Empire recap: The lion sleeps tonight
Without Empire Entertainment, what does Lucious have left?
In a pivotal moment in Empire's midseason finale, Cookie tells the crying Lucious to pull it together. He has just lost Empire Records — the source of all his confidence — and is spiraling into an identity crisis.
"You're a Lyon," she insists. But he isn't — not really. We learned several episodes ago that Lucious ascribed that name to himself, the way Shawn Carter chose Jay Z. The way Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. became Lil Wayne. The way Hakeem Lyon, Lucious' youngest son, dropped his surname in a fit of self-confidence to become, simply, Hakeem.
Empire is all about identity, power, and how the two intertwine. But the midseason finale offered a harsh reminder that pretensions are often illusions, as each character has his self-image shattered.
Lucious spent his life crafting an image of himself: stronger, more cunning, and more heartless than everyone else. He chose to call himself a lion, and he's mostly acted like one. He began the season by murdering one of the most feared men from the streets, Frank Gatz, and adding insult to injury by turning Gatz's daughter into a protégé.
But unlike an actual lion —who can rely on the strength of a pride — Lucious stands alone. Over the course of the series, every single Lyon has claimed that family comes first. The Lyons love projecting the image of unbreakable interpersonal bonds both to the media and to themselves. But the Lyons have also been a broken family for a very long time — ever since Cookie began her 17-year jail stint, long before the series began. Things have only got worse since she returned.
Now, without his family around him, Lucious finally falls. Mimi Whiteman secretly tapes him ranting about how he's a self-made man, and how he doesn't need his board of directors. She brings the tape to the board, which calls an emergency vote on his position — a vote that comes down to Hakeem. And the strained connections holding the Lyons' illusion of family together finally break when Hakeem casts his vote against Lucious, ousting the company's founder from his job as CEO and destroying the identity he's worked so hard to build.
If Lucious was a more empathetic person, he could see beyond the betrayal and realize that his children are going through the same kind of identity crises. Hakeem was acting, in part, from the confusion of losing his own dreams when an expected nomination for Best Rapper at the American Sound Awards went to Freda Gatz, his father's mentee. And Andre — so excited to become a father — loses that dream when someone (almost certainly Anika) breaks into his house and pushes his pregnant wife Rhonda down the stairs. Perhaps the baby survived — Empire is all about surprises — but the chances seem slim.
A would-be father is no longer a father. The "best rapper alive" isn't even nominated for an award. And the head of a music empire loses his throne. No one is who they thought they were.
The Lyons are rich beyond their wildest dreams — rich enough to buy mansions on a whim. They still own shares in the company, but it's never been about the money. Every Lyon wanted power. But as the family waged war on each other, they missed the outside predators who were always waiting to strike.
Yes, it's about the power. But what happens when the Lyons don't have any? Fans will have to wait until Empire returns for the second half of its second season on March 30 to find out.
Read previous Empire recaps:
- Empire episode 8 recap: Please don't stop the music
- Empire episode 7 recap: The sins of our mothers
- Empire episode 6 recap: The definition of insanity
- Empire episode 5 recap: Second chances, holy water, and unmarked vans
- Empire episode 4 recap: Love, war, and the healing power of grave digging
- Empire episode 3 recap: 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we war'
- Empire episode 2 recap: No steps forward, two steps back
- Empire season 2 premiere recap: What's in the box?