In this week’s episode, Lucious puts on an investor showcase, where he must prove, yet again, that Empire’s viable before its long-delayed IPO. At first, that might not seem like a big problem, things on Empire’s business side might seem shipshape (their sports branding arm is doing great, and according to Anika, Lana Del Rey’s on the label), but the emotional state of the label’s artists is anything but. Jamal’s ex-wife’s just appeared, Hakeem’s dealing with some bae-related issues, and Cookie’s worried that Elle Dallas might slip back into drug abuse. Things are always falling apart.
As with any episode of Empire, by the end of the episode, the threats posed at the beginning all come to pass. Raven-Symoné, sorry, Olivia, leaves her daughter with Jamal. Hakeem does something nice for Camilla, so, in turn, she flirts with his father. And Elle falls, not just off the wagon, but straight onto the floor. Still, as Cookie might point out, Empire finds its voice when it moves past the petty and deals with the bigger issues, most notably, the anxiety of a parent who realizes he needs to pass on his control. When Lucious advertises his label, he’s selling himself. He’s the person that’s supposed to solve the problems, to get everyone back together. As “Our Dancing Days” makes clear, he can’t deliver on that promise.
The solution, in Lucious’ case, is family. If Lucious doesn’t have the ability to hold his family together, then at least he can count on his family to hold itself together. That might sound like a sappy premise, but it’s actually pretty dark. You can’t escape the Lyon family. Once you’re in, you’re in. And this holds true for Cookie, who relies on her ex-husband’s business for her own success, for Anika, who finds herself precariously distant from her husband’s affections, and even for Jamal’s newly discovered daughter, who’s about to witness a lot more drama than his baby mama probably expected. The point being, Empire sees little distinction between big family and big business. If you buy in, you get your share of the risk.
The episode begins with a West Wing-like walk-and-talk, as Lucious goes through the preparations for the investor showcase, building up a pretty massive flop sweat in the process. He tells Vernon to put out a search for Olivia. He announces to Cookie that Jamal’s going to have to figure out what to do with his daughter. He discusses a planned meeting with Terry Schiller, a big-name investor who’s obsessed with family, with Andre. Then, right as Cookie brings up Jamal and Hakeem’s bickering, he collapses.
When Lucious heads to the hospital in the ambulance, he asks Anika, not Cookie, to ride with him. It’s a brief moment, but it sets up the tension between Cookie and Anika that carries through the rest of the episode. Empire‘s less interested in practical thinking—why wouldn’t Lucious choose his fiancée?—than the way you act in a crisis, and how that shows your real priorities. When Lucious chooses Anika, he turns away from the mother of his children.
Anyway, with the help of Andre and Rhonda, Lucious invents a cover for his meal with Schiller (he says his plane malfunctioned). Then, a kindly doctor arrives and tells him that the ALS medicine he got last episode was about as fake as, well, the marriage he forced on Jamal. Lucious starts to recover, and manages to conference in to a few planning sessions, but it’s clear that the disease will be impossible to live down.
NEXT: Drugs, investments, dancing televisions!