Season 1, Episode 1
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Air date: January 7, 2015
Writers: Lee Daniels
Danny Strong
Director: Lee Daniels
Ep. Overall: 1
Premiere: 9.90 million viewers
The Outspoken King
"I started selling drugs when I was nine years old in Philadelphia. I did it to feed myself. But it was the music that played in my head that kept me alive when I thought I was gonna get shot. And it was the melodies that I dreamt about that kept me warm while I was sleeping in the streets. You see, music saved my life."
Lucious Lyon

"Pilot" is the first episode of the first season of Empire. It first aired on January 7, 2015.


EMPIRE is a powerful new drama that follows LUCIOUS LYON (Terrence Howard) the head of a music empire whose reign has been unchallenged for years. But all that changes when he learns he has a disease and must choose one of his three sons to take over: ANDRE (Trai Byers), JAMAL (Jussie Smollett) or HAKEEM (acting newcomer Bryshere Gray, a.k.a. Yazz The Greatest). Complicating matters is their mother and Lucious' ex-wife, COOKIE (Taraji P. Henson), who emerges from prison to claim her share.


Lucious helps Veronica to truly feel what she is singing.

The episode introduces Lucious Lyon, the CEO and founder of Empire Entertainment, watching his artist, Veronica, perform What Is LoveAfter numerously telling Veronica to perform with emotion, Lucious flashes back with concern with his health, foreshadowing his diagnosis with ALS. Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, Hakeem Lyon, the youngest, fame-hungry rapper, and Jamal Lyon, the musically talented singer, are introduced while performing ("Live In The Moment") as the eldest, Andre Lyon, and his wife Rhonda Lyon, look on from above.

Jamal and Hakeem singtogether.

After telling his assistant, Becky Williams to cancel his meetings and send his sons to his home, Lucious announces that Empire Entertainment is officially a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Even though the company is evolving successfully, Lucious hopes that his three sons, including Andre, the current CFO, will vie for his throne as CEO of Empire Entertainment after his possible death, which is not known to any of the sons. Meanwhile, Lucious' ex-wife, Cookie Lyon, has been freed from prison after serving 17 years.

Andre is very determined to be allotted the leadership of Empire Entertainment, believing that he is the most qualified because of his academic and educational success. Meanwhile, Lucious is shocked after discovering that Cookie is out of prison, and he tells Bunkie Williams, his longtime friend and Cookie's closest cousin, to try to keep an eye on her.

In Jamal's loft, he and Michael Sanchez, his roommate and boyfriend, discuss his role in the Empire Entertainment. Because Jamal is gay, he doubts that he would be relinquished the legacy because black homophobia exists in the community. Besides encouragement from Michael, Jamal doesn't care for the role because of his distant relationship with his father, Lucious. After Jamal and Michael share a kiss, Jamal gets an unexpected phone call from Cookie, demanding him to let her in. A flashback shows a younger Jamal visiting Cookie in jail, and it is implied that Cookie is supportive of Jamal and who he is, despite Lucious' intentions to toughen him up.

Jamal is pleasantly surprised when Cookie shows up at his place.

Jamal rushes quickly to prepare for Cookie's entrance, and gives her a warm welcome, despite the fact that she doesn't know about his relationship with Michael. When Jamal tries to give Cookie hospitality, and questions what she will do after being out of prison, Cookie replies, "I'm here to get what's mine." Cookie enters the Empire Entertainment company in hopes of reuniting with Lucious after 17 years. Cookie confronts Lucious when he refuses to give her half of the company and make her head of A&R because she gave her $400,000 of dope money to the company. The two make a fair deal, at first, to give her $3 million a year, although Lucious's girlfriend has the spot for head of A&R. Soon after, Cookie reunites with her estranged son, Hakeem, who doesn't seem fond of her return. After telling Hakeem that she sacrificed for him and his brothers, Hakeem disrespects her, calling her a bitch. Cookie retaliates by hitting him repeatedly with a broom and demanding respect.

After Hakeem had a little run in with his mother, his father has a talk with him.

Later that night, at the grand opening of Empire's newest night club, Lucious and Hakeem are conversing, as Lucious briefly defends Cookie in terms of her bad relationship with Hakeem. Lucious convinces him to get himself together and work on new material he created for him.

The next day, Cookie spots and enters Bunkie's car, realizing that he has changed drastically, but also knowing that he's spying on Cookie. Bunkie feels neglected and pushed aside by Lucious. Also, he warns Cookie about Lucious's behavior.

Meanwhile, Jamal is contacted by Lucious for a meeting at Empire Entertainment, where Lucious wants Jamal to release an album. However, Jamal doesn't want to release an album because he knows that gay singers in the industry won't be as successful, yet Lucious believes that his sexuality is a choice. Another flashback depicts Lucious's life before his major success, and his relationship with Cookie. A younger Jamal is shown dressing in women's clothing, and showing it to his family downstairs. Lucious becomes enraged and pulls Jamal outdoors.

Andre begins his play for the company by getting close to Cookie.

Andre, meanwhile, more focused on becoming the head of the company, gets encouragement from his wife, Rhonda Lyon, on manipulating his way to the top. By coercing Cookie to make Jamal her protégé while Lucious manages Hakeem, he'd succeed in putting them against each other. Much to this planned idea, Andre arrives at Cookie's new apartment to discuss persuading Cookie to be Jamal's manager, and Cookie agrees.

Cookie abruptly arrives to a meeting at Empire Entertainment to force Lucious to relinquish Jamal to her. Lucious refuses to do this at first hand, alongside his partner, Vernon Turner. Cookie attempts to blackmail him, by disclosing that she paid $400,000 of drug money to the company. After Lucious decides to let Jamal go, responding that he didn't want him anyway, Cookie responds, "I know," hinting of his homophobia against Jamal.

Jamal performs at a nightclub with Michael and Becky in the audience, singing Good Enough in dedication to his father and their estranged relationship. The previous flashback continues with Lucious throwing a young Jamal in the trashcan. Cookie stops him, defending Jamal and calling him crazy for what he did. Cookie arrives during his performance in hopes of convincing Jamal to be managed by her. Hoping for Jamal to have a bigger audience and popularity, Jamal declines.

After a late night, Hakeem has a hard time in the studio.

Hakeem struggles performing a song that Lucious wrote for him, due to him being hungover, he vents to Jamal that he feels that he lost his confidence. Jamal creates a song for him, which is Right There and Hakeem agrees to perform it. Bunkie arrives at Lucious' house, demanding that he is given three million dollars, although Lucious refuses to because he doesn't think Bunkie is responsible enough. Bunkie pulls out a gun afterwards.

When Hakeem performs Right There in the studio, Lucious praises his performance, but doesn't praise Jamal for his help. Much to Jamal's dismay, he decides to allow Cookie to manage him, and he agrees to come out as gay. Cookie is ecstatic for this, believing this will infuriate Lucious, who has just received information on his diagnosis with ALS, a rare disease impossible for a cure. He will most likely have three years to live. Another flashback occurs that leads to the result of Cookie being arrested. After Cookie arrives back in a car, giving Lucious $400,000 of money, she feels unsure of what may happen because something seemed awkward about the drop. She wants Lucious to promise her that he continues to make music. Afterwards, the result goes to Cookie receiving all rights to Jamal's career, while Vernon believes that Andre has the potential to run the company, hoping he will take part.

Lucious kills Bunkie.

After pictures are taken of Bunkie, who is close to a person named Shyne Johnson, he's considered a dangerous asset to Lucious, forcing him to confront him for it. Bunkie downgrades Lucious for his success, saying that he's a sellout. He asks Lucious for three million for Shyne, and Lucious murders Bunkie, shooting him in the eye.

Lucious and Cookie continue talking about Jamal. Lucious believes that he will never be a star and Hakeem will, but Cookie is determined to make Jamal just as successful. At the end of the episode, Lucious congratulates Hakeem and Jamal on their new albums, offering a toast in a room filled with tension.


Main Cast

Guest Cast


Song Title Performer(s)
What Is Love Veronica
Live In The Moment Hakeem Lyon and Jamal Lyon
Good Enough Jamal Lyon
Right There Hakeem Lyon

Major/Highlighted Events

  • Lucious Lyon, the founder and CEO of highly successful multi-million dollar record label Empire Entertainment, finds out that he has ALS and only three years left to live. He decides to pit his three sons against one another, and crown the "victor" as his successor.
    • Andre Lyon is Lucious' eldest son, and the current CFO of Empire, handling all the major financial aspects for the company. Unlike his two brothers, who have a high school education, Andre went to college and even did his Masters at the Wharton School and has an MBA in Business. Andre believes he is the most qualified to lead the company; however, he possesses no musical talent whatsoever, a requirement his father believes that the CEO of a record label should have. Regardless, Andre decides to prove to his father that he is the best candidate to succeed Lucious as CEO.
    • Jamal Lyon is Lucious' second son, and the middle child. Jamal is the most talented over his two brothers, possessing not only a singing voice that outshines Lucious', but the ability to compose and arrange music of his own. Although he is the most prime choice to succeed Lucious, Lucious does not like him because he is gay, something Lucious believes is Jamal's choice and not something Jamal was born with. However, he still keeps Jamal in mind as a possible candidate, should Hakeem and Andre fail to meet his requirements.
    • Hakeem Lyon is the third and last of Lucious' sons. Unlike his two brothers, Hakeem was born in a wealthy environment, as his father had become a successful artist before Hakeem could walk, as compared to his two older brothers who spent the first part of their childhood growing up in the ghettos. As a result of this, Hakeem is spoiled, rude and obnoxious. However, he possesses a talent for rapping, as well as the image and dedication of a future aspiring hip hop and rap star. As he is musically talented and not a homosexual, Lucious believes Hakeem is his true successor, and planned to hand the company over to him one day. However, with Lucious' lifespan shortened down to just three years, Lucious decides to consider his other two sons as candidates should Hakeem not live up to his potential. Despite this, he decides to use his last years to mold Hakeem into another version of him and as the true successor to Empire Entertainment.
  • Cookie Lyon, Lucious' ex-wife and the mother of his three sons, is released from prison after 17 years.
  • Lucious kills his longtime friend and confidante, Bunkie, after Bunkie attempts to extort him for millions and threatens to burn down his empire if he did not comply.


  • The series premiere was watched by 9.90 million viewers with a 3.8 rating.
  • Empire tied with How To Get Away With Murder as the highest rated television series premiere of 2014-15.
  • The scene where young Jamal is thrown into the trash is based on a real incident that happened to co-creator Lee Daniels. When they were shooting the scene, Daniels got choked up and started crying. His sister, who was on set that day and witnessed the real incident, directed Genis Wooten's performance for the rest of the scene.


Bunkie: [to Lucious] You can fool this country you legit, but I know you ain't nothing but a punk ass gangster.
Cookie: I just want you to know, everything I did was for you and your brothers. I ended up where I ended up for you and your brothers.
Hakeem: Do you want a medal, bitch?
Cookie: [to Jamal] Listen to me, you different, okay? It's only something mama knows but it's going to make life real hard for you sometimes. But I want you to always remember, I got you. You hear me?


Season One
Pilot The Outspoken King The Devil Quotes Scripture False Imposition Dangerous Bonds Out, Damned Spot Our Dancing Days The Lyon's Roar Unto the Breach Sins of the Father Die But Once Who I Am
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