Any good war of succession needs shifts in power between the contestants. Game of Thrones, for instance, does this by killing off characters to fracture or forge alliances. That model can't work for Empire because it doesn't have nearly as deep a roster of key figures. (And murder is much more frowned upon in New York than Westeros.)
Killing rivals works in Game of Thrones because it's the one rule: you win or you die. But the war to succeed Lucious Lyon lacks that kind of guiding foundation. We've never gotten any clarity on what Lucious is looking for from his sons other than "step up and lead." That might have been enough if we'd seen Lucious discussing or weighing the relative merits of Andre, Jamal, and Hakeem over the course of the show; at least there'd be some context for where the three sons stand in this battle.
Instead, we're at Episode 7 and all three sons haven't moved far from where they started. Andre is still a business mind who doesn't have a celebrity presence. Jamal is more productive musically and less timid personally, but he still comes off as an artist first. Hakeem's still the relatively naive one wants to be a superstar.
I'm not even sure Lucious still cares about choosing one of his sons to helm Empire. The show's not great about keeping unresolved side plots alive, but what happens if you lose the central premise altogether? Now we're just watching the interpersonal failings of rich people. If that was the plan, Fox should have just done a scripted series about the Benson family.
CRUMBLING EMPIRE IMMINENT WARNING
3. Elle Dallas. The cynic in you isn't shocked that Courtney Love's character has a drug abuse relapse at the worst possible time, but I don't think this is about having Courtney Love do Courtney Love things. My suspicion is that the first season of Empire had some budgetary decisions to make, and that meant limited arcs for guest stars. That would explain why Judd Nelson hasn't made a second appearance even though he threatened to ruin Empire's public offering, and why Cuba Gooding, Jr. only got one extended scene in a stable. Don't take it personally, Courtney. There's only so much money left over after you pay Timbaland.
2. Lucious. You would think getting duped by a doctor who'd lost his license would push Lucious into doing something drastic. You would think Lucious would not put his public presentation to prospective investors in the hands of Cookie when Anika and Andre are available. You would think Lucious knew better than to sleep with Cookie within a few weeks of getting engaged to Anika, since an angry Anika could wreck the IPO.
You would be entirely wrong. So now Lucious has a terminal illness that's getting worse, an ill-advised love triangle between his fiancee and his ex-wife, and seemingly no progress towards finding the next head of his company. On the plus side, we did find out that Empire has a sports management division, so fingers crossed for a Metta World Peace cameo!
1. Andre. Passed up to give the big sales pitch to the investors. Sees Jamal and Hakeem successfully performing together despite his efforts to drive them apart. Ends up sitting on the floor of his shower with the water running and all his clothes on. If you're looking for the next Lyon to commit a homicide, Andre is your man.
Not listed: Jamal, despite taking the stage looking like Kobe in that one infamous photo shoot.
Also, why isn't anyone suggesting that we do a paternity test on this child Raven-Symone showed up with? Nobody's saying you gotta kick the kid out if it comes back negative, but let's not just take a toddler at her word.
COOKIE'S WEAPON OF CHOICE
In the opening scene of this week's episode, Lucious walks through the halls of Empire HQ, looking haggard and being pelted with business items in need of his attention. He's visibly struggling but keeping it somewhat together, until one thing leaves him in a collapsed heap and on his way to the hospital: Cookie's sassmouth.
A SCENE THAT I IMAGINE WAS CUT FROM THIS WEEK'S EPISODE
STEVE BLAKE: So I've got this mixtape.
LUCIOUS: Oh, umm.
STEVE BLAKE: I think you're going to like it. It's sort of Fred Durst meets Blues Traveler meets Shaggy.
LUCIOUS: I - what? What does that even mean?
STEVE BLAKE: Me yelling reggae lyrics with the occasional harmonica break.