Empire stormed in this year with a mid-season premiere that kicked off one of the most successful first season runs in television history. After 12 episodes, a handful of big name cameos and more Cookie quotables than we know how to handle, Fox’s breakout hit and Twitter’s new favorite show wrapped up with a shocking, two-hour season finale that packed its last hour with an insane amount of cliffhangers. Lucious is sent to prison! Hakeem slept with Anika! Business partners murdered! Pregnant daughter-in-laws!
The double-stuffed episode was filled with romance, betrayal, murder and plenty of ridiculous songs — and viewers who had picked their jaws up off the floor were left to curse the fact that they now have to wait months before the show’s explosive second season brings back the drip-drop. As the wait begins, here’s what we learned from both the show’s first season and its heart-stopping swan song.
1. There will never be enough Cookie
Empire has given us many great things: “Drip Drop.” Courtney Love singing Al Green. A bib-assisted sex scene. Yet nothing compares to the gift that is one Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), the vengeful, over-the-top and oh-so-fabulous matriarch of the Lyon family who returns from a 17-year prison sentence to take back what’s hers. With her animal print outfits, bright red lips and a credo that can be summed up as “the higher the heels, the closer to God,” Cookie not only chewed up the scenery; the lady spit it right into Anika’s face. Though Henson has long been kicking ass on screens both big and small for years, Cookie is the first role to truly mine the actress’ superstar potential, giving her the perfect outlet to show off her abilities. From attempted murder to paving the way to a successful takeover, no one can handle the show’s over-the-top antics with as much vigor, venom and gentle care as Henson. Long may Cookie reign.
2. Empire may be as good for the music business as it is for television
Last night’s episode was packed with big-name recording-artist guest stars: Snoop Dogg, Juicy J, Rita Ora and Patti LaBelle all showed up as themselves and performed new songs as part of Empire showcases. While the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Courtney Love flexed their acting skills as fictional characters over the course of the season, the finale proved that the drama can be a great launch point for new singles. Snoop was able to promote his upcoming album Bush and even gave audiences a taste of his Pharrell-produced “Peaches N Cream“; he appeared under the guise that he had just joined the Empire Records family following a break from his label. Even actors like Jussie Smollett (Jamal) has found musical success through the show, having been signed by Columbia Records just last month. The show has made a name for itself by bringing shameless soap operatics back to primetime — and it might soon become famous for being a feasible site for music promotion and discovery as well.
3. Hakeem is the voice of our generation
After reluctantly being groomed for superstardom and used a pawn in the war between Lucious and Jamal, the favored son finally stands up for himself. He is not just the fictional rapper we want, he is the fictional rapper we need. Also, bring back “Drip Drop.” We want more “Drip Drop.” Give us our “Drip Drop”!!!
4. A primarily black cast doesn’t have to be geared for a niche market.
Long gone are the days where shows that feature a cast comprised of mostly non-white actors are marketed solely for a smaller audience of similarly non-white viewers. Following the success of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, as well as the growing popularity and critical favor for shows such as Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, the Fox hit’s wild, unmatched numbers prove that we have finally stepped out of television’s Dark Ages; viewers clearly no longer believe that all shows need a white lead to go anywhere. Empire not only provides the type of diversity TV fans have been craving, it also throws black issues into their faces with no apologies: Terrence Howard’s Lucious Lyon has never shied away from noting what his and his sons’ success means as black men coming from poor backgrounds, and Ms. LaBelle gave a shout to Black Lives Matter within her few speaking lines. Given its astounding, across-the-board success, the show makes it possible to embrace a dialogue about race on a fictional drama that airs on a major network and reaches a huge audience.
5. Nothing makes for better television than a family filled with potential villains.
Every member of the Lyon family has done something unforgivable, with Hakeem and Jamal on the lower end of the evil totem pole. But with devilish Lucious as the patriarch, what other choice do they have? It’s a family show built on the worst possible actions a family can do to hurt each other, with everyone driven by a sick and confusingly unconditional love. Over the course of the finale, it was delightfully impossible to keep up with who hated who, and how much, and why; the entire Lyon clan has slowly turned into a rotating cast of antagonists set on destroying everything they’ve built. (Because when others lose, it means you win in some twisted way.) Everything about Empire is juicy, Shakespearian and worthy of a few stressed-out screams directed at your television. Given the perfectly ridiculous last half-hour of the finale, Season Two is looking to be even more epic. There’s enough blood on everyone’s hands to fill their office’s fountain, and it’s ready to flood the Empire.