In the pilot episode of Empire, doctors inform Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) that he has a terminal illness, which forces him to find a family member to take over the company, which he runs. In the mean time, Lyon’s ex-wife is released from prison.
The episode begins with Lucious Lyon in the studio trying to give his singer a little more motivation, by bringing up some bleak history. We also see Lucious at the doctor office. Next, we’re introduced to Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), who bust some rhymes together. Next, Lucious and Anika (Grace Gealey) head to a press conference. Lucious runs into his assistance, Becky (Gabourey Sidibe). At the press conference, Lucious speaks about his questionable past and how music saved his life. Lucious stresses the Internet has killed musician’s abilities to make money, before declaring the Empire Record company is set to be traded on the stock exchange.
Next, Lucious speaks with his kids, Hakeem, Jamal and Andre (Trai Byers) and tells them he is going to groom one of them to take over the company, but they need to grow up first. Next, his ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) is released from prison. Afterwards, Andre and Lucious head to the boxing gym, where we’re introduced to Bunkie Campbell (Antoine McKay), who is a bum. Lucious sponsors one of the fighters. Eventually, he learns about Cookie’s release.
Jamal and his partner, Michael Sanchez (Rafael de la Fuente) speak about Jamal’s music career, before Jamal receives a phone call from Cookie, who tells her to let him in. The show flashes back and shows a young Jamal speaking to his mother, who was a prisoner at the time. When we return to the present, the pair embrace. Cookie is introduced to Michael, before chowing down on some real food. Cookie reveals she is there to get what is hers.
When the show returns, Lucious meets with Cookie. Cookie suggests her money started the company, but Lucious reasons for himself maintaining control. The pair argue over Cookie’s cut. She wants 5 million a year, which Lucious believes is unrealistic. Hakeem and Cookie get rude with one another, before Cookie beats him down with a broom. Next, Hakeem speaks with his father, who tells Hakeem he is wasting his time on women and booze. The pair agree to get back to work on a new album.
Cookie and Bunkie speak about Bunkie’s relationship with Lucious. He reveals Lucious hired him to follow Cookie. Bunkie also mentions something has Lucious scared. Afterwards, Lucious speaks with Jamal about his sexuality and how it is going to hurt his music sales. The show flashes back and shows Lucious getting violent with one of his boys.
Next, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) speaks with Andre about her father’s intentions. The pair contemplate pitting the other brothers against one another, in order to gain control of the company. Afterwards, Andre visits his mother. Andre suggests Cookie should manage Jamal and make him a star. Next, Cookie crashes the board meeting and stirs up a mess. Cookie threatens to expose Lucious, if he doesn’t give her Jamal. He agrees to the arrangement, without much hesitation and admits he never wanted Jamal anyway.
After the show returns, Cookie tells Jamal he needs to get out of the small club and move his career in the right direction. Hakeem and Jamal discuss their mother, but agreeing they’re trying to make them kill one another. Next, Hakeem heads to the studio, but is terrible and Lucious lets him know about it. Jamal attempts to help Hakeem fix his music. Bunkie pays a visit to Lucious and tells him he has left him behind. Bunkie requests more money.
Hakeem kills it in the studio and Lucious loves it. Despite Hakeem giving credit to Jamal, Lucious refuses to accept it. Jamal and Cookie agree to work together to make Lucious crazy. Lucious speaks with Dr. Shanhani (Jennifer Joan Taylor), who confirms he has ALS and could die within 3 years. Afterwards, the show flashes back to Lucious and Cookie dealing drugs. Lucious speaks with Bunkie, who attempts to intimidate Lucious into giving him money. However, Lucious kills Bunkie.
Before the show ends, Lucious and Cookie speak about Jamal. Although Lucious believes he doesn’t have talent, Cookie insists she will make him a star. Before the show ends, Lucious celebrates and reveals his two sons, Jamal and Hakeem, are going to be releasing albums this year.
Thanks to a strong advertising campaign, Empire debuted with nearly 10 million live viewers. Depending on viewers, the series may continue to draw those massive numbers. All in all, the pilot wasn’t terrible. In fact, it was good, at times. The pilot did a pretty good job of introducing each of the characters, especially those from the Lyon family. We also received a little back history for the family.
However, the pilot seems a little too bloated. There was simply too much going on. It felt like everything was thrown on the wall, with hopes something would stick. Much of the action was a little cliche and predictable. The acting was good, but the characters seemed to transform from the beginning of the episode to the end. Still, Empire wasn’t bad. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here. The pilot deserves a 6.5 out of 10.