Empire season 5 episode 1 review: Lucious and the Lyons lick their wounds


Empire’s season premiere shows each of the Lyons humbled in a way we’ve never seen, but if there’s one thing this show has taught us, that won’t last long.

”Steal from the Thief” is a time jump within a time jump for Empire. The actual episode takes place two years after the events of the season 4 finale, when the Lyons lost their crown jewel, Empire. The show opens with Lucious tearfully standing in front of a white coffin. We then jump to six months prior to the opening scene, where Lucious and Cookie have nearly gone broke trying to buy back Empire from Eddie. Jamal is still in London where he has a new label. Though he isn’t making any money, he finally has the creative freedom and independence from his family that he craves. Andre is finishing a two-year prison sentence after accepting a plea deal for Anika’s murder. Finally, Hakeem is alive after being shot by Blake’s father, but he has lost part of his lung and is now unable to perform.

At Empire, Eddie is the leader of the company, but it appears to be in name only. Giselle, his ex-wife, is running the company for him and becoming more resentful by the day. Eddie and Giselle dread having to see Lucious and Cookie again at the MVP Movie Awards (gee, what an original title, I wonder if it’s based on anything).  Eddie, Lucious and Cookie are nominated for their work on the song “Ibiza,” which also happens to be the last song Hakeem recorded with Tiana before he was shot.

Lucious and Cookie think they may have found a way back into Empire when they learn through Andre that Eddie is funneling money from the company into offshore accounts. Lucious tells Eddie what he knows and Eddie prepares to surrender Empire. But the night after the awards show, Giselle accidentally kills Eddie during an argument, voiding his agreement with Lucious and Cookie and making Giselle the new CEO of the company. (We also learn that Eddie was cremated and Giselle dumped his ashes in the sewer, so it’s not him in the casket six months later).

Cookie and Lucious are crushed that they won’t be getting their company back, but Cookie has a plan. While visiting Andre in prison, she met a social worker named Treasure, who also happens to be a talented singer and rapper. Cookie and Lucious hold an audition for Treasure in their home and, after kicking her obnoxious manager to the curb, decide to sign her to their new label.

Absence makes Lucious and Cookie’s hearts grow fonder and more obsessed

Jamal’s assessment that Empire had become an addiction for his mother and father is right on the money. After spending so many years barely holding onto the company and watching it tear their family apart, you’d think it would have been easy for Lucious and Cookie to relax and enjoy the fruits of their work. Instead, they’ve nearly driven themselves crazy and become prisoners in their own (un-air conditioned) home. The only time they seem to come out and interact with people is when they’re being recognized by the music industry, plotting to take back Empire or going to see Andre.

Cookie and Lucious’ relationship is still toxic because Lucious continues to place himself before Cookie. He still doesn’t value the sacrifices she made to help build the company, and when the rubber meets the road, he will always see Empire as being more his than theirs. It doesn’t help that he blames Cookie for their losing Empire, even though her actions kept Lucius out of prison. Cookie supposedly got what she always wanted: to have Lucious back in her life. The question for this season will be whether her relationship with Lucious will be what she needs it to be or if she’ll be unable to deal with Lucious’ lack of real love for anyone besides himself.

Treasure will be an interesting addition to the show because, in a lot of ways, she’s the second coming of Freda Gatz–-a virtually unknown person with an undeniable talent whom the Lyons take under their wing. Only time will tell if, like Freda, she is treated as a disposable commodity once Lucious and the clan are back on top.

Hakeem fares no better after the events of last season. He and Tiana plan to make a comeback performance at the movie awards—it will be Hakeem’s first live performance in two years and Tiana’s return to the stage after her pregnancy. Unfortunately, Hakeem can’t make it through the song and Blake has to step in for him. Frustrated and angry, Hakeem begins drinking and partying excessively and holes himself up in Jamal’s apartment.

Hakeem loses more than just his breath

I’m glad Hakeem is alive, but also incredibly frustrated that after four seasons, he still doesn’t seem to have matured at all. Hakeem’s temper continues to drive his decisions, making him a bad partner to Tiana and, most likely, an even worse father. However, Tiana isn’t winning any points with me either as she pushes Hakeem to perform before he’s ready in order to restart her own career.

Tiana and Hakeem have always read to me as being more of a celebrity couple of convenience than having an actual relationship built on caring for one another. This episode proves my point. Though the two characters are stuck together for the foreseeable future because they have a child, it will be interesting to see how Hakeem’s condition and lack of self-control, coupled with Tiana’s overzealous ambition, play out this season. I’m also curious to see how Hakeem responds to being inevitably overshadowed by Blake, especially since Blake’s father is the reason he can’t rap anymore.

Jamal returns from London to visit his family and introduce them to Ky, his new boyfriend. While there, he learns the dire condition of his family’s finances and that they still don’t have Empire. Jamal rejoices because he feels the company was only hurting the family and now they have a chance at a fresh start. Jamal also hashes things out with Hakeem, who was hurt by the fact that his brother only came to see him for two days after he was shot. Jamal patches things up with Hakeem and tells his family that he plans to return to London to keep working on his own label, but Cookie asks (and by “ask” I mean forcibly demands) that he stay and be involved with the new family venture. Jamal reluctantly agrees as the family toasts their new beginning.

Nope, the cycle isn’t broken yet, Jamal

It’s unsurprising that Jamal would be happy that Empire is finally out of his family’s lives, but he also should have known that Lucious and Cookie would find another venture to drag him into. At this point, it’s unclear whether Jamal will be able to handle the pressure that comes with being a Lyon and being in the cutthroat music industry where he’s a puppet and someone else holds the strings. Jamal was shaken by Tori’s death, and it’s likely that even after two years, he may still feel responsible.

My favorite scene in this episode is the exchange between Jamal and Hakeem. A big story arc for the last few seasons has been Jamal’s desire to escape the vicious cycle his family created, with Hakeem we get to see how Jamal’s escapism has negatively affected the people he loves the most. The constant conflict Jamal has between being loyal to his family and true to his own desires will surely come to a head this season, and, coupled with Jamal’s existing mental health struggles, it could lead to catastrophic results.

Related Story. An open letter to Hakeem Lyon. light

What did you think of Empire’s season premiere?