“We? You mean me. This is mine. I built this.” — Lucious Lyon.
Lucious Lyon isn’t a good person, but he’s the head of the Lyon family and the founder of the family business. This one contradiction is the source of most of Empire’s dramatic tension. Lucious can afford to mistreat his sons, and to ignore his ex-wife’s advice, because he’s the source of it all. He’s the king, and this is his empire.
But as “Sins of the Father” makes clear, Lucious didn’t do that much more than anyone else to make the business happen. Cookie put up the money (and went to jail for it); Vernon keeps the books; the IPO was Andre’s idea; and Jamal and Hakeem have more than enough talent between the two of them. Lucious imagines that he has the right to make everyone’s business his own because he’s the Lyon family’s father figure, but as tonight’s episode makes clear, he has no right to that privilege. “Sins of the Father” is as much an adrenaline-filled thrill ride—like any Empire episode—as it is a takedown of the patriarchy, a big middle finger to the powerful men like Lucious who see everyone else’s work as secondary to their own.
To that point, Empire simply turns to reveal all the ways that people who aren’t Lucious work just as hard, or harder, than he does, without as many of the privileges. The show’s developed a Glee-like sympathy for the marginalized, though it’s less interested in asking for sympathy. Instead, Empire likes to prove that the people who tend to be (wrongly) written off are often the most resilient and even powerful. Through a lot of hard work, Lucious has secured some recognition in the eyes of the business world (another entity with an ever less sympathetic way of dealing with people from outside its borders), but he has little ability to recognize how his rules can be just as damaging as anyone else’s. If you want a better model, look to Cookie and Jamal, two characters whom Empire celebrates for their ability to break through glass ceilings and to be open-minded about the ways those ceilings might be at different heights for other people.
To that point, tonight’s episode opens with the Lyon family gathered at a medical clinic to help Andre. A team of therapists—including Michelle White (Jennifer Hudson)—talks the family through the possible ways to treat Andre’s bipolar disorder, which flared up last week. Lucious’ seat is empty. In a flashback, we learn that he was a lot more interested his career—a.k.a. in singing with Mary J. Blige—than he was in supporting his son when Andre first had a breakdown in college. Then, as now, Lucious refused to let anyone tell him his son had a mental illness. He thinks Andre has the ability to will it away.
Still, Empire takes Andre’s mental illness seriously. These are not, as Cookie initially claims, “white people problems.” As a result, Andre’s becoming better defined as a character. After witnessing the kind of verbal abuse Lucious leveled at him and Rhonda, even in the early days of their relationship, it’s easier to understand how the two could develop such a grudge against him and become so obsessed with running the company. There’s a discrepancy between the humorous way the pair was introduced earlier in the season (see Rhonda’s blow job bib), and the seriousness with which the show takes them now, but even if Andre and Rhonda are less of a punch line, they’re a lot more interesting to watch. Also, in treatment, Andre gets a chance to listen to some predictably stunning belting from Michelle. It doesn’t cure Andre, so Michelle gets up close and personal and asks him to pray.
Back at his office, Lucious meets with Vernon to divvy up the Empire’s shares among the rest of the family. He has a plan to make things right with Cookie by giving her more control of the company, after which he expects her to want to get back with him. His plan to marry Cookie and then raise Lola (remember her? She’s Jamal’s daughter) together.
Little does Lucious know that Cookie’s not about to serve him any of her nookies right now because she’s starting a romance with Malcolm, the security guard. “I’ve been disloyal to my commander by falling for his wife,” Malcolm tells Cookie, as if he’s quoting the bodice ripping romance novels you just know she was reading in prison.
Hakeem, meanwhile, is planning to redo his look with the help of Camilla. He does his best Blue Steel for her camera, before bringing the collection of snapshots as well as Camilla to the big IPO meeting with mom and dad at Lucious’ mansion. Hakeem also takes the chance to perform one of his new songs for Lucious and Cookie, “Nothing But a Number,” an ode to dating older women. Cookie and Lucious are definitely not feeling the vibe.
After the performance, Lucious corners Camilla in his office and attempts to buy her away from Hakeem. Camilla refuses Lucious’ money, but he still has Malcolm escort her away from the premises and tells Hakeem that she did take his bribe. Lucious has found yet another way to mess up his sons’ relationships under the pretense that father knows best.
In other news, Jamal’s decided to give the bulk of his attention to his daughter, Lola, by writing a song just for her. He tells his director boyfriend, Ryan, that he wants to be a good father to his daughter, even if that means creating a wedge in their relationship (Ryan’s not into fatherhood, that would conflict with his whole vibe, which appears to center on filmmaking and having a cute accent).
Remember Olivia, Lola’s mother? She’s also back this week, and she brings her abusive boyfriend, Reg, in tow. Reg wants to use Olivia to get to Lola, so he maneuvers her into a meeting with Vernon, who’s feeling down in the dumps after Lucious left him hanging (emotional support- and fist bump-wise). Vernon’s also relapsed into cocaine usage. This means he’s all the more susceptible to Olivia and Reg’s entreaties, and so agrees to take them to Lucious’ mansion.
NEXT: Show down at the 18,000-square-foot mansion…