Lee Daniel’s hit series premiered surprisingly with a ballad. Lucious Lyon, CEO of Empire Entertainment and greatly respected rap star, coaches one of his singers while thinking over his own medical worries. He convinces her to use the pain of losing her brother to sing more passionately. It is a success and everyone in the recording session is amazed by his producing abilities. Later, at a yacht party Lucious’ youngest son, Hakeem, lives the high life partying with girls while his older brother and Lucious’ middle son, Jamal, play on the piano. The two soon begin to collaborate on a song together, while their eldest brother, Andre, and his wife look on disapprovingly. Andre is surprised Hakeem is performing without their father around and goes to look for him. Lucious prepares to make a big announcement concerning his company and tells his assistant, Becky, to clear his schedule and have his sons meet him at his house. At a board meeting, he announces he taking the company public. Later, at Lucious’ home his sons gather to hear their father’s news. There is clear discord and major differences between them. Lucious tells them he is about to begin grooming one of them to be the future head of the company. Elsewhere, Cookie Lyon, Lucious’ ex-wife and mother of his sons is released from prison for good behavior after seventeen years.
Later, at a boxing gym Lucious and Andre have a heart to heart, there he tells his father he is most qualified to run the company due to his hard work and accolades. His father disagrees feeling a celebrity might be the better choice–meaning he is considering Hakeem or Jamal. Andre then tells him Cookie is out, something he did not know. He becomes furious with Bunkie, his friend and right hand man, for not knowing ahead of time. Bunkie apologies and asks for $25K to pay off a bookie. Lucious flatly refuses, telling him he would only gamble it away again. Jamal and his boyfriend, Michael, relax in his loft and discusses his father’s likeliest decision. He feels due to his homophobia and that of The Black Community he will not be a good choice. Cookie arrives to visit him, the two are clearly very close and embrace each other happily. He flashbacks to visiting her in prison as a child and telling her how people are treating him because he is different. She tells him she knows life will be hard for him, but promises she has him. After meeting Michael and eating their chicken, she tells him she has come back for what is hers.
Cookie goes to visit Lucious, he is taken back by how beautiful she is and thanks her for her sacrifice. She demands half of the company. He informs her of the changes to the company’s infrastructure since she was incarcerated and promises her a hefty salary, but refuses to give her millions and make her the head of A&R. She then demands him to hand over Jamal’s career. He refuses that too. Later, Cookie goes to visit Hakeem, but he attempts to ignore her. She forcefully removes all his distractions and questions why he never contacted her. She tells him everything she ever did was for him and his brothers, he calls her a bitch and she beats him with a broom handle. When Hakeem sees his father later he is bruised and hurt, Lucious realizes he has now met his mother. At their new club he tells him he has plans for his career with new music that he produced. Cookie finds Bunkie is following her and they catch up. She thanks him for helping her children, but demands he stop. He promises he will not tell Lucious anything, but warns her something is brewing. Lucious meets with Jamal and tells him his sexuality is a choice and that it is a poor business choice. Jamal flashes back to being dumped in the trash by his father for playing dress up in Cookie’s clothing. The doctor confirms that Lucious has ALS and three years left to live. Later at his home, Bunkie threatens to reveal Lucious four drug dealers if he is not given three million dollars.
The next morning, Hakeem’s recording session goes terribly as he is hungover. Andre and his wife come up with a plan to turn Jamal and Hakeem on one another. He goes to visit his mother, who is in awe of what he has made of himself. He tells her how to get what she wants from Lucious. The next day, Cookie interrupts a board meeting and in private blackmails Lucious into giving her what she wants or stopping the company from going public by going to the board about her $400K of drug money invested. He gives in and gives her control of Jamal’s career telling her he never wanted him anyway. Jamal and Hakeem work on the latter’s music together forming an amazing song. At his next session, Lucious is pleased with the work they have done but praises Hakeem over Jamal. The latter’s anger and jealousy compels him to take his mother’s offer to manage him. He tells her he is going to come out publicly. Cookie signs a nondisclosure agreement and gets Jamal and a big salary. Lucious meets with Bunkie and shoots him in the head. Later, at a party for Cookie, Lucious announces his two youngest sons will be releasing album and lines are drawn in the sand among the Lyons.