After its debut last winter, Fox’s hip-hop drama Empire became the toast of television, breaking a number of ratings records and becoming the biggest new series in a decade. While The Walking Dead still edges it out in total viewers, Empire is the biggest non-sports hit on network television.

But what if you didn’t catch the first season and don’t want to be left out of the conversation sure to ignite Twitter during its second-season premiere on Wednesday at 8pm EST? (UK viewers have to wait until 6 October on E4). Well, here is everything you need to know to catch up on the saga of the Lyon family, which runs Empire Records, the company at the centre of the show.

Meet the Lyons


Lucious (left): keeping an ear out for the main chance. Photograph: Fox
Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard):

Raised on the tough streets of Philadelphia, Lucious Lyon is a self-taught hip-hop musician who turned his gift for gangsta rap into a music and marketing corporation named Empire records. At the start of the show, Lucioius is diagnosed with ALS and only has a few years to live. He has to choose which one of his three sons is going to inherit the reins of the business after he’s gone. He’s also planning an IPO so that he can become even richer but has to keep his ill-health a secret so that the deal will go through. Imperious and spiteful, the hard-nosed Lucious has always ruled with an iron fist.

Empire's Cookie.

Empire’s Cookie.
Cookie: the star of the show. Photograph: Everett/Rex Shutterstock
Cookie Lyon (Taraji P Henson):

While Lucious may have founded the dynasty, Cookie is the real star of the show. She sold drugs to help fund Lucious’s early hip-hop career, giving him $30,000 to fund his first album and setting him on the road to success. This was the days before Kickstarter, obviously. However, Cookie’s illegal activity got her sent to jail. She told Lucious and her three sons not to visit her because she didn’t want any of them to pity her in prison. She gets out after 15 years by ratting out her former drug dealer and returns to her family demanding 50% of the company that she feels is rightfully hers. Cookie is always wearing something outrageous and has an attitude to match. She is quick to fight and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, usually insulting everyone on her way to get it.

The three sons (l-r): Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon, Bryshere Gray as Hakeem Lyon and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon.

The three sons (l-r): Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon, Bryshere Gray as Hakeem Lyon and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon. Photograph: Fox
The three sons Jamal Lyon,  Hakeem Lyon and  Andre Lyon. 
Andre Lyon (Trai Byers): The oldest and only non-musical offspring of Cookie and Lucious, Andre went to Wharton for his MBA. He’s the strait-laced, suit-wearing brother and CFO of the company who is always trying to get in his father’s good graces by doing the right thing. Andre is bipolar and when he doesn’t take his medication is prone to fits of mania and suicidal impulses. No one really likes Andre because he’s a bit of a whiny jerk.

Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett): The R&B singer and most talented songwriter, Jamal has the most strained relationship with his father because he is gay. As a child, Jamal once decided to wear high heels and a dress, and his father put him in a garbage can – a formative memory. When Cookie gets out of prison he’s her natural ally and she becomes his manager, determined to make him a star. That entails coming out of the closet, much to his father’s chagrin. Lucious cuts Jamal off, but he’s determined to make it on his own and moves into a crappy Brooklyn apartment with his Latino boyfriend Michael (Rafael de La Fuente).
Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y Gray): The youngest son and the best rapper of the group, Hakeem has all the swag and bad attitude you would expect from someone competing with Justin Bieber. Just a baby when Cookie went to jail, Hakeem hates his mother and resents the fact that she was never there for him. This also gave him tremendous mommy issues and a taste for older women, particularly fashion designer Camilla (Naomi Campbell – yes, that one). He and Jamal are the closest of the brothers and often help each other out in music and in life.

Rhonda Lyon (Kaitlin Doubleday): Andre’s wife and the only white member of the family, which means she never really fit in. Neither Cookie nor Lucious really like her even though she is just as ambitious as either of them and is always pushing Andre to take over the company. After he went off his meds their relationship was on the rocks until Rhonda told Andre she was pregnant at the end of season one.

Lucious and Anika sit tight.

Empire records employees – Lucious and Anika sit tight. Photograph: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett C
Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey): The head of A&R at the label, Anika was also engaged to Lucious at the start of season one. Naturally this makes her Cookie’s rival and the two hate each other (Cookie refuses to call her by name and instead derisively refers to her as “Boo-Boo Kitty”). Pretty and refined, Anika is from a privileged family and hasn’t experienced hard life of the streets like Lucious and Cookie. Anika and Lucious later break up as he rekindles his relationship with Cookie and she leaves for a rival record label.

Tiana (Serayah McNeill): Essentially the fake Rihanna, Tiana is one of Empire’s biggest stars. She and Hakeem fool around a bit and have a relationship in the press even though she would rather spend time with her girlfriend and Hakeem with his older lovers.

Becky Williams (Gabourey Sidibe): Lucious’s assistant at Empire knows everything about him and the business and tries to keep it all together even when shit is always going down. She’s also close with Jamal outside of the office.

Porsha (Ta’Rhonda Jones): Cookie’s idiotic assistant and constant source of comic relief, Porsha is inexplicably bad at her job, mostly because she was the only minion Cookie could afford before she got her cut of the company. The audience loves her, though everyone on the show (rightly) thinks she’s an embarrassment.

The story so far
The thing about Empire is that the story moves more frantically than the crowds trying to get a cheap TV at Walmart on Black Friday. People are falling in and out of favour, fortunes are made and broken in the span of an episode, and beefs are created and settled in between two commercial breaks. To make everything easier and less complicated, I’m only going to share the bits of story that are going to have a real impact on season two. Everything else (like Jamal’s secret love child with his ex-wife who turns out to be Lucious’s daughter) is incidental.

The real engine to the story is whether or not Lucious is going to be able to pull off the IPO and, once he does, who will inherit control of the company. The eventual winner is Jamal. Lucious has the most contentious relationship with Jamal because he doesn’t like having a gay son. After Jamal comes out publicly with no effect on his career, Lucious starts to make strides toward tolerating his orientation even if he can’t outright accept it. After making a great album and several hit singles without his father’s help, Lucious welcomes him back and makes him prove his loyalty by shaking down the head of a rival record label and securing the rights to Lucious’s back catalogue.

It also helps that both Andre and Hakeem more or less take themselves out of the running for the crown. Always seeking his father’s approval but never getting it because he’s not as musically gifted as his brothers, Andre goes off his meds thinking it will give him sharper focus. Instead, it puts him into a manic state and he has to be institutionalised. When coming out of the hospital, Andre finds solace in the church and takes up religion as a way of coping with his illness. He is ready to break up with Rhonda, but when Vernon, the family lawyer, and Andre gets in an intense fight, Rhonda accidentally kills Vernon to protect Andre. They hide the body, Rhonda tells him that she’s pregnant and they decide to stay together.


Role reversal: Cookie and Lucious in the pen. Photograph: Fox
Hakeem is pissed at Lucious because his father tries to pay off his older lover Camilla because he thinks she’s only after Hakeem for his money. She leaves town, but doesn’t take Lucious’s cheque. To get back at his father, he sleeps with Anika, his father’s ex-fiancee. It turns out they actually kind of like each other (mommy issues much?) and start dating.

Cookie and Lucious look like they are on their way to reconciliation and in the IPO Lucious is going to give Cookie the half of the company that she deserves. He is even going to marry her. However, he starts mumbling in his sleep that he killed Bunky, Cookie’s cousin and his old bodyguard who was blackmailing him. (See, I told you this show was crazy.) When Cookie finds out, she tries to smother Lucious with a pillow, but changes her mind. He sees this on a security videotape and decides to cut Cookie out entirely and have her thrown out of Empire records.

His entire family alienated, Lucious gives the business to Jamal, but it turns out it doesn’t really matter, because he never had ALS anyway. It was a mistake his doctors made. Oopsie!

Since Lucious has taken control for himself, Cookie, Andre, Hakeem and Anika decide they’re going to form a coalition and start a hostile takeover. Though none of them particularly get along, it’s all they can think of to best Lucious at his own game. However, in the season finale, Lucious is arrested for killing Bunky and is carted off to jail.

Cookie also has her own crime to worry about. Earlier in the season, we find out that she made a deal with federal prosecutors to turn evidence against Frank Gathers, the drug dealer she was working for, in order to have her sentence shortened. When Cookie finds a rose on her doorstep she thinks it’s from Gathers (the rose is his symbol) and that he is coming for her. She has her sister Carol, who still lives in Philly, hire some men to kill some of Gathers’s men before they can kill her. In the end it turns out the rose was from Lucious anyway and Cookie has commissioned the murder for nothing.

Season two starts with Lucious in jail, the company in disarray, and Jamal, formerly everyone’s favourite, trying to run the company all on his own while his father waits for a bail hearing. It’s going to be a pretty interesting year: aren’t you glad that you can now join in the fun?

Culled from

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