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The Post-Empire Literary Society, Season 2, Episode 2: Without A Country

The Post-Empire Literary Society, Season 2, Episode 2: Without A Country


The middle son rises to the top

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The Post-Empire Literary Society is a group of Verge writers devoted to the excavation, appreciation, and analysis of the Fox television show Empire. Every week we will publish a new writing, study, or reflection on this, the best of all possible shows. This is not a recap series; we are merely drawing inspiration from each subsequent episode. We welcome your additional reflections in the comments.

I saw a young man (the one you were meant to like the most) rise from prince to king, while his siblings allowed their jealousy to boil over. The young man too was jealous, but he was jealous of a man he could never be, a man you would never want him to be. Here’s a cliché: he’s a time bomb, a pot of boiling water with the lid on too tight, a can of soda, shaken.

Here’s a cliché

Once you give up you’re basically dead. Once a long-standing balance of power has shifted, everything will change. Sometimes you will need to be one thing completely while gradually sliding toward something else. Invariably, everything dies, but that doesn’t mean you have to kill it.

The king and his lover (the cook) eat dinner together one night, sitting across the table from each other in a new, spacious apartment with marble floors. On the table sits a vase of flowers perpetually attended to by some unseen hand. The king and the cook have fallen in and out of love before, and now they are back in love. At least it seems that way. But as they chew, perfectly in sync, and smirk knowingly at each other over the peonies, it’s easy to imagine the moment one of them will smash the vase to the floor and leave for good.

The cook, the king, his mother, and the prisoner.


The king sang a song, and in it, he said, "I was born to love you."

The prisoner sang a song, and in it, he said, "When they tryna convince you they chillin' with you, pay very close attention."

The prisoner is the new king’s father who used to be the king. Another cliché: what goes up must come down. The man on the top of the hill must eventually roll to the bottom of it. "Gravity," that John Mayer song.

"I could kill you right now, and there’d be no consequences, just another dead rapper," a man who is a rapper in real life says to the prisoner.

That’s how this whole thing works

The mother and her youngest son sweep the concrete floor of an old building where they must begin anew, away from their old palace, away from the new king. The building is a starting point, a place where everything can start again. Everything has to start again; that’s how this whole thing works.


There’s a feeling that sometimes sits at the pit of your gut (well, in some guts anyway) like a knot composed of the body parts of all the people you’ve ever missed. In his father’s house, the new king paces alone and thinks of those he’s wronged and those he’s been wronged by. There is a lot of pacing in this world. The prisoner paces because he is alone and caged; the mother paces because she must do everything she has already done again; the cook paces because his impending irrelevance is palpable.

The best way to prove you’re serious about something is to roll up to an enemy’s headquarters in a shiny black car, roll the window down halfway, and, to the man standing there, say, "Get inside." One thing you can be sure of: the person outside the car always gets in.