Empire already has done more than enough to prove itself this year, becoming one of the biggest breakout hits of the decade and even producing a soundtrack that currently sits atop of the Billboard charts. If somehow that doesn’t impress, the show completely stuck the landing with its first finale. After two lackluster weeks, Empire roared back with a juicy two-part finale that featured all of the titillating, shocking, cheesy, and over-the-top action that this show just delivers so well.
To be fair, the episodes were not perfect – somehow the writers went back to the well for the eighth time, revolving the hours around the lead up to a big Empire event, this time the Cookie Lyon Presents: The Lucious Lyon Sound concert. The concert is right after Empire Records is scheduled to go public, and to make sure both events go off without a hitch, the Lyon clan needs to regroup around Lucious, a man who’s alienated all of them. Besides this familiar plot device, and a lame moment we all knew would come, Lucious learning he actually isn’t dying of ALS, Empire used its two hours effectively.
The first hour felt far less rushed than the last two episodes, taking its time a little bit on everything, even indulging in sex scenes between Cookie and Malcolm, and a long visit to the Lyon’s old home for Lucious and Jamal. That scene, along with another reconciliation between Lucious and Jamal at the tail end of the episode, rank amongst the best of the season. In a recent interview, Danny Strong commented about how he always envisioned the show to be about the complex relationship of these two characters, and even after 12 hours of Empire, that intention still shines through, with their scenes feeling incredibly real and evoking the most emotion.
It wasn’t all heart to heart family dialogues though; things moved further into Dynasty territory than ever before with the score pulsing slightly higher in the mix this week as we witnessed rap battles, rooftop threats, cat fights, hallucinatory monologues, attempted murders, regular murders, and hostile takeovers. Once Lucious learns he will survive, he decides to make amends for all of his evil ways, naming Jamal his predecessor in the process, much to the chagrin of Andre and Hakeem.
The lesser of the Lyon brothers decides to team with an on-the-outs Cookie, who was busted trying to smother a sleeping Lucious, and a wayward Anika, who unfortunately is back in the fold, to lure a big fish investor to stage a hostile takeover once Empire goes public. All they need to take the company from Lucious is a scandal, which they get when Bunky’s murder comes back to bite Lucious. It seems old Uncle Vernon decided to go to the feds with his knowledge, but after a fight with Andre leads Vernon to be killed by a pregnant Rhonda, the FBI’s star witness is missing. Wait, go back and re-read that last sentence. Yeah, that’s the sort of zany plotting that is so ridiculous but so irresistible. Anyway, so Lucious is hauled off to jail for now, but not for long, because now “it’s game time, bitches.”
Overall, this finale was everything fans certainly love about Empire. Sure, there was a bit too much exposition, some silly musical moments, and way too much God-loving Andre for him to just flip right back into villain mode, but the episode was still a fitting conclusion for a historic first season. I love the move of sending Lucious to jail and making him the underdog, and it will be interesting to see how Jamal responds to the rest of the family now that they have staged this coup, inevitably taking him down in the crossfire. From the early previews, I never would have believed this show would have captured the nation’s attention and mine like it has, but now I’m anxiously waiting on the second season to arrive. Hopefully a sophomore slump doesn’t crush Empire, because between critics and numbers, expectations are incredibly high.