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From left to right: Andre, Cookie, Jamal, Hakeem. On the throne: Lucious.

"I want Empire to be here long after I'm gone. I need to start grooming a successor. And it can only be one of you."
Lucious Lyons, "Pilot"
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Empire is an American musical drama television series. Debuting on FOX on January 7, 2015, it's produced by Lee Daniels and features music composed by Timbaland. Pitched as The Lion in Winter at a record label.

The show centers around a hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama surrounding founder and successful rapper Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), and his three sons: business-minded but bipolar Andre (Trai Byers), who will do anything to depose his brothers and impress his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday); musically passionate Jamal (Jussie Smollett), the black sheep of the family thanks to his homosexuality, and aspiring rapper Hakeem (Bryshere Grey), Lucious' favorite because he takes after him the most. Wait, did we say that Lucious was the founder? Turns out that's actually his ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who's just been released from prison after taking the fall for Lucious during their drug running years and is hell-bent on reclaiming the company she believes is rightfully hers. Rounding out the cast is Vernon Turner (Malik Yoba), Lucious' business partner, and Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), Lucious' romantic partner.

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The show revolves around Lucious' life caving in after Cookie's release brings his past sins back to haunt him, as well as his diagnosis with ALS prompting him to determine which of his sons should inherit the company. The two parents begin pitting the children against each other in the hopes that their favorite will gain control, while Lucious tries to prevent Cookie from revealing the more sordid elements of his past to the public.

Has its own Character Sheet.


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Tropes found in Empire are:

  • Abusive Parents: Flashbacks have indicated that Lucious proves to be both physically and emotional abusive to his children, especially Jamal.
  • Alcohol-Induced Stupidity: In “Rise by Sin”, a drunken Carol shows up at the American Sound Awards, leaving Cookie reasonably pissed and ups the ante by blurting out to Freda that Lucious killed her father.
  • The Alibi: Andre invokes this whenever he needs to cover his father. One flashback reveals him hiding his father's gun in his box of Legos as the cops searched the house.
    Andre: That's what I do. I give my father alibis.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Olivia and Jamal. The former had always been aware that she is The Beard of the latter but she never resented him. In turn, Jamal seems appreciative of her sacrifice long after their divorce.
    • Lucious and Cookie try to be this at times for their own manipulative/selfish reasons. If things don't go their way, things get ugly quickly.
  • Analogy Backfire: Camilla refers to her and Hakeem as the new Antony and Cleopatra. When Hakeem repeats this to his family, Jamal immediately points out that their story was a tragedy where they both died.
  • And Starring: Taraji P. Henson.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • Naturally, lions are often associated with the Lyon family. A few references have been made to Daniel in the Lion's Den, and members of the family have been known to refer to themselves as Lyons in both ways.
    • Cookie is often seen in leopard print, an indication that while she is just as ruthless as Lucious, she is cut from a different cloth and isn't as much like him as she first appears to be.
  • Apron Matron: Cookie. As soon as she gets out of jail she has a larger than life, imposing presence and leads with a personality more forceful than a wrecking ball. Also motherly, caring, strict, and kind.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: A non-romantic example happens between Anika and Rhonda. Before their persumed final showdown, Rhonda confronts Anika by slapping her in the face.
  • Badass Decay: In-universe, Cookie has this opinion of Lucious.
    Cookie: I liked you better when you was a thug.
  • The Beard:
    • A mutual case between Hakeem and Tiana. For Hakeem, Tiana is a "proper" girlfriend close to his age as opposed to the much older Camilla. For Tiana, Hakeem is a man as opposed to her secret girlfriend. Interestingly, while Hakeem views the relationship as purely a PR move, Tiana genuinely likes him and is not opposed to polyamory.
    • Olivia served as this for Jamal, even marrying him at Lucious' behest, though the marriage was understandably short-lived.
  • Berserk Button: Even mentioning Freda's father with the wrong tone nets your passport a stamp for Hurtsville, USA.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: In public, the Lyons seem like the perfect family. In private is when the dysfunction begins.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Anika goes into labor with Bella just after Rhonda is killed.
  • Blackmail: Semi-subverted. In his bipolar state, Andre lets Lucious know somewhat quietly that he's aware of the latter's sole involvement in Bunkie's murder.
    Andre: Piece of business advice from that Wharton education you paid so handsomely for. You pick the one who knows you're a murderer!
  • Black Sheep: Initially Jamal due to his homosexuality, but later Hakeem and Andre fall out of favor with Lucious for different reasons. Slightly subverted in that Cookie has always accepted Jamal, she just wasn't around to protect him.
  • Book-Ends: The series premiere featured a character getting out of prison (Cookie), while the Season Finale features a character being imprisoned (Lucious).
  • Boom, Headshot!: Malcolm delivers this to Olivia's abusive boyfriend as he holds Cookie hostage.
  • Broken Aesop: Jamal's entire story arc for the first season suffers from this. Yes, the message that someone's sexuality doesn't matter is an important and valid one. However, it's sort of undermined when Jamal's homosexuality is his central character trait. This is rectified somewhat in season 2, when Jamal struggles to be recognized as an artist who happens to be gay, rather than simply a gay artist.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Generally applies to anyone who messes with anyone in the Lyon family, even its own members. The most egregious example has to be Bunkie showing up at Lucious' house demanding $3M at gunpoint. No wonder Lucious murders him at the end of the pilot.
  • But Not Too Black: Even if most of the show's cast is African American, all of the the main ensemble's skin tone is on the lighter end of the spectrum.
  • Casting Gag:
    • In 2009, there was a rumor floating around that Raven-Symoné was pregnant and had given birth to a child conceived with her long time friend Jussie Smollett.note  Cue her guest appearance as Jamal's ex-wife and the mother of a 5 year old girl whom her character claims he's sired.
    • This isn't the first time that Raven-Symoné has played a character named Olivia.
    • This isn't the first time that Annie Ilonzeh has played a character named "Harper."
    • Not Eka Darville's first outing as a gay character.
    • "Without A Country": The intense scenes between Terrence Howard and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges would give most fans that nostalgic feeling.
    • This wouldn't be the first time Officer McKnight (Ludacris) got pistol whipped.
    • Lucius' cellmate is played by Max Beesley, who costarred with Terrence Howard in Glitter. Doubly ironic, because in that movie, Howard's character is also a murderous music impresario, and Beesley played his murder victim.
  • Cat Fight: COOKIE VS. ANIKA! in part one of the season one finale. Safe to say it was evenly matched.
  • Character Development: The three brothers develop a great deal in the first season. Jamal stands up to his homophobic father and comes out the closet, comes into being a father himself, and starts dating a man who helps him grow. Hakeem starts being more forward with his music, starts to make amends with his mother, and gets serious with Camilla. Andre, however, over the course of the season slowly begins to break down: his marriage isn't as picture perfect as it seems, while his desire to run Empire, envy at his brothers, and refusal to take his meds result in a near suicide attempt and an eventual meltdown that lead to his hospitalization. After his hospitalization, he finds religion.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • When Cookie sleeps with Lucious a second time, it seems she is oblivious to Lucious's subsequent commitment to Anika. Turns out she no longer wanted to be with him anyway; it was mainly to show Anika that Lucious would still sleep around even after promising he wouldn't and get Anika to leave him for good.
    • When Lucious has Anika's father sign off on his clean bill of health, it seemed he made an honest mistake by not discussing it with Anika first. Several episodes later, he uses this to blackmail her into silence when she leaves him.
  • Color Motif:
    • The Lyons, Lucious especially, have an affinity for gold.
    • There are also certain color schemes for some individual members of the family: in the early episodes, Lucious is often seen wearing or surrounded by purple, which symbolizes royalty and power; Andre is heavily associated with black, is The Unfavorite due to his pursuit of business and education rather than music, hides Lucious' dirty laundry and gives him cover stories, and is the most emotionally turbulent member of the family due to his bipolar disorder; Jamal is often associated with white, symbolizing his status as the most moral brother; Hakeem is the Lyon who is most seen associated with gold, as he is the favored son ( at least, until the Season 1 finale) and often spoiled by Lucious (however, he's seen in black more when he and Jamal begin actively competing).
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Jamal makes use of this to come out in public.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Pretty much a given where Jamal is concerned, thanks to his homosexuality. Lucious wasn't too fond of Andre and Hakeem's main relationships either, going so far as to resort to subterfuge (for the former) and bribery (for the latter) in order to break them up from their respective lovers.
  • The Ditz: Carol has shades of this. Porsha is almost certainly this.
  • The Dreaded: Cookie considers Frank Gathers this.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Cookie believes in this. Andre feels like this as well.
  • The Dutiful Son: Andre, on the surface.
  • Easily Forgiven: How do you get your son to forgive you for approximately two decades of emotional and physical abuse directed at him due to his sexuality? Just acknowledge his musical talent and make him the heir to your company, thereby completely alienating his brothers in his stead in the name of what is obviously just a selfish business decision and not actual love. Apparently it all blows over pretty quickly. Guess Lucious really does know the value of family after all.
  • Evil vs. Evil:
    • The rivalry between Lucious and Barretti.
    • Season 2 has Lucious vs. District Attorney Roxanne Ford, and later Lucious vs. Camilla.
  • Expy:
    • Lucious is Jock Ewing, as both characters were founders of the company, patriarch of their families and strongly dislikes their middle child.
    • Andre is JR Ewing, both qualifies as the "Well Done, Son!" Guy and wants to take over the family business by any evil means necessary.
    • Jamal is Gary Ewing, both suffer from Middle Child Syndrome and are the The Un-Favourite to their fathers while the opposite to their mothers.
    • Hakeem is Bobby Ewing, as both are the youngest in their families, heavily spoiled and favorited by their fathers and disliked by their eldest brothers, competing for their father's respect.
    • Barretti is Cliff Barnes. Both men wants to destroy their main rival companies due to past conflicts.
  • Family Business: Music is a big thing for the Lyons.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Lucious kills Bunkie, setting off a steadily growing subplot underneath all the family drama.
  • Freudian Trio: The Lyon brothers.
    • Andre, strictly business and goal oriented (Superego).
    • Jamal, also goal oriented but much more "loose" than Andre (Ego).
    • Hakeem, young, reckless and mostly a pleasure-seeker (Id).
    • Alternate interpretations can put the amazingly talented and level headed Jamal as the Superego, and the practical yet volatile Andre as the Ego.
  • Foreshadowing: Lucious's nurse realizes that the former's double vision isn't usually associated with ALS. Turns out Lucious was misdiagnosed and had Myasthenia gravis.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Luscious tries to get Hakeem to accept Tiana's bisexuality by rationalizing it as Hakeem having two girlfriends.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • Hakeem’s video outburst goes viral and even though it wasn’t a publicity stunt, it resulted in press attendance for the opening night at Leviticus being quadrupled. However, the video and its impact still didn't sit well with Lucious and Cookie, because Hakeem, in said video, called Barack Obama a “sell out.”
    • At the White Party, Lucious asks Jamal to sing for himself and to "tell [his] truth through [his] music." So he comes out.
  • Hookers and Blow:
    • Jamal likens the potential cash incentives Empire is prepared to offer artists for staying loyal to this. Lucious is not moved.
    • Barretti is shown to have a party with this to try and get an artist to sign with him.
  • Hidden Depths: Anika initially seems like Lucious's new young bimbo, but actually holds her own in business quite well. Though she isn't very good with ghetto situations, in the office she is smart and has managed several high end artists for Empire. She also holds her own with Lucious, which not many men or women can do. She also has the strength to leave Lucious when she feels she is becoming a worse person. When she finds out about his ALS she takes it much better than his family members, looking after him instead of dwelling on its consequences for herself and ensuring they still turn up to work like nothing has happened. She also covers for him brilliantly when he is ill and can't make it to meetings.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: The season 5 premiere (picking up two years after the previous season) has Lucious and Cookie struggling to make ends meet and forced to sell off much of their rich belongings.
  • Humiliation Conga:
    • Cookie going to prison for seventeen years to make her family prosper, only to have to battle for their love and her share of the company that she created once she gets out.
    • In the Season 2 premiere, when Lucious learns that Frank Gathers is threatening Cookie and her sister from prison, he makes it a point to buy out his men against him, order them to give him a violent and painful death, and tell him that he'll sign his musician daughter onto Empire, and sleep with her at his leisure as a parting shot.
  • Hypocrite: After Lucious points out that Cookie has yet to visit him in prison, Jamal gives him a facial expression concerning this before Lucious catches on.
    Lucious: Okay. Payback for the past.
  • I Am A Humanitarian: Heavily implied Frank Gathers is one. There was blood stains on his napkin from the meat he was eating, which is likely from another inmate, and Cookie refers to him as "Idi Amin".
  • Is This Thing On?: When he proposes to Cookie on air, newly elected mayor Angelo talks to her backstage when she relates how she still has feelings for Lucious and kissed him. Angelo rants on how he broke the law for her, covering up a gun charge and parole violation as well as getting a guy out of jail for her. Angelo's mother bursts in to hiss "hot mic" as Angelo and Cookie realize too late that his mic had been knocked on and everyone in the studio just heard him confess to manipulating his campaign for Cookie.
  • Jacob and Esau: Lucious favors Hakeem while treating Jamal as The Un Favourite. Cookie, on the other hand, starts trying to launch Jamal's career, partly to get back at Lucious, while being at odds with Hakeem. Despite this, Hakeem and Jamal get along well with each other. It is also worth pointing out that Andre takes after his mother by being less of a musician and more business-minded.
  • Jerkass: The entire Lyon family are first seen as this. Even Jamal, of all people, has his tendencies, especially after his career starts gaining some traction.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Las Vegas Gaming Commissioner Charlotte Frost is implied to be racist, but the comments she makes toward Lucious and Cookie being black are only made in response to their comments and generalizations on her own background as a Hispanic Mormon.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • When the reporter at the Teen Choice Awards thoughtlessly introduces Hakeem as "The son of Lucious Lyon" without even bothering to give his name. Even Tiana calls her out on this despite still being angry with him about an unrelated issue.
    • Lucious does this Once an Episode.
  • Kingmaker Plot: Season 1 is basically this. Cookie wants Jamal to be the successor to Empire, while Lucious wants Hakeem and Vernon wants Andre.
  • Love Father, Love Son:
    • After ending her engagement with Lucious, due to his affair with Cookie, Anika sleeps with his son Hakeem to spite him which results in her getting pregnant with Hakeem's child.
    • After Jamal and Olivia's marriage ended and she had his child Lola, it's revealed that Lucious actually slept with Olivia before she and Jamal divorced, making Lola his half-sister instead of his daughter. It's later revealed that she's not actually related to the Lyons at all.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Anika/Lucious/Cookie.
    • Lucious/Anika/Hakeem.
    • Tiana/Hakeem/Anika.
    • Valentina/Hakeem/Tiana.
    • Hakeem/Tiana/India.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Subverted. Initially, it seemed as though Lucious didn't have problem with it, while Cookie thought Andre was an idiot for marrying a white girl. Jamal and Hakeem are fine with it, they just don't like them because they're both jerkasses. It turns out that this is reversed in terms of how Lucious and Cookie truly felt about the situation. While Cookie busted Andre's balls about marrying a white girl, she ultimately has no real problem with Rhonda. Lucious, on the other hand, despises her for this very reason.
  • Meaningful Echo: Cookie's management of Jamal and Lucious are quite similar. She even advises them using nearly the same words verbatim while in the studio. "It sounds like you're hiding inside the mix. You need to be riding above the mix." Also serves as a Call-Back to an earlier episode.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Frank Gathers according to Cookie.
    Cookie (to Agent Carter): Lady, men like Frank Gathers reach right from prison and drop people dead every day.
  • Missing Mom: Cookie was in prison for 17 years. Lucious couldn't bring himself to visit her, and eventually her sons stopped as well. When she returns, she's well aware that she's almost a stranger to them. This is especially the case for Hakeem, who was a baby when she was locked up. She's trying her hardest to reintegrate herself into their lives.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Anika and Cookie, respectively.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Freda's facial expression shows this reaction when she accidentally shoots Jamal instead of Lucious at the AS As.
  • Nepotism: As to be expected, Empire has this in spades.
  • Never My Fault: "Unto the Breach" heavily exemplifies this because Lucious blames Jamal for coming out at the White party in the prior episode, resulting in artists defecting to the rival record company Creedmoor, when it was obviously Lucious's philandering that caused Anika to jump to Beretti's side.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • We get two in a row in "Dangerous Bonds". First, Cookie testifies against a mob boss who killed an undercover FBI agent. Later, she finds a rose, his calling card, at her doorstep. Believing it to be from his top enforcer, Cookie hires her brother-in-law to take him out. She later finds out the rose was actually an anniversary gift from Lucious, leading to another moment when she tries in vain to cancel the hit and has a (relatively) innocent man killed and possibly making a new enemy if it comes back to her.
    • Lucious gets this in "The Lyon's Roar" when Jamal changes the lyrics to "You're So Beautiful" to include "This the kind of song that makes a man love a man."
  • Open Secret:
    • Andre's bipolar disorder. At first, it's implied that only Rhonda and Vernon, Andre's closest confidants, knew about it. Turns out the entire family (except Cookie due to her incarceration) was aware but swept it under the rug per Lucious' insistence. T
    • This is subverted concerning Bunkie's death. Andre and Vernon were the only ones who knew about Lucious's sole involvement. In the season finale, Cookie learns the truth and attempts to suffocate Lucious in his sleep in anger, and tells Jamal. Lucious is later arrested in his own legacy concert by the Feds after Vernon sold him out to them. By Season 2, the entire family knows full well that Lucious killed Bunkie as he awaits trial.
  • Parents as People: Lucious and Cookie are understandably not pleased with Hakeem and Camilla's relationship.
  • Playing Both Sides: With Lucious favoring Hakeem, and Cookie beginning to mentor Jamal, the entire family knows that eventually, the two brothers will be pitted against each other. With some inspiration and help from Rhonda, Andre promptly begins manipulating them both in order to make them destroy each other and ensure that he is the only son left to inherit Lucious' Empire.
  • Playing Gertrude: Taraji P. Henson is 44 years old, only 12 years older than the actors playing her sons.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • After Hakeem is filmed making an ass of himself in a gourmet restaurant and ranting about Barack Obama, Lucious quickly gets the President on the phone to try to defuse the situation, and Obama says something that causes Lucious to chide the President for his choice of language.
    • When Cookie visits Lucious' mansion for the first time, she's locked outside the gate and he briefly watches her on the security monitor. There's no audio, but her mouth is clearly yelling "OPEN THE MOTHAFUCKIN' GATE!"
    • Jamal shows up to a rap battle against Black Rambo, an artist who was verbally homophobic towards him earlier. Jamal ends up destroying Black Rambo with a heavily religiously themed song, and ends it with a pitch perfect "Bitch!"
  • Premortem One Liner: by Cookie's hitman: "SMELL THE ROSES!"
  • Rags to Riches: Lucious and his boys after his album dropped and he was able to get Empire Entertainment off the ground. This is double subverted with Cookie. She missed the rise of the Lyons because she was in prison and was never included. However, she's able to blackmail a significant sum and portion of the company from Lucious after she gets out.
  • Rated M for Manly: The reason for Lucious' homophobia. He isn't morally against it, as proven by his positive reaction to Tiana being bi, but is ashamed and embarrassed that his son is "another man's bitch." Even when Jamal comes out at Lucious' white party to a thunderous applause and positive news hype the next day and Cookie spells it out to Lucious that nobody has a problem with it, he is still too set in his ways to accept it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jamal's "Keep Your Money" was basically about Lucious. Even the latter recognizes the lyrical content.
    Lucious: You mean the three and a half-minute piece of crap that he keeps telling me to kiss his ass?
  • Recycled In Space: The Lion in Winter, but with hip hop.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After he gets clean once more, Vernon heads to Andre’s place and tries to apologize for betraying him. The two start to fight before the brawl only ends when Rhonda intervenes and hits Vernon over the head with a candlestick.
  • Replacement Flat Character: Black Rambo. Just as Lucious finally comes to accept Jamal's sexuality, and names him as heir to Empire Records, homophobic Rambo makes a scene at the press conference and says he refuses to work for a "battyman".note  While Jamal later earns a Crowning Moment of Awesome by shutting Rambo down in a freestyle battle, it's clear the character's purpose is to show how much Lucious had developed.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Lucious surprisingly votes against Andre to be interim CEO, and thinks Andre betrayed the family by marrying a white woman. While Andre has certainly been acting behind people's backs to further his own interests, it has less to do with Rhonda and more to do with his envy at his brothers' musical talent making them more favored in his father's eyes.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Lola's fear of the Scary Bird happens to be her mother's abusive ex-boyfriend Reg, who has tattoos of birds. Jamal picked up on it.
    • Lucious burns the photo of him hanging out with Bunkie and Vernon in his younger years, and throws it in the trash can. The camera then pans towards a statue of a lion crushing a snake on his desk, as both betrayed Lucious.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!!: Jamal's single, "You Can Keep Your Money," is essentially him saying this to Lucious after he and Michael go out on their own, preferring to make their own living rather than live off of a man who despises who they are.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: At least one applies to each family member:
    • Lucious: Greed.
    • Cookie: Wrath.
    • Andre: Envy.
    • Jamal: Pride.
    • Hakeem: Sloth.
      • Expanding beyond blood, Bunkie fits both Greed and Gluttony, while Tiana and Camilla each have Lust down to a science.
  • Shout-Out: During the scene where Jamal and Lucious compose the song "Nothing to Lose" together, Lucious throws this one in:
    Lucious: "Gotta throw a little country in it, WHOOP the trick!"
  • Singer Namedrop: Tiana and Hakeem tend to do this in their songs, with the latter often dropping names for other artists in collaborations.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: The doctor who claimed to have an experimental ALS medication from Russia that hadn't been approved by the FDA. Lucious suffers a bad reaction from this "medication" and has to go to the hospital, where a second doctor informs him that he was duped by a charlatan.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Hustle & Flow. Both works star Terrence Howard as a man trying (and failing) to give up an illegal life for hip-hop stardom and winding up in prison anyway. It can basically be considered the best sequel series Hustle and Flow could have possibly asked for.
  • Super Dickery: While Lucious freely acts like a dick throughout the show, one promo clip showed him saying to Jamal "The first rule of touring is you don't bring your girlfriend," while Jamal's boyfriend Michael is standing right there. But in the actual episode, Lucious is civil in Michael's presence and waits until he leaves before saying the line, then adds, "I'm sorry, boyfriend" at the end (though he could have been intentionally being a dick at that point). Also, it was genuine relationship advice rather than just being a homophobe.
  • Take a Third Option: In "True Love Never", Lucious tasks Andre with seducing an assistant district attorney so she'll drop the gang charges on Freda. Andre has two options: choose to do it and end up disgracing his newfound faith, or choose not to do it and get fired again. So, he uses said trope by blackmailing said district attorney, effectively ensuring a win-win for his faith and Empire.
  • Take That!: Two to 50 Cent, who produces the rival series Power:
    • At the Season two premiere when Cookie puts together a "Free Lucious Lyon" concert for celebrity publicity:
    Cookie: (To Hakeem) 50 Cent is still taking jabs at us. Look what he put on the 'gram. Thirsty ass...
    • And at 2x06 when Hakeem is kidnapped by a group of thugs:
    Gang member #1: We should've got the other brother, man. He's way more talented. Hakeem's the 50 cent to Jamal Lyon's dollar.
  • Tangled Family Tree: It's revealed that Lucious sleeps with Jamal's ex wife and impregnated her, thus making their child Lola Jamal's (as well as Andre and Hakeem's) half-sister.
  • Team Title: Technically "Family Business Title" but it fits anyway.
  • Tempting Fate:
    Lucious: He chose his fate.
    • When Lucious listened to Jamal's recorded cover of "You're So Beautiful," he joked to Cookie that their gay son singing "This the kinda song that makes a woman love a man" was unnatural coming from him. Well, guess how Jamal staged his coming out...
  • There Can Only Be One:
    • Only one of the Lyon boys can inherit the company.
    • Cookie and Anika take this stance regarding their love for Lucious.
  • This Means War!: Well, this sums up the episode "Unto the Breach". Lucious knows.
    Lucious: You draw blood!
  • Truth in Television:
    • Agent Harlow Carter stresses to Cookie that the reason grand jury proceedings are secret is to protect witnesses like her.
    • Frank Gathers killed a federal agent, which results in long-time imprisonment for such a crime.
    • Cookie was technically never a member of Empire's board of directors, because it's illegal for a convicted felon to serve on the board of a publicly-traded company. Lucious knew this when he let her on, knowing it would be his trump card against her should she get on his nerves.
    • What Cookie means by "she knows her rights", Agent Harlow Carter or any other Fed can't force her into testifying against Lucious for his involvement in Bunkie's murder.
    • Just like Empire probably will with Hakeem leaking out his album via online, many companies can and will file lawsuits if the same act were to occur in real life.
  • The Team: The Villain Protagonist Lyons family at the beginning of season 1.
    • Big Bad: Lucious, The Patriarch and founder and CEO of Empire Entertainment. He made his fortune as a rapper / singer in the 90s, and set the style for Empire.
    • The Dragon / Dark Mistress: Anika, head of A&R and Lucious' current lover who's always at his side.
    • Evil Genius: Andre, Lucious and Cookie's eldest child and Empire's CFO and the show's resident Manipulative Bastard and Chessmaster. Similar to how most Smart Guys are not good fighters, he's the only male Lyon who's not a good musician.
    • The Brute / Tagalong Kid: Hakeem, Lucious and Cookie's youngest child who is the least involved in the business outside of making fierce music.
    • The Heart / Token Good Teammate: Jamal, Lucious' and Cookie's second child. The most independent of the Lyon children, makes the most sensitive and stylish music. He rejects Luscious to earn respect by making it on his own.
    • The Dark Chick: Rhonda, Andre's wife and Empire's fashion editor. She's a Femme Fatale, and her quirk is being the only white person in the main cast.
    • Sixth Ranger: Cookie, Lucious' ex-wife and co-founder of Empire. While she's technically the real Dragon, she only "joined" the company after serving nearly two decades in prison. She forces her way into becoming Co-Dragons with Anika, with shades of The Starscream since she plans to groom Jamal to supplant Hakeem as Luscious' heir. It works but not in the way she expected in the Season 1 finale.
  • The Rival: Cookie and Anika are this to each other.
  • Token White: Rhonda. The only other prominent white character is Elle Dallas who is a Recurring Character. In season 2 corporate executive Mimi (Marissa Tomei) is introduced.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Andre in season 2. The other characters range from outright atheists (Lucious) to religious but not church-going (Cookie).

  • The Un Favourite: Jamal is this for Lucious due to Jamal's homosexuality. Hakeem is this for Cookie. In this case, it is a little more justified due to his hostility towards her. As everybody starts to make amends, though, Andre suddenly becomes this, being left out due to his lack of musical talent.
    • In season 2. it switches to Andre being the unfavorite because of his bipolar disorder and new Christian faith, and Hakeem being the un-favorite as well because he chose Cookie's new record label over Empire.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Lucious. Let's just list the examples by each person that he's pulled this on:
    • Cookie: Sells drugs with Lucious in order to get the money to begin Lucious' music career. Gets busted. Refuses to take a reduced sentence of five years in return for selling out Lucious, instead staying in prison for seventeen years. Is hardly visited by Lucious, divorced by him while still in prison. Has to fight to get her share of the company that she built, and has to deal with Lucious leading her on while he is still planning to marry Anika, the woman that he divorced Cookie for. Cookie is Humiliation Conga personified.
    • Andre: Protects Lucious' secrets since childhood, helps him expand Empire, and is the reason that it becomes a publicly trading company. Continues to support Lucious and his business, and is a huge part of Lucious keeping the number of artists that he did when others migrated to Creedmore. And what does he get? Complete negligence, unless Lucious needs something from him, the opportunity to watch the company that he kept alive go to Jamal, and emotional abuse due to his mental illness and his decision to educate himself and go into business instead of pursuing music like his father and brothers.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Andre and Rhonda are The Chessmaster and Lady Macbeth, respectively, yet they have possibly one of the strongest marriages on the show.
  • Un-person: This is how Hakeem treated Cookie, initially.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: At the beginning of the first season, Cookie is dead-set on getting back together with Lucious and tries to rekindle their love. Towards the end of the season, as Lucious realizes he does love her, she realizes he's a narcissist who hurts everyone close to him, and wants nothing to do with him.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Both Lucious and Cookie have a favored son that they want to be the next head of Empire.
    • In the second season, the favored son switches, with Hakeem joining Cookie on her new label and Jamal becoming Lucious' protege.
  • Wham Line:
    • A "Wham Lyric" when Jamal performs "You're So Beautiful" in public:
    "This the kind of song that makes a man love a man."
    • In the penultimate episode, a dizzy Lucious hallucinates Bunkie just as Cookie enters the room:
    "The hell are you doin' here? I killed you."
  • Whole Plot Reference:
    • The show is a reimagining of The Lion in Winter. An aging king Henry (Lucious) has to choose one of his sons as a successor while at the same time having to contend with the machinations of Eleanor (Cookie), his estranged wife who returns after being imprisoned for many years. Henry favours the youngest son John (Hakeem) while Eleanor favours the secretly gay Richard (Jamal). The third son Geoffrey (Andre) tries to manipulate everyone in the family so he is the one chosen to take over.
    • There's a little bit of King Lear thrown into the mix as well, as Lucious' sons can be seen as counterparts to Lear's three daughters competing for their father's affections and therefore the best part of the empire. Lucious himself can be seen as a reimagining of Lear. Jamal even points it out in the pilot.
    • And also Dynasty, albeit roughly. Patriarch (Blake/Lucious) whose ex-wife rolls into town and causes trouble (Alexis/Cookie). He has a younger second wife/fiancee (Krystle/Anika) who gets into catfights with the ex-wife. The oldest child is a promiscuous schemer who wants more responsibility with the company except Daddy ignores them for some reason (Fallon [woman]/Andre [not a musician]), and another child is unfavored for being gay (Steven/Jamal). Granted, this doesn't take into account the kids that were retconned into Dynasty later, but it's an apt comparison for the early seasons.
  • Worthy Opponent: Anika is this to Cookie! She even fared well against the latter in the highly anticipated catfight in the two-part season one finale.
  • You Just Told Me: Within earshot of Cookie, Lucious admits to killing Bunkie while talking in his sleep. She then attempts to suffocate him.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Lucious with many women, according to himself and Anika.
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