a clear path to the top. He starts off by funding Hakeem’s music video by pairing him with Tianna, knowing that they have tension now that she has a girlfriend. He also loudly discusses how Jamal is wearing an expensive watch at a studio closeby which sends Hakeem’s follower friends to the studio to steal the watch. Jamal is just trying to record a new song in a studio when these fools show up and end up shooting some of the people at the studio. Luckily no one was badly injured, but Jamal believes that his younger brother sent his friends to prevent him from recording a hit.

Lucious proposes to Anika but he has to clear with a doctor that he is in good health. Lucky for him, Anika’s father is a doctor and Lucious is able to convince him to sign off on the papers despite his ALS because if he were to die then Anika would immediately become very rich.

Cookie also runs into some trouble. She has been dealing with some federal agents as they try to convince her to testify against a man named Frank Gathers who was involved in a deadly shooting that Cookie witnessed. She ends up telling the truth only to discover that the man who was shot was a federal agent trying to find Gathers’ drug ring. Cookie thinks she is in trouble now that she has spilled the beans and she eventually sends out a hit on a man she believes is after her.

In short, there are many problems going on in the Lyon family.

READ MORE: Why Everyone Should Jump On The 'Empire' Bandwagon 

Episode 6 ‘Out, Damned Spot’

Vernon confronts Lucious about Bunkie’s murder and Lucious confesses but orders Vernon to cover it up. Vernon helps increase security at the company and even finds someone who agrees to take the blame for the murder in exchange for a large amount of cash.

Jamal starts to deal with fame and leaves behind both his younger brother and his boyfriend as he deals with the trials of the media.

Cookie is on a path towards success as she has helped Jamal, helped revive the career of a former Empire singer and even flirts with the new head of security Malcolm (Derek Luke).

The episode ends with one of the biggest surprises thus far as a woman walks in to Empire as the whole family is gathered and introduces a young girl to Jamal saying that the child wanted to meet her father.

Episode 7 ‘Our Dancing Days’

The company is preparing for a big investor showcase and there is drama everywhere in the family. It is revealed that the woman who randomly showed up out of nowhere Olivia (Raven-Symone) is Jamal’s ex-wife. He got married to her at 18 because Lucious forced him to. They only had sex one time, but apparently that one time led to the little girl.

Overwhelmed by the stress of the event and the illness taking over, Lucious passes out and is taken to the hospital. He still is able to run the show however, much to Andre’s dismay.

A lot goes wrong leading up to the concert, but eventually Hakeem and Jamal team up to be the headlining act and the show turns into a huge success.

After the event, Lucious reveals to his entire family that he has ALS. Anika is away on business and thus Cookie finally gets some alone time with her ex-husband. The two have sex and of course Anika comes home just in time to see them in bed together. Lucious has a lot on his plate after this one.

Episode 8 ‘The Lyon’s Roar’

This episode revolves around Empire’s annual White Party, everyone wears white, and the drama that ensues because of the extravagant event.

After their intimate night, Cookie makes Lucious promise that he will leave Anika for her and of course he does promise that, knowing full well that he will not. Anika confronts him the next day and tells him that she saw everything. She tells him that he must announce their engagement at the White Party in front of everyone and then marry her immediately after the event.

The Lyons prepare for the party by recording a Legacy album to celebrate Lucious and his family in preparation for his inevitable departure. Lucious, Cookie, Hakeem and Jamal all team up to record a track while Andre watches in the distance and sulks in his lack of musical talent.

Instead of helping his family, Andre continues to scheme and tries to come up with a way to be voted as the interim CEO of the company but he cannot secure his own father’s vote.

This is one of the best episodes for Jamal. He finds new romance with a young director who is father hired to make a documentary about the Lyon legacy. Jamal also has a good moment with his daughter. Olivia has disappeared and Jamal has been taking care of the little girl every since. Jamal’s best moment, and one of the best moments of the show for that matter, happens when Jamal takes the stage at the White Party and performs his own version of his dad’s classic song that he uses as an outlet to come out of the closet.

Anika is still upset over Lucious’s infidelity and decides to go to Empire’s rival CEO and even takes off her engagement ring before heading inside.

Andre ends up talking to Lucious and Lucious tells him that he cannot trust him because he married a white girl and has never truly been a part of the family. This nearly drives Andre to kill himself as he points a gun to his head and shows that Andre is the true outsider in every sense.

The episode ends with Cookie telling Lucious to accept Jamal for who he is but Lucious says that Jamal turned away from the family and that the legacy project is over.

READ MORE: Complicated TV Families

Episode 9 ‘Unto the Breach’

This episode begins with Cookie revealing to Lucious that Anika has been working with the rival agency and trying to steal artists from Empire as a way to get back at him. Lucious has Anika taken away from the premises and even threatens to kill her before all is said and done.

Each member of the Lyons uses their own skills to help Lucious retain his artists and keep them from jumping ship to join Anika.

The man Anika is working for, Billy Beretti (Judd Nelson), is the same man who first signed Lucious. He now feels betrayed because Lucious left him and became more powerful which is why he wants to destroy him.

The family works together to prevent Beretti from doing any real damage. That being said, one member of the family almost ruins everything; Andre. Andre is off his medication and starts fighting with everyone. They have to call the paramedics to sedate him, but just before he is out for the count, he whispers to Lucious that if he was smart, he would choose his successor to be the son that knows he is a murderer, revealing that Andre will do anything to gain control of the company.

Episode 10 ‘Sins of the Father’

Lucious is getting closer to gaining the IPO that will make Empire a public company and that seems to be the only thing that matters to him anymore.

Lucious also does not want Camila hanging around with Hakeem anymore because he believes she is only after their money. He ships her back to London and tells Hakeem that she left because he gave her money, even though that is not true at all.

The drama gets more intense when Olivia returns with her boyfriend, who Jamal’s daughter has already revealed to be a monster. He pulls a gun on Jamal and threatens to shoot him. Lucious finally decides to protect his family and offers to take the bullet because he thinks his family already resents him and would not miss him if he was gone. He then continues to try and save Jamal by revealing that the child is actually his and not Jamal’s. This is a huge moment of betrayal for everyone, mostly Jamal. The boyfriend is still threatening to shoot but Malcolm comes in and shoots him before he can do any damage.

The episode ends with Lucious asking Cookie to marry him and reunite with the Empire but she turns him down and says that he wishes he would have been shot because he ruins everything, most notably his relationship with his sons.

Season Finale ‘Die But Once’ and ‘Who I Am’

The season ends with a lot of twists and turns and plenty more drama.

Lucious’s acts from the previous episode have some fallout. Hakeem, still angry that Lucious sent away Camila, decides to make the move to Beretti’s company. Cookie has also finally decided to move on and she spends the night with Malcolm, her first lover who is not Lucious.

Lucious finds out about Malcolm and revokes Cookie’s access to the building because she is not even a real board member of the company. Malcolm tries to comfort her by telling her about his new job in Washington but she does not want to go with him and their fling is now over.

Jamal and Lucious finally have a good moment and Lucious offers the company to Jamal if he can get back the rights to Lucious’ songs from Beretti; he does so by threatening to kill Beretti, showing that he is more like his father than initially believed.

Lucious also finds out that he was misdiagnosed and does not actually have ALS and thus is not going to die. Well, that is, he is not going to die from ALS. In his sleep, he confesses to killing Bunkie while Cookie is in the room and she nearly kills him by suffocation.

Lucious tries to make amends with his family. He gives Hakeem a private plane to visit Camila, he gives Andre a $100 million foundation, he gives Jamal the company and he gives Cookie a small pillow, revealing that he knows she tried to kill him.

The FBI now comes to Cookie and tells her they are investigating Lucious for Bunkie’s murder, but Cookie cannot bring herself to turn him in.

She can however bring herself to ruin his career. Cookie then teams up with Andre, Hakeem and Anika as they look to take over Empire.

Vernon also comes back out of nowhere to tell Cookie the story behind Bunkie’s murder. He also visits Andre, presumably to tell him the same story, but they get in a fistfight and Vernon is accidentally killed by Rhonda as she tries to intervene to save Andre. They agree to not tell anyone about the murder.

As the company goes public, Lucious is throwing a celebratory concert that is interrupted by the FBI. They have a key witness that said he killed Bunkie, but little do they know, that witness is dead; Vernon was the key witness who turned Lucious in.

Andre, Hakeem and Cookie think they now will have control of the company but it is their mistakes that should eventually lead to Lucious’s release. The season ends with Lucious going to jail and Jamal in charge of the company.

All we know for sure heading into season two is that the drama will return as loud as the lion’s roar.

"Empire" returns on Wed. September 23 at 8 on Fox.

Reach Staff Reporter Noah Camarena here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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