Cookie’s Appearance Vs. Reality in Empire


from:  Empire Episode 9: “The Lyons Roar”

It is unusual for me to keep up to date closely with a new show that has debut.

Empire is an exception to my rules. Since the debut of this show, I have not missed one episode.

Folks, it is not just that good, but it is the hottest show on nighttime television.

With a mixture of old school nighttime and daytime soapiness with a literary edge, collide with a 21st century cultural perspective, Empire has stolen my heart.

The Lyons are the ultimate Shakespearean hip hop family. Along with that, we got Godfather elements surrounding the family, their friends, acquaintances, and business associates.

Luscious and Cookie Lyons started Empire in the beginning days when they were drug dealers. Cookie made the drugs runs and handle their end of business while Luscious continued to create and produce his music.

As illegal matters always does, it catches up to the Lyons. Cookie is sentenced to do time in jail for 25 years; however, she gets out in 17 years by making a deal with the Feds to snitch on the drug dealer who supplied the drugs to her.

Meanwhile, Luscious discovers that he’s dying of ALS. He decides to gather his sons and tell them (not about the ASL yet) that he needs one of them to take over Empire.

Viewers begin to understand the Lyons family in this fourteen episode arch (three episodes are left after yesterday’s aired show). You have a successful family because of Luscious and Cookie, but it is a broken family as well when Cookie went to jail to pay the price so that Luscious, Jamal, Hakeem, and Andre could revel in the fruits of what Cookie and Luscious have built.

Andre is the oldest son who doesn’t fit in with the family’s musical talent dynamic. He’s a book smart business man who attended college and went to business school. He helps run Empire with his dad, but Luscious doesn’t see Andre taking over. Andre also has bipolar disorder and is married to Rhonda who is his college sweetheart.

Jamal is the middle child who is extremely talented. He’s the heart of the Lyons family because he not only has the music talent like his father but the suave like his mother. He’s the best of Luscious and Cookie. However, Jamal is very close to Cookie because he continued to visit her while she was doing her 17 year stint in prison. Cookie also accepts that Jamal is gay. Jamal and Luscious are not close because Luscious cannot accept that Jamal is gay like Cookie.

Then, you have Hakeem, the youngest son. Hakeem is very talented musician. His talents are he’s a skilled rapper while Jamal’s talents lie within in more of him being a jazz and R&B musician. However, Luscious wants Hakeem to take over the Empire because Luscious and Hakeem are similar in the fact that Luscious is about appearances…and Hakeem has star quality magnetism.  Hakeem is not close to Cookie because she was away from him for 17 years. Hakeem has a difficult time getting along with Cookie because they don’t know each other.

Last night’s episode 9, “The Lyon’s Roar” starts to make the picture clearer about who the Lyons are. As the episode’s title indicates, the Lyon’s do roar…and for me, this is my favorite episode out of all three episodes (episode 8, “Our Dancing Days”) that are left.

What we discover in “Our Dancing Days,” is that Luscious can no longer hide his illness and has to tell his family that he has ALS. Once he tells Cookie and the boys, the pressure that has been building from all is released. Andre cannot handle his father’s prognosis and literally falls apart when he returns home. Rhonda, his wife, finds him continuously breaking down in their shower. Meanwhile, Jamal and Hakeem come together so they can help their father deal with his disease.

Once Jamal and Hakeem leave the room by their father’s request, Luscious tends to Cookie as she is shocked by his admission. The sparks fly, and they ended up sleeping together as Anika, Luscious’ s fiancée, discovers them.

Last night episode picks up where it leaves. After Luscious’ s and Cookie’s sex rumble, Cookie lets Luscious know about two matters:
1-No more “Nookie Cookie” until Luscious ends it with fake ass Halle Berry.
2-Cookie wants Luscious to make a legacy album with Hakeem and Jamal.

These two requests should have happened, but they don’t. Reasons being: the characters’ flaws.

First and foremost, Anika meets with Luscious, and she tells him two important matters:

1-She knows about him getting her father to commit fraud concerning his health (in episode 5, “Dangerous Bonds”) due to taking out an insurance policy so he can continue with the IPO.

2-She tells him that she saw him “screwing Cookie.”

Luscious asks Anika how can he make it up to her. Well, she wants to get married pronto. Luscious succumbs and puts it off that he wants to marry her the weekend after.

As always, Luscious misleads the women in his life, of course. He gets down and dirty with Cookie again. When the white party happens, he explains to Cookie he was weak and had a slip when he slept with her twice. Cookie throws deserve crow in his face about him being heartless.

Yet, ex-Mrs. Lyons ain’t through yet when she throws readymade shade in Anika’s face and tells her that Luscious got down and dirty with her again.

So, as Cookie calls her, “Boo Boo Kitty” heads to the enemy and sleeps with him.

Anyway, the episode is so damn good because 1) Danny Strong (the writer and co-creator) and Lee Daniels (the director and co-creator) makes you see what it would be like if the Lyon’s family as reunited. In this brilliant episode, viewers see that each of the Lyons (with exception of Andre…which I want to talk about him later because I sympathize with him a lot as being the oldest in my family) are a very related to each other.

The earliest scene we see is when Jamal and Hakeem are in the studio recording together while Luscious and Cookie are producing the sound. Jamal asks Luscious and Cookie to join him and Hakeem as all four of them sing…and in that moment, viewers see what makes the Lyons…the Lyons. They really are able to ROAR like any other family. It is a sweet fairy tale moment because you get a taste of what they can be.

However, life gets in the way as each Lyons have their own agenda. What really hurts is how Andre, the oldest son, is pushed to the side. It was difficult for me, at first, to relate to this character. We should have a lot in common, right, since I am the oldest child. Yet, looking back on it, Andre and I do have a lot in common.

When your birth order is the oldest, it means so many things. You are the first to get everything typically. I was the first to get goo goo eyed over. I was the first to be flooded with love. I was the first to be adored. Yet, when other siblings start marching onto the scene, your adoration time is pretty much over with.

You become the guardian. The smart one. The one who is responsible and who is accountable for everything. You become the one that everyone expects greatness but in the same breath, you are the independent child as well. And sometimes, the very people you want to expect greatness from you…they are the ones you want the most approval from.

I know how Andre feels because I’ve been in this position growing up. My mom never told me that I am going to be someone special…or that I could do great things. She wasn’t that type of mom to me…as Luscious acts similar towards Andre. What is strikingly similar about Luscious and my mother is that they favored the youngest child. For a long time, it was my sister.

My sister was the adored one. The baby doll. I was the one who had to make something of myself and climb out Plato’s dark cave. And I wanted my mom to notice that. I wanted her love, too, as in the way she doted on my sister. However, my mom hated my father for betraying her…and since the very person who hurt her wasn’t there, she took her hurt and pain out on me.

I don’t know how my mom feels about my accomplishments now, but what I can say for certain is that Luscious is handling it the wrong way…like my mom did.

When parents bank so much on one child…their favorite child, it damages their relationship with the other children in the family. Andre has been pushed aside for so long…Luscious doesn’t think he is good enough, as in a good fit, to run the company. And Luscious uses the race card when he tells Andre that when he married Rhonda that he betrayed his race and his family. My eyes became narrow when I watched that scene this morning. I still feel the same way. How dare Luscious make his son feel like he’s not a part of…their family…and not a part of black race…and that what Luscious was insinuating is that Andre is not black enough.

And that’s another commonality that Andre and I share. Not feeling like we were black enough. The majority of the time, my family didn’t make me feel that way, but I knew that I was even different from them. I didn’t want to continue to live in the ghetto, but I wanted to become educate. I love books, words, and writing…and reading…and knowledge itself. My mom does as well, but I don’t think she had the self-confidence to want more than that…somewhere, miraculously, I did. And of course, I was condemned by many of my black peers. Pretty much, they didn’t think I was black enough to be friends with.

And this episode made me realize how bad, empathetic, and sympathetic I feel towards Andre. I pretty much distance myself from the character because I didn’t think I have anything in common with him. Yet, the” Lyon’s Roar” made me pay more attention to Andre. He’s hurting very badly because he feels so left out and out of his element. When he’s watching Cookie, Luscious, Hakeem, and Jamal performing together, this moment forced me to realize that he has always been the outsider, and it is heartbreaking. I believe Andre wants to feel like he belongs with his family and doesn’t. That’s why he is making evil choices. He’s done what he has always done: acted out to get attention. He continues to act out…

The most devastating scene with Andre is when he has an unloaded gun to his head and pulls the trigger and screams. As I remember that moment from the episode this morning, I, too, when I was younger felt like I wanted to die because I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. It’s the most devastating feeling a human being can feel. You feel alienated, lost, and alone. All you want is the very people whose blood is coursing through your veins to accept and love you. If no one from the outside world understands you, you believe your family is obligated to love you and understand you. That’s the daydream of it. We are raised by our society and by our culture to believe that families are supposed to be perfect. That your mom is supposed to be warming, caring, and cooing at you…giving you hugs and laughing with you. You dad is supposed to look at you adoringly but with reservations of how you will channel your greatness. How you will become better than him and your mom. However, the reality is that a lot of us don’t have parents like that. I certainly don’t.

Even if you have remotely half of that, your parents are still humans. They are still imperfect. They are flawed to the core…and genetically, socially, nurturing, and environmentally, we inherit those qualities as well. We are cut from the same cloth as our parents, but of course, we are cut different. We have the genetic markers and all the other individuals in our family line…their genetic markers are mixed in by generations of linked genetics. However, those genetics are mixed together to create an entirely different person. And the reason why I express all of this is because…our parents are humans first. They make mistakes, and the choices that they make are also motivated by how they were raised, what they saw throughout their childhood, and how they interpret situations from the past, present, and how they see their future. And this is why Andre and Luscious don’t get each other…and this is why Cookie and Andre don’t get each other. Luscious and Cookie fail Andre by not realizing that he, too, needs to be praised for his personality and who he is. Just like Luscious needs to get to know Jamal and Cookie needs to get to know Hakeem, but Luscious and Cookie need to get to know how Andre is as well.

However, the Cookie and Luscious love and Luscious and Jamal love doesn’t last forever. Of course, as I said, Cookie and Luscious end their trysts when Luscious wants to marry Anika (I believe) to protect what is his. The Luscious and Jamal love falters…

At the white party, Jamal and Luscious have a moment. Luscious instills fatherly advice on Jamal about music and creativity. In this most stunning moment, Jamal and Luscious understand each other. Luscious graciously gives Jamal permission to take his song and put his own spend on it…of who he is. Luscious advises Jamal to tell his own truth.

What Luscious doesn’t expect is that Jamal’s truth that comes from the song…is that Jamal comes out in the song. For Jamal, it is an empowering moment. It is a celebratory moment about who Jamal really is, and he starts to realize and accept that he does not have to hide from himself anymore. For Luscious, it is a defining moment of realizing that his son will always be gay. The tips of him having to deal with how he sees Jamal as being gay…it is coming. And he’s not there yet. He is not there because to fully realize that his son is gay, Luscious has to also admit that he is a ruthless man…a man that is willing to put his own flesh and blood into the trash can. That Luscious carries around that kind of hate because a part of him self-loathes himself. A part of him hides behind the constructive appearance he’s made and is not admitting that he has a dark side…that he will always be a hood rat that has a dark side. And that dark side plays into his insecurities about himself meaning he acts out as well when he believes what is his is threaten (like when he kills Bunkie for threating to expose him for murdering two folks back in the day, episode 1, “The Pilot.”).

I also get the feeling that for, Luscious, like how Cookie, Jamal, and Hakeem brought into it, the fairy tale of the Lyons of actually being the type of family they want to be comes crashing down. What I realize is that we want…what we dream of…that our daydreams are literally fairy tales. Our imaginations create what we think should happen, but in actuality and reality, that’s not how it goes down 9.5 out of 10. In the “Lyon’s Roar,” we see that. Just like many essayers and critics have written concerning Shakespeare’s plays, we see a lot of appearance vs. reality. In Empire which is based from Shakespeare’s King Lear, we see the appearance vs. reality theme. In the “Lyons Roar,” we definitely see it. We see the appearances of what could be a very happy Lyons family, but the reality is, due to time, everyone in the Lyons family has changed. Even though we see phenomenal moments that the family comes together, it isn’t enough yet to bring them together consistently all the time.

Luscious wants his company to last beyond his death. His limited foresightedness costs him intimate moments with his family. Cookie wants her family back, but it is difficult for her to get them back due to her being locked up for 17 years and having no influence on them presently and actively within that absence. Jamal wants his father to accept he’s gay and love him for him as well as Andre wants love and respect from Luscious more so than from Cookie. Hakeem wants Cookie to accept him for who he is and to get to know him better.

And that’s the one positive aspect that comes out of Empire. We finally get to see Hakeem and Cookie try to connect to each other. The one positive action that Luscious does for Hakeem and Cookie is to sit them down…as he is the momentary therapist (and disciplinarian patriarch) and have them come out with why they don’t get along. What comes is a beautiful moment. The younger son expresses that Cookie doesn’t love him best like she does Jamal. Cookie explains that she doesn’t know him. In that moment, Cookie does for Hakeem for what Luscious cannot do for Jamal…get to know him. And to understand and even put in the effort to attempt to put Hakeem first instead of Jamal.

The reality is that when everyone is honest with each other than the appearances of who they attempt to be fall down. Just like when Luscious stands and sees Jamal using his son to empower himself…to tell their world he’s gay.

And this is why Empire is a powerful show. It is not just for entertainment purposes, but we get to the heart of the matters. The matter is that everyone wants to be loved and respected for who they are. “You are So Beautiful” is a powerful ballad to use. In this episode, the meaning is quite powerful especially when we see at the very beginning that Cookie has to give up her family. When she is about to be locked up, it is the moment when she loses her family. She loses them because she will not be presently in their lives. As Taraji P. Henson strokes the photo of her family she lost seventeen years ago, it makes me you sad.

Yet, what brought me to tears this morning is when she is singing “You So Beautiful” in her cell looking so lost with pictures of her family surrounding her. Cookie, who appears to look like she is on the mend, is not really on the mend. She is using appearances sake to stay strong. But the reality is…well, the reality is this.

She is a woman who was broken in prison because she was physically present in her family’s lives. She can never get those seventeen years back. While she was there, imprisoned for seventeen years, each moment she was in there, was each moment she lost her family. What is so devastatingly beautiful sometimes is the dream is so beautiful that it doesn’t come true. What we truly want doesn’t come to us…and if it does, it doesn’t come to us the way we want it.