Empire Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Pilot

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There's no way you've missed the previews for Empire if you have a television. The promotion has been relentless and I imagine the ratings will be reflective of that.

While people will tune in to Empire Season 1 Episode 1 just to see what all the hype is about, will they come back again? I'm going to go with a resounding yes. 

Almost all aspects of the pilot work. The characters are engaging (for the most part), the music is terrific and Taraji P. Henson is in it, so it's automatically getting bonus points for that. But even with all the positives, there were still a few things I could have lived without and I'll be curious to see if these are things relegated to the pilot or if they'll become a regular fixture on the show. 

Before we get to the few negatives, let's delve into the positives. And there are plenty.

Lucious Lyon is the main man on Empire. He's a former drug dealer, turned recording artist, turned record label owner who's at the point in his life where's he's on a first name basis with President Obama and ready to take his company public. So he's truly living the dream, until he learns that he has ALS and only a few years to live. 

There's no emotional breakdown or a scene in which Lucious tells his loved ones the devastating news. Instead it's pretty much business as usual, except he calls his three sons home to let them know they will be engaging in a fight to the death to assume leadership of the company once he's gone. 

Okay, it's clearly not that dramatic but this promise of a competition between the brothers is going to get ugly. You can just feel it. 

The three brothers couldn't be more different and one of my favorite aspects of the pilot was getting to know them better. 

Andre is the eldest brother who went to college, has a gorgeous wife and isn't musically inclined. Middle brother Jamal is the very talented singer/songwriter of the bunch who also happens to be gay. And this is a fact his father is unwilling to accept. 

Lastly is daddy's favorite Hakeem, the wannabe rapper looking to follow in the footsteps of his famous pops. 

Jamal and Hakeem have a deep connection and their scenes together were great. It seems like Andre is kind of on the outside looking in and it'll be interesting to see how this fight for power pits the brothers against one another. 

Like I said, it's going to get ugly, especially with the return of the boys mother, Cookie.

Side note, I LOVE Taraji P. Henson. I think she's one of the most underrated actresses out there and I've missed her terribly on my television screen (R.I.P. Joss Carter). Welcome back, Taraji!

To say she brings it as the abrasive, inappropriate, vengeful former Mrs. Lyon is the understatement of the century. She is the absolute best part of the premiere, as she works feverishly to restore her relationships with the boys and grab a piece of the Empire Entertainment pie after being in being prison for 17 years. 

Although Cookie is a powerhouse, she's not without her faults. While she seems to have a bond with Jamal, she has zero connection to Hakeem and I can't figure her and Andre out at all. Are they close? Is he playing her? It's hard to tell. 

One of the negatives that I mentioned earlier, for me at least, were the flashbacks. I don't think we needed a flashback to figure out that Lucious is homophobic. And I don't think we needed to see the aftermath of the drug deal that would bring Cookie down. 

But the one flashback I did love was the one between a young Jamal and Cookie in prison.

Listen to me, you different, okay? It's only something mama knows but it's going to make life real hard for you sometimes. But I want you to always remember, I got you. You hear me?

Cookie [to Jamal]

Cookie is wildly brash, but she loves her sons. And now that she's Jamal's manager, determined to make her gay son the face of the label, how will this affect her and the other boys? Time will tell. 

Another thing I didn't love so much was the reveal that Lucious is a killer. And not like a hire a hitman kind of killer. No,he's a full on walk straight up to a man you've known your whole like and shoot him point blank in the head kind of killer. 

I understand yes man Bunkie was getting a little mouthy and blackmaily, but the savagery just struck me and I didn't know how to react. Am I intrigued to see how this plays out? Yes. Did I need another reason to think Lucious was a creep? No. 

Bottom line, neither Lucious nor Cookie are winning any parent of the year (or decent human being) awards anytime soon. But I still want to see how these newly reunited parents deal with their sons and the power struggle that's getting ready to emerge. 

Will anyone truly win when this is over?

Random Notes:

  • Gabourey Sidibe is Lucious's assistant, but she doesn't get much to do here. I hope her talents aren't wasted. 
  • The music is amazing. And the two men playing Jamal and Hakeem are sensational. 
  • Anyone else think the language was a bit strong or do I need to grow up? I'm thinking the latter. 
  • The first time Terrence Howard and Taraji appeared on screen together, I immediately started humming "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp".
  • TARAJI P. HENSON!!!!!!

I am 100% on board for this ride, what about you guys? So much happens in the first episode of a series, so let's talk about anything I missed in the comments.

What worked for you? What didn't work? Which son do you think will take over? Will Lucious really die?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and remember to watch Empire online via TVFanatic anytime. 

NOTE: Empire Season 1 Episode 2 will be titled "Outspoken King" and air on Wednesday, January 14.

Pilot Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.8 / 5.0 (52 Votes)

Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Empire Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Cookie's coming home.


I started selling drugs when I was 9 years old in Philadelphia. I did it to feed myself. But it was the music that played in my head that kept me alive when I thought I was going to get shot. And it was the melodies that I dreamt about that keep me warm when I was sleeping in the streets.