When the pilot episode of Empire aired January 7, 2015, audiences were immediately drawn into the drama of the Lyon family and their musical empire.
Terrence Howard plays Lucious Lyon, a rap and hip-hop icon who now owns and operates Empire, a label which handles big names and family members. As the series begins, Empire is on the verge of their initial IPO offering and Lucious has discovered he's ill. He must turn the company over to one of his three sons soon so that the legacy of the company will survive Lucious’ death.
The sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), each have reasons why they want to assume responsibility for the company. Rather than giving his son's the freedom to play to their strengths, Lucious sets them against one another and informs them that only one may assume control of Empire. It is Lucious’ approach to his sons that makes Empire both compelling and disturbing.
Andre has failed his father because he is a business man and not a performer. Lucious, who ran the company while being a successful artist, believes Empire must be headed by an artist. Despite Andre's obvious business acumen, he has to face his father's disappointment while he battles to take control of Empire.
Jamal is talented and driven, but has disappointed his father in a fundamental way. Lucious cannot accept that Jamal is gay and refuses to support his career if Jamal wants to come out. Jamal is forced to turn to his mother, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who accepts his sexual orientation and strives to promote his career in spite of Lucious.
Hakeem appears to be the favorite son and a shoe-in for taking over Empire. He's talented, straight, and as ruthless as Lucious, but his father is still disappointed in him. Lucious sees Hakeem as a spoiled child who hasn't had to work for his successes. He pushes Hakeem to create new and better songs, but tries to cut him off from his brother, Jamal, who is his best bet for collaborative success.
Lucious is ruthless and driven. He abuses his family, both physically and emotionally. He puts his business ahead of the people he claims to love. He is a reprehensible excuse for a father, and yet there are flashes of depth in him that keep audiences coming back to see what he'll do next. He believes that what he does is for the best, no matter who he hurts. He is convinced that only his way is the right way and so he sees nothing wrong with how he treats his family.
There will come a time in the progression of the story that the writers of Empire will have to give Lucious a redeeming quality or audiences will lose all empathy for him. Until that time, however, audiences can continue to love to hate the man at the helm of Empire.
Empire airs on Fox Wednesday nights at 9pm Eastern.