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Empire episode 4 recap: Love, war, and the healing power of grave-digging

In "Poor Yorick," the Lyon clan briefly learns that the family that stays together, avoids jail together

It has been a while since the Lyons felt like a family.

Sure, they recently gathered for a dine-before-warring feast they never quite got around to eating, but it's been some time since the family faced a common foe — pretty much the only thing that can really bring them together.

In Wednesday night's episode, "Poor Yorick," the Lyons briefly learned, then quickly forgot, that a house divided cannot stand.

The Lyons might be a group of strong individuals, but together, they're nearly unstoppable. Lions do, after all, hunt in prides. Actually getting them together, though, is like moving mountains.

The entire family is obsessed with power and freezes at the thought of giving up even an ounce of it. Each member has his or her own flavor of power lust — Hakeem wants the power to be an adult, Jamal wants power over his image, Andre wants the respect power brings, Cookie wants power over Empire Records, and Lucious wants power over everything — but, in whatever form, there's nothing the Lyons care about more (except, maybe, each other).

Lately, the always-squabbling family's been fighting more than usual because Cookie started her own record label, Lyon Dynasty, and took Hakeem with her, creating enemies of Lucious and Jamal. Meanwhile, the currently unemployed Andre is preparing for fatherhood by begging his dad for his old job at Empire Records.

Well, leave it to the FBI — it's still trying to pin Bunkie's murder on Lucious — to bring them together. And leave it to some light grave-digging to ignite the real bonding. After the Feds raid both Empire Records and Lyon Dynasty, the family gathers with Lucious' new street-smart lawyer, Thirsty Rawlings, who advises them to be "one big happy family."

And the sad truth is, if they could quit the race for power, they probably would.

True love exists in the family — see, for example, when Lucious tells Andre, "No matter what happens with the business, I'm gonna love and protect your child with everything I got." But that doesn't mean that the second the threat passes, they won't scheme and backstab on another again. All's fair in love and war, and to the Lyons, those words mean the same thing.

The second everyone realizes the Feds only make raids like this when they've got no leads, everyone reverts to their old ways. But the flash of togetherness helps the episode stay focused on the main cast, which is always when Empire shines.

Once the family feels safe, they do what they always do: exploit the situation to chase after power. And as always, some members of the family fare better than others in the pursuit.

As always, Cookie does well. She tells Prosecutor Ford, the DA hell-bent on jailing Lucious, that she doesn't know if her ex-husband killed Bunkie but that the two were squabbling about his desire to purchase APEX Radio. Her lie results in a hoped-for truth: Lucious' recent acquisition of the broadcast network won't go through for years now, which benefits Lyon Dynasty.

Jamal offers a nice showing, further brandishing his image by keying off his father's legal troubles to hire a "modern-day Andy Warhol" to paint a tortured portrait of him for his Rolling Stone cover.

Hakeem makes a good effort, using the outside threat as an excuse to film a cross-label "post apocalyptic Blank Panther" themed music video with his brother. "It ain't about the money, it's about the power," the brothers sing. But the younger brother ends up stabbing the painting of Jamal in the throat during the video shoot, showing that Hakeem might not yet have the Lyons' knack for power plays.

(That said, how great is it to learn that Hakeem nurses his woes by drinking bourbon in a Latin jazz club? Who knew!)

For once, though, Andre wins the week with the added bonus of winning his father back.

When Thirsty assures the family that the Feds will back off if the Lyons can just find Vernon and convince him not to testify against Lucious, a light bulb goes off in Andre's head — one that induces a bit of late night vomiting, since he knows something the rest of the family does not: he and his wife, Rhoda, killed Vernon last season and buried him deep in the woods.

What luck!

Andre realizes that the key to regaining his old position as CFO, along with his father's respect, is within his grasp. All he has to do is dig up his dead uncle's body. (Only in Empire does this seem like a menial task.)

There are, of course, complications. When he and Rhonda — some couples just have to do everything together — head to the forest to unearth Vernon, they're thwarted by the biggest foe anyone on the show has faced yet: trees!

It turns out, they all look the same, and the couple can't remember where they buried the body. Luckily, no one in the family trusts one another, and Lucious has put a tracer on Andre's car. That allows him to show up with Thirsty, who has brought along "your basic corpse detection system," a fantastic device that's perfect for late night grave-robbing and father-son bonding. Once Andre and Lucious have Vernon's body in the trunk of a car, they warmly embrace, a reminder that in Empire, love and war truly are the same thing.

At least, they are to Lucious.

The scene is almost touching, especially if you forget what's actually happening in it. But the body's merely a wick to Empire's loudest firecracker yet. Prosecutor Ford starts the next morning with a gift from Lucious: Vernon's rotting corpse sitting passenger.

It's a power move, no doubt. The Lyons know nothing but.

At the end of episode 4, it's never been clearer that if the Lyons could only work together, they truly could rule the music industry. That's been the case ever since Cookie was released from prison. But, when Lucious thought he was dying from ALS, he made sure to give each of his sons a taste of being on top. And the tricky thing about power is that once you have a taste of it, you can never have enough. That's why no empire lasts forever.

For that matter, neither do many dynasties.

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