Empire Finale Recap: “Die But Once/Who I Am”
The “Empire” season one finale aired on Wednesday, with two back-to-back episodes featuring more twists, more music, and more drama than ever before. Here are the most important things to know about “Die But Once” and “Who I Am,” the 11th and 12th — and final — episodes of the first season.
“DIE BUT ONCE”
Lucious was struggling to write one last song for the “Cookie Lyon Presents The Lucious Lyon Sound,” his tribute concert that would be his final performance, timed to the IPO kickoff. Despite experiencing double vision, Lucious blew off his medication. As he kept looking for Cookie to be his inspiration, Lucious was furious when he received an injunction from rival Billy Barretti, trying to stop the show. At the same time, Cookie and Malcolm were on a romantic getaway, during which she revealed she’s never been with anyone but Lucious. And there was no love lost for her ex after his recent actions, and she exclaimed to Malcolm, “I wish he would just drop dead already!”
Hakeem was beyond angry with Lucious for extorting Camilla, though he didn’t know his she didn’t take the money. To get revenge, during a big Empire show with Snoop Dogg, Hakeem did a rap putting his father on blast: “They say he the king/Well I’m the prince/I’m gonna run the Empire/And leave with your b*tch/I’m gone.” After storming off stage, Lucious punched his son in the face. Meanwhile Jamal’s album was met with great success from fans and critics alike, but he continued to be shafted by his father. The hatred between them was mutual, however, after the revelation that Lucious had fathered Lola, whom Jamal thought was his. Despite that, he thought Hakeem’s actions were “harsh,” and would only hurt Empire and, by extension, them. But Hakeem didn’t care, and with no contract keeping him at Empire, he vowed to score his own record deal.
The next day, Cookie came back to the office to excitedly show her sister around, only to have security refuse to let her in. It led to a confrontation with Lucious, in which he revealed he knew about her and Malcolm. “You’re jealous after everything you’ve done? You’re sick!” she exclaimed to him. Lucious, accompanied by his lawyers, said she had no claim to Empire and revealed she wasn’t actually put on the board of directors, because she was a convicted felon. She promised to destroy him, and said, “Everyone’s just waiting for you to die, Lucious. You’re going to die a lonely man, just like you deserve.” Cookie was all the more disturbed later to find out that Malcolm wasn’t also fired, but he asked her to move to Washington, D.C. with him where he would take a new job. She tearfully turned him down, saying she couldn’t leave all that she worked for.
Andre bonded with his music therapist Michelle (Jennifer Hudson) at her church, unable to bring himself to go back to the Empire office in the wake of his breakdown. He later told Lucious to find a new CFO, and his father pleaded for him to stay with the company, even though he admitted he wouldn’t become CEO. Andre said he was finding a higher purpose through God, which Lucious belittled, saying there’s no higher power than music. Afterward, Lucious, still suffering from writer’s block, claimed to Jamal that he was in a different place in his life, and that he believed his son was the “future of Empire.” “I just need to know you got that monster in you,” he told his son, “who does what he has to do.” In an attempt to help Lucious with his creativity, Jamal took him to their old home, where Lucious made a homophobic remark and made reference to abusing him when he was little. After more back-and-forth jabs about their past, the two actually jammed together. As they created a powerful song together, the show flashed back to Lucious murdering someone. “That’s how you murder a song!” Lucious exclaimed afterward. Jamal, however, refused to let his father have the track as his own unless he brought Cookie back into the fold. Lucious countered that he wouldn’t agree unless Jamal helped get his masters back from Baretti, something necessary to keep Empire going.
Lucious later told Cookie he overreacted and that she could still produce the concert, but became distracted when he found out that Hakeem was at a party with with Barretti because he wanted to join Creedmoore. Jamal went to the bash, too, where he shockingly held Barretti over the edge of a balcony, demanding he sign over the masters. Lucious oversaw, and was pleased see this tough, scary side of his son. But immediately afterward, he found Hakeem hooking up with… Anika. Even more shockingly, during a meeting with his doctor the next day, Lucious found out he does NOT have ALS, but that the double vision proved he’s actually suffering from a less serious and treatable condition called myasthenia gravis. Initially angry, Lucious then broke into laughter, thrilled that he didn’t have a death sentence after all.
Keeping the news to himself, Lucious went to see Andre at church, asking him to come ring the bell at the stock exchange in honor of the IPO announcement, explaining he wanted both him and Jamal, but not Hakeem, there. After he refused, Lucious quickly realized the role Michelle was playing. “Let’s see who’s more powerful: your God, or your daddy,” he declared, before introducing himself to a star-struck Michelle and inviting her to record a gospel album with him. Andre angrily told her after she agreed, “My father is the devil. And you just spread your legs for him.” Later, after taking sleeping pills, Lucious hallucinated that Bunky was there, and after referencing murdering him, Lucious said he didn’t have ALS, wasn’t dying, and that his tribute concert would actually now be his comeback. Unbeknownst to him: Cookie was there and saw the whole thing. The episode ended with Cookie crying upon realizing Lucious had murdered her cousin and misled all of them… and going to suffocate the sleeping Lucious with a pillow.
WHO I AM
At the start of the next episode, it was revealed Cookie didn’t go through with it. Lucious was alive and well, and had summoned his sons. Calling it a “miracle,” he revealed his misdiagnosis and his “second chance at life,” before acknowledging the “harm” he had caused them. He gave gifts to each of them (see photo above): a gold chain and personal jet for Hakeem, a gold cross with the lion of Judah symbol for Andre, and a staff with a lion’s head for Jamal. Lucious apologized to each of them in turn, telling Hakeem he was wrong to control him and would fully support his album, telling Andre he was starting a Lyon Foundation with a $100 million grant, and telling Jamal Empire would one day be his, officially making him his successor. Cookie came in at the end, and faked her happiness that Lucious wasn’t dying. He had a gift for her, too: a little pillow.
Jamal was left feeling “like he really loves us,” but Andre and Hakeem were less than pleased, especially when Jamal said he wanted to delay Hakeem’s album. At rehearsal for the tribute-turned-comeback concert, as Rita Ora did a sound check, Cookie worried that Lucious was planning to get back at her. Sure enough, he summoned her to his office, where he revealed to Jamal that she tried to “murder” him, and that he had the security footage to prove it. Jamal was stunned to see the tape, and as security came to drag her out, Cookie began screaming that Lucious killed Bunky. As Cookie walked the streets crying, she was forced into a car by the prosecutor who had coerced her into testifying about the drug deal murder. It was revealed officials were now building a case against Lucious after hearing claims that he was Bunky’s killer, and they wanted her help by essentially testifying against him — the same proposition she rejected all those years ago, instead going to prison for 17 years. Her response: “Find yourself another snitch.” Lucious made peace with Vernon, and after asking him to look after Cookie, Vernon saw her exiting the prosecutor’s office, but just thought it was a routine meeting with her probation officer.
Hakeem told Anika that now that they succeeded in hurting Lucious, he wanted to stay with Empire and wouldn’t be signing to Creedmoore. Anika, however, convinced Hakeem to help stage a “hostile takeover,” but Andre said he wanted no part in it. At a press conference, Lucious was told Ora pulled out of the show because she was “Team Cookie,” and he started introducing Michelle around. After a Patti LaBelle cameo, Lucious was asked by a reporter how he’d handle a music career AND a public company, leading him to announce that Jamal would be succeeding him. Immediately after, an Empire rap artist named Black Rambo interrupted to hurl homophobic slurs and say that everyone should leave the company if Jamal was going to be in charge. At a crisis meeting afterward, Lucious wanted to release a statement supporting Jamal, which Andre thought would cost the company millions by “alienating” customers.
Cookie told Hakeem that she disagreed with Lucious’ decision, believing both Jamal AND him should be joint successors. She then asked Hakeem to join her in building her own company, after which he cryptically told her they don’t need to start from scratch. Meanwhile, Andre discovered Rhonda was leaving him, and he denied cheating with Michelle. She still felt betrayed by his opening up to Michelle (even though she was apparently now more interested in fame), and that he didn’t put up a fight after Lucious’ successor decision. Her leaving was enough to make Andre join Hakeem and Anika’s plan, which now involved Cookie, too. A full-on physical fight broke out between the two women, which culminated in Cookie trying to strangle her rival. Hakeem and Andre explained, however, that they need to work together, particularly because Anika had a connection: a millionaire known for taking over companies, who would buy into Empire to facilitate their hostile takeover.
Jamal confronted Black Rambo at an underground rap battle, where the rapper spit homophobic rhymes. Jamal responded by singing a powerful track homophobia and power that won over the crowd. Meanwhile, the next day, Cookie and crew pretended to like the millionaire’s grandson, as signing him as a white rapper was a requirement of getting his help. The man explained that together they needed to buy a controlling interest in the company, and needed to replace both the CEO and the board of directors. He would give $250 million, and if they could raise another $250 million and catch Lucious in a scandal, Empire would be theirs. A nervous Cookie went to see Vernon for advice, wanting to know if Lucious really did kill Bunky. Vernon confirmed it, and together they wondered how their lives all got so messed up. She cried that she was going to lose Jamal, but he promised she wouldn’t if she “made it right.”
Cookie then went to see Jamal at his concert rehearsal, and she told him to remember what she promised in prison when he was a little boy: “I got you.” He wanted to know if Lucious really did kill Bunky, but she only said, “That’s between him and the Lord.” Vernon went to Andre to convince him to make peace with his father, and after he refused, the two ended up brawling. Rhonda came in as Vernon was on top of Andre, and she used a metal candlestick to knock Vernon out… FATALLY. Andre immediately wanted to call 911, but Rhonda tearfully cried out that she couldn’t withstand a murder trial… because she’s pregnant. At the stock exchange the next day, everyone put on a united front, and Andre played dumb about Veron being MIA. With a push of a button, Empire officially became a publicly-traded company.
At the concert that night, Hakeem and Jamal performed together, and Michelle covered one of Lucious’ tracks joined by Juicy J. After Lucious sat backstage flashing back on his life, he told Jamal that Lucious Lyon isn’t his real name (it’s Dwight Walker), something Cookie didn’t even know, because he took on the Lyon persona after being orphaned as a child. He then told Jamal he loved him, and apologized for the “terrible things” he did, saying it was all out of fear over his growing up black AND “homosexual.” Just as Jamal said he was proud to see his father had a new perspective, the prosecutor came in with police and Lucious was arrested for Bunky’s murder. He screamed out to Cookie that she was a rat, which Jamal believed to be the case, even though viewers knew she never did talk to the police. As he was being dragged away, Lucious told Jamal to take the stage on his behalf and perform the song they wrote. He did, declaring to the crowd, “I am the son of Lucious Lyon,” and performing as the show flashed back on his life, before LaBelle came out to join him.
The news of the arrest hit before Lucious even left the building, leading the stock to start tanking. The prosecutor was dismayed when Vernon couldn’t be found, calling him her “star witness,” something Hakeem and Andre overheard. The show then flashed to Jamal in a board meeting, Andre and Rhonda at an ultrasound, Anika in the recording studio with Jamal, and Cookie wearing lingerie in Lucious’ home and putting up a family photo, clearly now the queen of the mansion. The episode ended with Lucious behind bars, and doing a voiceover: “You may think you’ve gotten away with it. This is only the beginning… The day will come when Lucious Lyon will return. Game time, bitches.”
And with that, the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking, ratings-smashing series, “Empire,” came to an end. TELL US: What did you think? Will you watch season two?