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!
Speaking of Jamal, after seeing Olivia arrive at Empire, the newly minted baby daddy does his best to reconcile with Michael. But when Jamal returns to his apartment, Michael’s already moving his stuff into a minivan. “Goodbye,” Michael says with his mournful eyes. “We’ll always have our ugly scarf collection.” (Okay, it’s actually something about Jamal’s ambition being too much for him, and also the fact Jamal told a radio host that he didn’t have anyone important in his life.)
Meanwhile, Hakeem tries to make amends with his own bae, Camilla, who does not appreciate Hakeem or being called “bae.” He asks Camilla to dinner, gives her a necklace with his name on it, and finally wins her over by suggesting that she come to the investor showcase under a fake name. Hey, Hakeem implies, it’ll maybe be like we’re going out together. Naomi Campbell does a great job being absolutely disgusted with everyone and everything, so it’s kind of a pity when Hakeem suggests that she come to the investor showcase with him and she has to try to seem less disgusted with the universe.
Given that everyone else’s lives are falling apart, it naturally falls to Cookie to pull them together. With the support of Lucious, she negotiates for the now-sober Elle to open the showcase, and we get to hear Courtney Love break out a little country-fied slow jam. She even shouts down Hakeem and Jamal’s own mid-rehearsal fight as she insists that maybe it’s a good idea for everyone to put their emotions aside and focus on the business. Lucious, who’s somehow snuck out of the hospital, witnesses Cookie’s tirade and smiles to himself. Hey, maybe his ex-wife is onto something.
Lucious also takes a moment to reconcile with Jamal, who’s lost a boyfriend and gained a daughter in the space of two commercial breaks. Lucious tries to explain that he thought of Jamal’s marriage to Olivia, back when he was 18, as “protection” of the same sort that Jamal employs when lying about his sexuality in the press now. Maybe it’s the life-threatening disease, but Lucious has developed a surprising level of empathy, even if he’s coming into it too late. Terrence Howard and Jussie Smollett play the father-son scene with just the right amount of bitter resentment and tender, suspicious hope.
Like any investor showcase, Empire’s features a good amount of intrigue, a little dose of highly addictive drugs, and a lot of women wearing televisions on their heads. The intrigue comes from Camilla, who uses her cover as a concerned investor slash international woman of mystery to flirt with her bae’s father. The drugs come from Anika, who slips a vial into Elle’s drink, rendering her unfit to open the show. And the collection of women wearing televisions on their heads are thanks to Hakeem and Jamal, who open the investor showcase with a late-stage-capitalism themed performance that references everything from refrigerators to MTV. We get it. You killed the radio star.
While Hakeem and Jamal perform, Lucious experiences another onset of sickness, though this time it’s from the ALS and not the meds. He can barely speak, and he needs someone to go onstage and make his speech for him. Will it be Anika? Andre? Nope! It’s Cookie, who rolls up to the podium, ignores the teleprompters and gives a killer lecture about family, business, and mostly, importantly, Lucious. Her ex-husband, she tells the crowd, “is a musical god, and he’s also a scary son of a bitch that had a dream.” At the end of the speech, the audience is beside itself, and Lucious is totally won over. “I love you Cookie,” he says. Okay sure, family and love is great, but can somebody tell the investors how much money Empire makes?
NEXT: Cookie and Lucious *ahem* reconnect…[pagebreak]
After the showcase is over, Anika heads off to an important meeting in Chicago, while Lucious rounds up the rest of his family and comes clean about his disease. After hearing the news, Andre freaks out about the future of the business, and Hakeem freaks out about his father’s imminent death. Andre leaves to take a mournful, fully clothed shower, while he stares deeply into his loving wife’s eyes. It’s safe to assume that the two will be on the war path next week.
Lucious and Cookie then retire for drinks at Lucious’ place, where they wax nostalgic about the good old days while listening to an old Lucious Lyon track. Lucious thanks Cookie for covering for him, and Cookie tells Lucious that she was happy to help the company: “This was my dream too, remember?” Their connection is too strong for words, and the two start dancing. Eventually, the dancing leads to kissing, and the kissing leads to the bedroom. Anika returns from her business trip, notices the two half-empty glasses, and then discovers Cookie and Lucious in the bedroom. Boo Boo Kitty’s claws are about to come out.
Wait, how was the music?
Empire went all-out this week, giving us the nearly-Nashville Courtney Love country piece, “Walk Out On Me”; a Terrence Howard seduction song, “You’re So Beautiful”; and the totally absurd Hakeem and Jamal duet, “Money For Nothing.” As with much of Empire‘s output, the songs all wavered between sounding like actual, ready-for-radio-play singles and tongue-in-cheek imitations of those singles, but still, nothing was better than “Money For Nothing,” which was both Dada-level absurd (Hakeem raps “Commercialize! Commercialize!” at one point) and Timbaland-level catchy.
“Our Dancing Days” is a line from Romeo and Juliet, act 1, scene 5. It comes from a speech in which Capulet (Juliet’s father) reminisces to his attendants before a big party:
“Nay, sit, nay, sit, good cousin Capulet;
For you and I are past our dancing days:
How long is’t now since last yourself and I
Were in a mask?”
Lucious is the clear stand-in for Capulet, the aging patriarch who’s realized that he can’t keep up with the young kids anymore. Of course, Capulet’s nostalgia is misplaced—he spent a lot of his youth stuck in a feud with the Montagues—and those dancing days were probably times when he was actively killing people. So when Cookie and Lucious look back on their years spending hustling, they probably think of those dangerous times as dancing days, too.
Notes, quotes, and observations:
- Cookie’s outfit rankings. There weren’t many, but: 3) the animal print dress she wears to shout at Hakeem and Jamal 2) The blue blouse and snake print skirt she wears in the episode’s first scene, 1) The black and white patterned dress she wears to the investor showcase and to drinks with Lucious.
- I don’t want to have to say this, but Jamal wears too many scarves. Mix it up.
- “Our Dancing Days” was written by Attica Locke and directed by Sanaa Hamri.
- This week in Empire seeing how much it can get away with: Elle complains that after spending too much time with Empire, she’s on “CP time.” (That’s “colored people time,” as Porscha helpfully explains.)