Empire Exposes Destructive Stereotypes of Masculinity

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For a few years, it has been on my mind about television storytelling. That’s because I grew up watching what I call old school nighttime soaps like Dallas, Dynasty, and Knox Landing. I remember as a kid my mom getting me hooked on these shows. You saw the glamour, the glitz, and the power of these nighttime soaps…and as a kid, my mind just raced a long with all those diamonds and sequins.

Now, we got a modernity of continuation of a nighttime soap. It has been a minute since we’ve seen something this popular attracting millions and millions of viewers every week.

And the final two episodes of Empire did.not.disappoint. Boy, they did not disappoint at all.

My interpretation of “Die But Once” and “Who I Am” exposed the depths of Luscious’s evilness, Jamal’s acceptance from Luscious, Cookie’s desire to hold onto her boys, Anika’s pain and vengeance, Hakeem’s not being taken seriously, and Andre’s burden of beast. Empire has set the record of exposing the extremities of each character and leaves a lasting wonder of what will go down next season.

Luscious Lyons. Season 1 has brought Luscious in a full circle. Who is Luscious Lyons? He is a villain. He’s a businessman. He’s a thug. He is a lover. He is father. He is an ex-husband. He keeps his friends closer and his enemies very close. He is hater…and most of all…

Luscious is that lost orphan boy who had to create an alter ego and change his name so he can survive on the streets. And to share this with his middle son, Jamal, before the feds cart him off to prison because Vernon snitched on him (who ended up being accidentally killed by Rhonda because Vernon would not stop being the shit out of Andre), makes Jamal and Luscious finally understand each other.

Luscious and Jamal know what it is like to be outcasts and having to rise above what everyone thinks you are …and for you to actually define what you are and show it. There were many instances were in the last two episodes where we see Luscious and Jamal aren’t as different as it appeared in the earlier episodes of the first season. What kept father and son from connecting? It is what Luscious shares with Jamal…it is hard for a black man to make it in American society…and to know that he’s gay makes it harder for others to see him as a man. This is especially true. James Baldwin wrote about it. Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Michael Brown are living proof of it in a postmodern 21st century culture. If black men, overall, are still not looked in this country as being a part of American culture…as being American citizens in every form, what chance do homosexual black men have then if heterosexual black men have gotten lynched, shot, killed, or murdered?

Luscious becoming a successful black man is black America’s dreams come true. However, the underlying issue, and where the imbalance lies is how Luscious treats his family.

What Empire continues to expose is the brokenness of a black family…it is the continuation of history of what is the broken black family. It also shows the imbalance of Luscious Lyons.

Again, appearance vs. reality comes into play again. Typically, when I think about appearance vs. reality, I think about Shakespeare, and Empire has Shakespeare written all over it especially with the final two episodes.

Appearance wise, Luscious expresses he cares about his family because he cares about saving Empire. For Luscious, Empire and his family as synonymous with each other. What is quite sad about this is that Empire comes first…saving Empire comes first than saving or keeping his family. Everything that Luscious has done is for his art which started Empire. The issue is that Luscious uses people as chess pieces on his board to make sure the game keeps going…and to make sure what Empire symbolizes continues. For Luscious, Empire is the physical representation of housing all of Luscious’s dreams, ideas, and accomplishments. To see Empire crumble or destroyed is for Luscious to see that his talent is not as special as the next person in line. He would return to being that orphan…that all the time and effort it took to build Empire would go up in smoke…and it would figuratively kill him.

And maybe that’s why Luscious distances himself from Jamal by using his sexuality against him. Luscious never has said that he is jealous of Jamal, but there are moments in the series he is jealous of him. I believe not accepting Jamal’s sexuality aided in Luscious in not wanting to admit that his son is better than him. In the last episode of the first season, at the beginning of the episode, Luscious realizes that Jamal is the best of both worlds when it comes to him. Jamal is creatively talented and has a business sense and maturity about himself than Andre and Hakeem.

Once close as thieves, Luscious and Hakeem are estranged. Luscious’s move in getting rid of Hakeem’s girlfriend, Camilla, has sent Hakeem over the edge. It also illustrates that Hakeem’s immaturity prevents him from being the successor of Empire. One immature move is Hakeem sleeping with Anika. Another immature move is Hakeem dissing his father on stage. Hakeem’s two decisions proves not only maturity but how clumsy his calculation is in getting back at his father. It also shows that Hakeem cannot come up with ideas on his own when it comes to actually trying to ounce Luscious from Empire.

Then, we have Andre who Luscious tries to drawback into the Empire fold. Andre pulls away and leaves the company. He joins the church that his “friend” Michelle is a member of…but when push comes to shove, Luscious actually proves to his son that the church is no better than working for Empire. Individuals’ money and fame are powerful Gods—not religious God and his words. As Andre thinks that Luscious couldn’t touch him in a church space, Luscious walks up to Michelle and offers her to create a solo gospel album which she says yes to. In a double fold, Luscious proves to Andre that the majority of people can be bought off with the right price. He also shows Andre that the church is just as corrupt as business is. Look at Michelle. She falls easy prey to Luscious’s offer because of her admiration of him and the opportunity presents itself.

The reality is that Luscious is only great because he knows how to play the “chess of life” well. He knows how his best players move and how to control them to move wherever will give him the advantage. Empire is the Queen on Luscious’s board, and he must protect it at any cost. Cookie sure as hell isn’t the Queen on Luscious’s board. Luscious has always treated Cookie as a pawn; she is readily sacrificial. And in Luscious’s world, an individual on his chess board, at any time, can change position. Look at Jamal. He was the bishop that Luscious kept in reserve…and then, all the sudden, he becomes the Knight of the board. Once before, Hakeem was the suppose bishop…and Andre the knight. Now, Hakeem is just a pawn like Andre is.

The two defining moments for me about Luscious are:

When Cookie witnesses Luscious’s confession about killing Bunkie in his drug state. Luscious’s expresses in his mini-monologue that he sees himself as a God that will never fall—that’s from the second to last episode.

During the last episode, Luscious falls. He ends up in the hell he tried to avoid all his life…

Karma’s never lets you slip by.

Cheers to Empire’s Season 2,
S

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