I have to say, I am disappointed in myself that I didn’t start watching Empire as soon as it aired. I’d been seeing the previews and thinking that it was something I should watch, but when it started I just let it pile up in my hulu queue. I only started it this past week, and I finished just in time for the new episode last Wednesday. And now there’s only one more before the end of the season. I really should have watched as it aired. I would have loved to have had more time with it before it went on hiatus.
But it’s my own fault for waiting, so instead of 11 weeks, I took two days to soak it all in. It’s fantastic. It’s big and bold and delicious and so, so Shakespearean in its epic loves and betrayals and dreams and schemes. Which makes sense, of course, seeing as the show is loosely based on one of Shakespeare’s best, King Lear.
Lucius is Lear, of course. He’s the one who’s looking at his own mortality and dividing up his empire between his children. He’s the one who thinks he knows best, demands his children love and respect him and show that love and respect through obedience. He’s the one who tells his children he’s leaving his empire to them and is then surprised when they have their own plans for it. He hasn’t gone crazy yet, but we’re only in Season One.
The three sons are a little bit harder to place, but I’m going to try.
Andre is Goneril. Both are the oldest and they’re the schemers. To their fathers’ faces, they lavish love and praise, but behind the scenes they’re maneuvering themselves into more power. They’re the ones who truly want the empire and will do whatever they can to get their hands on it. Goneril flatters her father, attempts to orchestrate the assassination of her husband, and after joining forces with her sister Ragen, ends up poisoning her. Andre schemes with Vern against Lucius, positioning himself to take over Empire by assuming the mantle of temporary CEO in the event of Lucius’ incapacitation due to his ALS. He schemes against both Jamal and Hakeem, attempting to pit them against each other so they will destroy each other. Lastly, Goneril commits suicide at the end of the play when her schemes are thwarted. Likewise, Andre attempted suicide in the studio when his own takeover attempt was stalled by Lucius.
Jamal is Cordelia. Despite being someone Lucius and/or Lear could love, their honesty about themselves causes their respective fathers to hate them. Cordelia refuses to flatter her father or bestow all her love on him. She loves him, but not with her whole heart because she must also love her husband. Jamal refuses to hide his homosexuality. Both are banished: Cordelia is sent to France with her new husband, and Jamal is cut off. Both are able to recruit allies to their cause due to their honesty and steadfastness to their respective selves, and are both assisted in waging war against their fathers. The king of France marries Cordelia, even without a dowry, because of her forthrightness and honesty, and later invades England with her. Cookie has always stood up for Jamal against Lucius, and becomes his manager against Lucius who is managing Hakeem’s career.
Hakeem is the hardest to place. I’m assigning him to the role of Ragen, but it’s not…quite right. Ragen is a villain, and at this point, Hakeem is not. The only real thing that connects the two characters for me is a lack of original thought. Ragen is cruel and greedy, but she doesn’t scheme on her own. She does what her older sister does. Goneril flatters their father for her share of the kingdom, so Ragen does the same. Goneril then turns on Lear once she has control of her part of the kingdom, so Ragen does too. Goneril falls in love with Edmund and attempts to start an affair with him, so Ragen even does that. Hakeem, doesn’t blindly follow Andre so the parallels aren’t great, but he is manipulated by the others in his life, by Andre, by Lucius, by Cookie, by Camilla. So far, just like Ragen, not much of his story really comes from himself.
That takes care of the brothers, and to be honest, they’re the ones I’ve thought the most about. But I’ve got the rumblings of ideas for some of the others.
I think Cookie is the Fool. Lear doesn’t have a wife or a lover in the story, she’s long gone. But he does have the Fool, who is something of a companion. He someone Lear doesn’t always take seriously, but who we, the audience, see as someone who actually has great insight. Cookie is the same way, she’s loud and brash and funny, but she’s also very smart when it comes to managing Jamal and Elle and Tiana, not to mention she’s the one to discover Anika’s betrayal. She’s also the only person who can really stand up to Lucius without consequences, the only who can hold a mirror up to Lucius’ face and tell him what she really thinks of him and his decisions.
Does this leave Anika as Edmund? Someone we’re kind of sorry for at the beginning (Edmund, the bastard child of Gloucester who’s entitled to less than his legitimate brother Edgar through no fault of his own, and Anika, Lucius’ current girlfriend who works hard at her job just to be cheated on and upstaged by Cookie), but whose ultimate remorseless underhandedness (doping Elle, anyone?) makes them reprehensible? I’ll have to think on it more. Not sure on that count.
I guess I’ll just have to wait until Wednesday to see how the end of the season plays out. Maybe I’ll see some more parallels then. Maybe by then I’ll be able to place Vern!