HHBMedia | Empire: Prime-Time Television's Game Changer

Along with pretty much everyone else in America, I'm in love with Empire. I've touched on my thoughts of the show briefly in my vlogs (youtube.com/user/bashinlavlog – shameless plug), but kept the review mainly on the surface - that being its catchy songs, Derek Luke being a pleasant surprise, and Cookie as my most favorite, ratchet, television character ever. The story lines never disappoint, and this past week's episode was no different.

Those who aren't as familiar with the show's premise, Empire showcases the lives of a family who runs one of the biggest music labels in their time. It's all about corruption, sex, infidelity, loyalty and sibling rivalry.

Luscious Lyon, Terrence Howard, is the head of the label and is looking to choose one of his three sons to take over the family's empire. The youngest son, Hakeem, played by Bryshere Gray, is a lovely hot mess. He's expecting to have Empire handed to him upon his father's departure and is trying to make a name for himself in the industry. His talent is undeniable, but he has a lot of growing up to do before his time to reign comes. His juicy relationship with the gorgeous-cougar Camilla, Naomi Campbell, is definitely something to keep a close eye on.

Jamal Lyon, Jussie Smollet, is the uber talented, sensitive, middle son with a not-so-secret, secret. He's gay and battles with his father over the notion that homosexuality doesn't have a place in the Hip-Hop culture. Jamal, aside from Cookie Lyon, is one of my favorite characters. I admire his strength and bravery. He's loyal to his family's empire, but determined to stay true to himself in the same light. The mother, Cookie Lyon, played by baddie Taraji P. Henson, clearly sees Jamal as her favorite son and would like for him to ultimately run Empire once Luscious kicks the bucket.

The eldest son, Andre Lyon, played by Trai Byers, and until now, the hardest character to figure out, is the CFO of Empire. The flashbacks in previous episodes helped us understand his relationship with Luscious. He's always had his father's back, and although I'm sure he feels as if his actions are validated, I can't help but question his morals. He believes that he's a shoe-in to run the family business, and will stop at nothing to get it. He plays dirty, is untrustworthy, actively stirs up trouble with his family and uses his wife as a pawn to manipulate people. Like Jamal, Andre has a not-so-secret, secret that took a turn for the worst this past week - his mental illness.

I'm amazed that the show's writers are choosing to showcase a diverse range of industry taboos. Zoning in on Andre's mental illness is commendable. Like homosexuality, mental illness isn't a subject that is spoken of candidly in the Hip-Hop or black communities. I can't say that I've ever heard of an artist openly declaring that they are living with a mental illness. And although Andre isn't an artist, he's a known, powerful name in the show's music industry and his story line, to me, has the potential to be a game changer. I can't even begin to imagine how the depths of his character will inspire those tuning in.

 

Chris Lighty was an industry exec that was said to have suffered from depression and as a result, allegedly killed himself in 2012. His death came as a shock to the industry and briefly sparked conversations surrounding mental illness in the Hip-Hop and black communities. [Staying true to journalism ethics, I have to add that in 2014 Lighty’s family petitioned to have his death examined further, stating that they believed he was involved in a rap feud that may have lead to him being murdered.]

Actress and dancer, Stephanie Moseley was shot and killed by her boyfriend, rapper Earl Hayes in late 2014, after a relationship dispute. It ended up being a murder-suicide, but information on whether or not Hayes was mentally ill never surfaced. One can only imagine what the young man had to be dealing with in order to commit such a crime.

 

I'm unable to pinpoint exactly which illness Andre is living with, I'm not an expert and I'm not going to pretend to be, but I have noticed signs of depression and anxiety throughout the season. The extreme pressures of his job and the fear of not gaining his father's approval have been hard on the kid, and these stressors clearly pushed him to his breaking point.

The elevator scene with his brothers almost had me in tears. Previous episodes never focused on his relationship with his younger brothers, and I assumed, along with many others I'm sure, that they were somewhat estranged. Not drastically, but they just lead different lives and a personal bond has never been shown until now. Andre having a nervous breakdown in a trapped elevator and his brothers calming him, while singing the nostalgic "Lean On Me,” made me wonder whether Andre's illness is a "secret from the family" or a "family secret.” I'm leaning towards it being more of a "family secret.” Even though his illness was more in the forefront this episode, his family still dealt with it quietly. Keeping him locked in the Empire conference room and strolling him off to a 48-hour hold was Luscious' way of handling it.

Maybe the pressures of balancing his career and not letting his mental illness "embarrass" the family legacy are finally breaking him down.

Empire is definitely taking advantage of their platform - giving faces and names to historic industry taboos, making them human and relatable. I'm excited to see how everything pans out and am praying that it starts some dialogue amongst, as well as beyond its viewers.

The writers are dope - Wednesday's are my new favorite TV nights.

What do you think of the show?

*** This post was originally published on HHBMedia.com in March 2015