Empire Season 1 Finale Recap – Die But Once/Who I Am
Empire ends it’s first season with EVERYTHING and EVERYONE realigned. Jamal is the CEO of the company. Hakeem, Andre, Anika and COOKIE are scheming to take the company via a hostile takeover. Hakeem SCREWS Anika to exact revenge on Lucious. By the end of the episode, Lucious is sitting in jail, arrested for the murder of Bunkie. Vernon, the star witness for the prosecution, is dead, killed by Rhonda, protecting Andre with a candlestick. She’s PREGNANT! And Lucious IS NOT LUCIOUS. But Dwight White, an unassuming hood rat who completely reinvented himself. Whew. Oh. And at the end of the first hour, Cookie tried to kill Lucious. AND. Lucious learns that his ALS was misdiagnosed! What he ACTUALLY has is Myasthenia Gravis. A TOTALLY treatable disease. GAME TIME BITCHES.
The first hour was such a wild ride, I wondered how the second would match it. As far as plot twists and turns, it didn’t, but thematically, there was some heavy, jaw dropping stuff that went down. The season end wasn’t a cliff hanger per se, but it recalibrated the story, leaving PLENTY to explore when the show returns to the airwaves. CAN WE WAIT THAT LONG!!!
Let’s break it down.
Die But Once
The first hour opens with Cookie ensconced in a snowy Berkshires hideaway with security dude, Malcolm. Hakeem is NOT returning his dad’s calls. He still believes Camille took Lucious’ “blood money” to leave the country. He hopes they both burn in hell. Andre, off finding God, won’t be attending an event to publicize the IPO and Hakeem’s upcoming album. Jamal won’t be there either, he’s got his own event.
Lucious struggles to write one last amazing song before he kicks the bucket. Epic. Supernova. That’s how he wants to go out. Cookie has always helped unstick his writers block, but he can’t find her. Becky has a look on her face, like she knows EXACTLY where Cookie is.
Cut to Malcolm and Cookie snuggling in a little Massachusetts log cabin. She admits to Malcolm that she’s never had sex with ANYONE other than Lucious. He thinks it’s beautiful. “You’re in charge,” he says. Ugh. Malcolm is not only hot, but he’s really sensitive and caring too. They go for it. Hot sex and skin!
Lucious is experiencing double vision. The male nurse trailing behind him notes that it’s not a symptom of ALS. Hm. Meanwhile, at Jamal’s album event, a fan thanks him for helping him find the courage to come out to his brother, who is standing right next to him. Aw.
Back at Cookie and Malcolm’s cozy hideaway, Malcolm, who clearly views Lucious as an unprincipled man, is Team Camille. Cookie, like Hakeem, figured the older woman took Lucious’ money. Malcolm sets her straight. Thats one more Lucious lie to throw on to the pile.
Back at the event, which is ostensibly about celebrating family, there is no family. Snoop Dogg is on hand to announce his signing with Empire. He would have gone indie, but Lucious’ offer was so generous, he could not say no. Lucious equates social justice with sharing profits with creators–righting those sins of the past when the white man stole art from the black man.
Lucious also announces that Hakeem’s album will come out the day Empire officially goes public. “In a moment you will meet the man I expect to take over Empire some day.” A reporter reminds Lucious that his other son, Jamal, already dropped an album that’s getting rave reviews and comparisons to Lucious himself. Lucious refuses to be “divided and conquered.” He invites the reporters to the “Cookie Lyon presents the Lucious Lyon Sound” concert the following week. When the company goes pubic, says Lucious, it will become synonymous with American Culture “and Lucious Lyon becomes A GOD.” Snoop quips, “If he’s God, I must be Jesus!”
Press Conference from “Die But Once”
Lucious introduces new artist, Snoop Dogg, at a press conference
As he strides out of the room, Lucious is served with papers. Beretti has issued an injunction to stop the concert, based on his ownership of Lucious’ masters. Lucious looks for Malcolm, but it turns out he had given him permission to head to the Berkshires for a long weekend
to screw his ex-wife.
Finally, Hakeem arrives, just as Snoop takes the stage to sing his new hit, “Peaches and Cream.” After, he introduces Hakeem, who proceeds to spit a DISS RAP aimed straight at his father. “That po fool can’t even keep his family together. They say he the king. I’m the prince. I’m going to run your Empire. Leave with your bitch. I’m gone.” Drop mic! And Exit. Lucious catches up with with his youngest son. He punches him right in the mouth, splitting his lip. Hakeem gives Lucious a death stare before he walks away.
“Peaches and Cream” from “Die But Once”
Jamal thinks Hakeem was harsh. He has problems with Lucious too, but he’s dying! “The sooner the better,” says Hakeem, “I hate his ass.” Jamal says he’s over all the shitty things Lucious did to him, including beating him, making him marry a beard and then screwing her. Lying about the baby they had. But, Jamal wants Empire to live on. Hakeem confesses that he plans to take his album to a different label. He never signed a contract. What? Not something that would happen in real life. Even amongst family.
Lucious, still attempting to track down Cookie, demands to know where she is. “Cookie is on her way back from the BerkshIres,” says Porsha, mispronouncing it hilariously with a long I while she unwittingly rats out her boss. Lucious instantly puts it together, and storms out of Cookie’s office. “I ain’t know nothing since Y2K,” she calls after him. Uh. oh. Damage done.
Cut to Michelle (Jennifer Hudson), Andre’s music therapist, singing a hot gospel number in church. Andre drops by. He still feels so lost. He can’t go back to work. “Nothing fits” he says. “Maybe God is telling you to try something else,” Michelle replies.
Cookie, back from her sexy times weekend, with her sister Carol in tow, gives her a tour of Empire. She doesn’t get very far before security throws her out. She refuses to leave. Enter Lucious, who says, “are you expecting your little boyfriend to come running to your rescue?”
“Is that what this is about? Are you jealous? You think you still own me?” I am on the board of directors.” Oh. No she wasn’t. They were just playing along. A convicted felon would never ACTUALLY be allowed to serve on a board of a publically traded company. “You’re on a dark path Lucious. You’re going down. I’m not going to let you take my company. SEVENTEEN YEARS BITCH. Everyone’s just waiting for you to die. You’re going to die a lonely man. Just like you deserve.” Whoa Cookie.
Back at church, Michelle and Andre pray together. Cut to Cookie packing up her office. She has 15 minutes. Malcolm enters. It turns out HE gets to stay at Empire. Let’s talk about your misogynist sexist double standards. But, he doesn’t want to stay. He’s got a job offer in Washington DC, has decided to take it, and wants Cookie to come with. He wants to take care of her. She can’t, of course, because Empire is hers, and she’s not about to leave. She’s destined to be greater than some house wife to a security dude. “Malcolm, you’re a beautiful man,” she says, clearly moved. They kiss goodbye. Damn. Good bye security man Malcolm. I will miss your hotness.
Andre puts his notice in with Lucious. He knows he’s never going to get Empire. And his burgeoning relationship with God is leading him to a life with a higher purpose. “I need you,” says Lucious. “Music is the voice of God,” he declares. “What do you know about God?
Completely desperate, Lucious turns to the only person he feels hasn’t abandoned him, Jamal. He confides his problems with Beretti. Jamal wonders if he wishes he hadn’t cut out Cookie. Lucious has other issues. He’s got writers block. “A magazine article called you the future of Empire. Do you believe that? I do.” Lucious is so manipulative! “I need to know that you have that monster in you that does what he needs to do.”
As Andre helps Michelle get ready for a service at church, he confesses that it’s the first time in as long as he can remember, that he’s felt at home. “You’re here with God,” says Michelle. Is she sincere, or taking Andre for a ride?
In order to help Lucious with his writers block, Jamal takes him out of his comfort zone. They go back to the house where they used to record, now occupied by Cookie’s sister, Carol. Does Jamal want to be thrown in the trash can again?” jokes Lucious, reviving that unpleasant memory with a flashback. Jamal rolls his eyes. “I’m here because you said you’d bring Cookie back,” as he walks away, Lucious reconsiders. “At least you walk like a man,” he says as he watches Jamal take the steps. Lucious’ old keyboard is set up. He noodles the song he’s been working on. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a complete fraud,” Jamal challenges him, “Maybe Beretti wrote your best stuff.” Despite the abuse, Jamal worshipped his talent. If he could make music like him, “there’s no way this man wouldn’t love me.” Flashback to Jamal calming himself, singing along to Lucious’ music, as Andre bullies him. They proceed to challenge each other. It’s a push pull. Jamal plays some chords, accuses Lucious of being afraid to die. “What do you know about death?” counters Lucious. He picks up a guitar, Jamal stays on keys. “It ain’t dangerous enough,” says Lucious. “What makes you so sure you’ve been where I haven’t been?” asks Jamal. Flashback to Lucious killing a drug dealer. Their vocal duel, “Nothing to Lose” is amazing. It’s clear, in the end, Lucious has a new found respect for Jamal. Oh, and his son is all he’s got at the moment.
“That’s how you murder a track!” says Lucious. He promises to give Jamal his credit for the song. He doesn’t care. He just wants Cookie back at Empire. Not so fast. Jamal has to do more. He’s got to get his masters back from Beretti first. At first Jamal refuses. “Do you want Empire or don’t you?” asks Lucious. Besides, if they don’t get the masters back, their is no concert and no Empire.
Cookie storms the mansion with Carol, who wonders why she can’t just manage Lucious before he’s dead in three years. Lucious admits that he may have overreacted to the Malcolm situation, just a tad. She’s back on the bill for the concert, and back at Empire. There’s an issue though. Cookie got a text from Jamal. Hakeem is on his way to meet Beretti. When Lucious arrives at the party, he finds Jamal threatening to throw his arch rival off of a balcony unless he signs the masters back to Empire. Jamal tells Beretti his Dad think’s he’s a killa, and he just might be. Lucious backs out to find Hakeem. He does. In a room SCREWING Anika. REVENGE. Meanwhile, Jamal is twisting himself into his father’s image. His father’s love is so close, he can taste it. He’s willing to do ANYTHING to get it, at this point.
Empire just got TOTALLY CRAZY UP IN HERE.
The next day, Lucious’ doctor drops by to tell him…oops! You actually aren’t dying. He’s got something with similar symptoms called Myasthenia Gravis, a totally treatable condition. You can call that a misdiagnosis, or a plot twist born out of the series’ wild popularity. Can’t be killing off the star of the show, now can we? At first Lucious is freaked. All the reckless decisions, including killing Bunkie, he made under the assumption he was dying. The damn NURSE actually diagnosed him correctly. Lucious angrily throws the doctor out of the house. But then, he begins laughing hysterically. NEW LEASE ON LIFE. NEW MAN.
Lucious meets Andre at church. There’s nothing wrong with getting right with God, says Lucious. What he did–committing Andre to the psych ward after his mental break–was in his best interest. He wants Andre and Jamal standing on either side when he rings the bell at the NYSE, signifying the company is now publically trading. He wants Andre to ring the bell. “You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding in this place,” says Lucious. “I’ll still be here when you’re dead,” Andre retorts. Hm. Maybe not. “We’ll see who’s more powerful,” says Lucious, “Your God or your daddy.” Lucious proceeds to run a game on Michelle. He claims to have found God after listening to her sing a fabulous number, and wants to record a gospel album with her. Does she reject Lucious’ dirty offer? Nope. She embraces him, revealing that, perhaps, she was running her own con on Andre.
“My father is the devil and you just spread your legs for him,” Andre says to her angrily.
Lucious’ nurse prescribes an Ambien-like sleeping pill after a treatment for his newly diagnosed condition. Cookie arrives after Lucious is fast asleep. She begins reading him the riot act about how he made Jamal do his dirty work for him, when Lucious begins hallucinating Bunkie. “You can’t be here man, I killed your ass.” He confesses Bunkie’s murder, and that he wasn’t actually dying. “Everybody that crosses me dies.” Cookie can’t believe her ears. “I’m about to rise up like a phoenix from the ashes,” says Lucious, “I’m going to rise up from the dead like Jesus. A new messiah.”
Cut to Michelle singing in church. cross cut with Jamal and Ryan GETTING IT ON IN LUCIOUS’ OFFICE. Symbolic and Hot. Cut to Hakeem in bed with Anika. Andre, walks out of church disgusted. Cut to Cookie reaching for a pillow on Lucious’ bed. “Bunkie was my cousin you son of a bitch! It’s over,” she covers his face to smother him…
Who I Am
The 2nd hour opens as Cookie retreats without doing the deed. She flees Lucious’ room. Cut to a meeting at the house with Lucious and his sons. Flashback to the grooming talk from the pilot. It’s like that, only different. Lucious reveals his misdiagnosis. Nope. Not going to die. Not anytime soon. Jamal is relieved. Hakeem and Andre, not so much.
There are boxes sitting in front of each man. Lucious admits that he treated each of them horribly. As each opens their gift, you see their lives with Lucious flash by in quick cuts. The scene is shot with gravitas. Lucious is the king, bequeathing tokens to his young princes. He gives Hakeem a set of gold wings. When his album drops he’ll have his own jet flying him anywhere he wants. Lucious apologizes for driving off Camille. “Never let me or anyone else control you,” says Lucious. To Andre, he gifts a beautiful gold cross, the Lion of Judah. “Because you knew exactly what I was doing when I tried to take Michelle.” He’s sorry for trying to break his faith. When the IPO closes, he’s going to announce the start of the Lyon Foundation, Andre will have 100 million dollars at his disposal. He saves the best for last. Jamal is gifted a scepter, “The Empire is yours Jamal.” He announces. Oh. Just then Cookie arrives. She greets the news of Lucious’ good health rather sarcastically. There is a gift for her, too. IT’S A FRIGGING PILLOW. He knows. HE KNOWS.
The boys meet in Jamal’s office. It wasn’t a joke. He’s the boss now. Becky serves her last cup of tea. She’s been promoted to A&R. Jamal asks for his brothers’ support. “I feel like he really loves us,” Jamal says. “He built this whole Empire for us.” He promises Hakeem will have control over the release of his album. But maybe not. Jamal wants to push the release back, so it doesn’t interfere with his own record, which is still climbing the charts. Andre gives Jamal a slow clap. “Perfect.”
At rehearsals for the concert, Rita Ora sings. Lucious texts Cookie to come to his office. The bedroom, entirely fitted with security cameras, caught Cookie about to cover Lucious’ face with a pillow. Oh, the irony of Cookie’s security man lover inadvertently doing her in. She and Jamal meet with Lucious. “You got what you wanted.” says he says, “You said a f****t, as you called him, would some day run this company. That’s what you got.” And that’s all she’s getting, after she tried to kill him. Jamal doesn’t believe it until Lucious runs the security tape. “Checkmate bitch.”
“Little Boy” from “Who I am”
Jamal is disgusted. What’s worse, Cookie would have done it too, except that Lucious grabbed her wrist before she could do the deed. “Your father killed Bunkie!” says Cookie. With that, Lucious has her escorted out of the office. “You see son,” says Lucious, “Sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice your queen to win the game.” Jamal is devastated. Cookie watches as her name is taken off of the venue. Then, Agent Carter arrives in her dark car of doom.
Meanwhile, Lucious picks Vernon up from rehab and is happy to have him back. He needs him by his side for the IPO launch. Vernon is looking awfully shady. Lucious asks him to look after Cookie. “She really wasn’t happy about a brother having good health.” Lucious says.
Back at the feds office, Agent Carter explains that the Feds are building a case against Lucious. A criminal named Shine was just arrested, and he claims that Lucious killed Bunkie. Cookie says she never heard of him, even though she remembers Lucious mumbling the name while he was hallucinating. It’s members of the Shine gang that Lucious murdered once upon a time. It’s the Shine gang that Bunkie owed money to. It’s Cookie’s chance to put Lucious away. Via flashback, we see her turning down a deal to rat out on Lucious that would have meant serving under 5 years in jail. And once again, Cookie refuses. “Find yourself another snitch,” Cookie says. As she hails a taxi, we see Vernon watching from his car.
“We both wanted to hurt him and we did that,” Hakeem tells Anika. “Creedmore. That’s never going to be my company. I want Empire. “You are going to be a much better King now that you have to fight for it,” says Anika before introducing him to the concept of a hostile takeover.
Press conference for the concert. Oddly, Vernon tells Lucious that he doesn’t have the problem with Cookie he thinks he does–even after he watched her walk out of the Feds’ office. Rita Ora is Team Cookie and has pulled out of the concert. Hakeem tries to recruit Andre to help with the hostile takeover. He advises Hakeem to accept that Jamal won.
Lucious greets Michelle, who is all fake humble. He wants her out, front and center at the concert, singing one of his songs. He introduces Miss Patti Labelle, who announces that part of the proceeds of the show will go to Black Lives Matter. And that’ why Miss Patti is cast, basically to serve up a PSA.
A rapper, Black Rambo, interrupts the conference to say he ain’t singing at the concert if the company is run by a “fairy.” He claims every MC on the roster will leave, too. “Ain’t no place in this game for them bitches.” What to do about Black Rambo? Lucious wants to put out a statement denouncing homophobia and announcing Rambo’s departure from the label. Andre thinks Lucious should not take a bold stand. Alienate the base, and it will hurt the IPO. He wonders if Empire has become the cult of Jamal.
As Hakeem finishes up a haircut, Cookie grabs a broom. This time, she’s only sweeping up, though, rather than beating him upside the head. Cookie thinks Lucious should have given Empire to both Hakeem and Jamal. Oh, she’s working him. This is so disingenuous! He wants Empire, and Cookie vows to help him get it.
Rhonda packs up. She knows that Andre didn’t have sex with Michelle, but feels he cheated on her emotionally. “I don’t know what’s worse, that you left me for a phony,” says Rhonda, “Or that you conceded Empire to Jamal without even putting up a fight.” He calls Hakeem to say that he’s in on the takeover. Cut to a meeting of unlikely bedfellows: Andre, Hakeem, Anika and Cookie. The meeting quickly dissolves into a massive hair pulling bitch fight between Cookie and Anika. “Who’s boo boo kitty now bitch!” Cookie rips off her pearls. They wrestle on a pool table. Cookie chokes her, until the boys break them apart.
The ladies are going to have to cool it. Anika is necessary, because she has the connection to the capitalist who can put together the hostile takeover. Cookie agrees to work with the enemy to bring Lucious down.
Jamal shows up to Black Rambo’s show as he’s spitting a bunch of misogynistic crap. He wants to battle him. “You don’t want to do this son,” warns Rambo. But he insulted the wrong guy. He’s about to get his clock cleaned. “No time for no homos,” raps Black Rambo. “You rocking pink tutus and biker shorts.” Lame. Jamal is next. “So what I’m gay. It don’t matter. God didn’t make you no better than me. When I pray. He still answers…Your sin is no better than my sin…BITCH.” The crowd roars. He walks off. WINNING. No need for press releases now.
The group meets with the hostile takeover guy and his extremely untalented white rapper grandson, who comes with the deal. When the IPO goes public, the group will immediately buy a controlling share of the stock. In order to replace the board of directors, they have to ditch the CEO. The best way to do that is hit him with a good scandal. Lucious should have NO trouble supplying that.
Cookie meets with Vernon. She wants to know if Lucious really killed Bunkie. Vernon confirms, admitting the whole situation is what led to him using again. He explains that Lucious killed Bunkie, because he was shaking him down for millions of dollars and threatening to pull down the IPO. Cookie is crying. “Jamal is my everything. I can’t lose him.” Vernon advises that she talk to him and make it right.
Cookie stops by Jamal’s rehearsal. He confronts her. “All I ever wanted was for him to love me,” says Jamal about Lucious. “That’s all I ever wanted too,” says Cookie. She reminds him of that thing she said to him years ago in the visiting room. Flashback to Cookie telling a young Jamal, “I got you.” Jamal says, “I know you do.” But does she really if she takes the company away from him? Or does she have other plans up her sleeve? He wants to know if what she said about Lucious killing Bunkie is true. “That’s between him and the Lord baby.”
Vernon visits Andre to make amends. He insists that having Jamal running the company will work in their favor. Andre feels Vernon stabbed him in the back. “You’re just my dad’s dog.” Vernon throws a punch, and they begin fist fighting. Rhonda walks in on Vernon straddling Andre, throwing punch after punch. She hits him in the head with a candlestick. She’s back. She wants to fix this. They look over. VERNON IS DEAD. RHONA KILLED HIM. She doesn’t want to call the police. Because PREGNANT.
At the stock exchange, Lucious wants to wait for Vernon before they start trading for the day. When he doesn’t arrive, they carry on. “Maybe he fell off the wagon again,” snarks Andre. Rhonda smiles. Eep. Lucious pushes the green button as his life flashes before his eyes. Empire is now a publicly traded company.
It’s the concert, for real. Hakeem and Jamal perform “What the DJ Spins”, as Cookie watches from the audience. Juicy J and Michelle sing “Whatever Makes you Happy” next. It’s ALL THE CLASSIC SONGS from the Lucious Lyon catalog.
“What The DJ Says” from “Who I Am”
Whatever Makes You Happy
Jamal joins Lucious in his dressing room. “Dwight Walker,” Lucious confesses. That’s his real name. Cookie didn’t even know that. He became an orphan at 9. He created his blustery alter ego, because otherwise, he would not have survived the streets. It was kill or be killed. “I love you son. I always did. I know I did some terrible things to you. I was just scared. It’s hard enough growing up in this world as a black man. But then to be…homosexual.” Jamal tells him to stop. He understands.
In the middle of this heart to heart, there’s a knock on the door. It’s Agent Carter and the Feds, there to arrest Lucious for Bunkie’s murder. He’s confused. Why is Cookie’s parole officer arresting him? Oh. Cookie bursts in. “You’ll always be a ghetto rat,” he charges. She pleads. She didn’t rat him out. Of course, nobody believes it. Seventeen years for you Lucious! He turns around and tells Jamal to do THEIR song and kill it. Jamal palms his heart in solidarity. “That was between him and the Lord,” Jamal says to Cookie before he takes the stage to chants of “We want Lucious. We want Lucious.”
“I am the son of Lucious Lyon,” Jamal says. His father’s son. Finally. While the rest plot and plan against him. The season ends with everything upside down. Patti Labelle joins Jamal on stage to sing.
Meanwhile, no one can find Vernon. Agent Carter is keen on finding him because, HE WAS THE STAR WITNESS. Yep. Vernon ratted out Lucious. The stock is plummeting. Everyone is talking hostile takeover, says Becky. Lucious eyes Hakeem and Andre on the way out. He knows something is up. They got their scandal. Did they help the Feds nail Lucious?
‘Ya’ll think you got a plan,” says Lucious from his jail cell. “Think again.” We see Jamal continue to run Empire. Andre and Rhonda at an ultra sound. Hakeem records for Anika. Cookie, now queen of the castle, sets a picture of the family, the way it used to be, on top of the piano.
“The day will come when Lucious Lyon will return,” he vows from his jail cell. “GAME TIME BITCHES.” Fade. To. Black.