Empire / Screen

Empire: “Our Dancing Days”

The Lyon family is still an absolute mess, but “Our Dancing Days” makes a case for them being a functional and even very sweet unit when they try to be. As Empire prepares for an important investor showcase, Lucious decides the key to winning is to sell the company as a family-centered enterprise.This is hard to do with Hakeem and Jamal at each other’s throats, and the whole family’s been thrown by the arrival of Jamal’s daughter, which has Cookie yelling at Lucious whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Jamal’s daughter (whose name I just don’t know) is a fairly muted presence in the episode. She’s there and being talked about, and eventually she turns up, having been dumped in an elevator at Empire by her mother and left for someone to find. There’s not a lot of reason to care about this new ripple in the Lyon family, even as it hardly seems to cause any waves in Jamal’s personal life. Sure Michael breaks up with him and moves out, but it’s not like we saw enough of their relationship to really get invested (and promos promise Jamal’s not going to be alone long), and even Michael’s reason for the breakup (Jamal’s two weeks of focusing exclusively on his music and his hesitation at coming out in a radio interview last week) are thin.

Jamal’s problem ends up eliciting a surprisingly decent scene with Lucious, who for some reason spends the episode not being as terrible as usual. Maybe it’s learning that his miracle cure is a farce and he’s still going to succumb to his ALS that has him taking a gentler approach with Jamal. He still slips in a dig about Jamal hiding his relationship in the interview meaning that Lucious has been right all along, but he ends it well enough, asking Jamal about the possibility of him actually having a daughter and reminding him he’s not alone.

Lucious’ newfound decency even spreads to the other members of the family (but not to Anika though more on that later). Lucious has new confidence in Cookie, even putting Elle Dallas as the opening act for the showcase based on Cookie’s recommendation. Anika derails this by drugging Elle, which she hopes will cut Cookie off at the knees. It doesn’t, not when Lucious, downed by another series of tremors, leaves an important speech in Cookie’s hands instead of Anika’s or even Andre’s.

Taraji P. Henson sells Cookie’s charm and capabilities to the extent that it makes it easy to see why Lucious thinks she can carry the showcase when he can’t. The speech is positively inspiring, or it least inspires confidence in Lucious and the company, and I (being lame) almost cried when she started naming her sons.  Henson is “Our Dancing Days” is an episode that would have been sunk by a lesser actress in Henson’s position. She’s critical of Lucious from the start (because he forced Jamal to marry Olivia when he was eighteen), concerned when he ends up in the hospital then devastated when she learns about his diagnosis. All these beats track hers and Lucious’ advancing relationship, but Cookie even hits some strides with Elle (though their relationship has been threatened by Anika’s machinations) and Hakeem and Jamal, who are finally able to mend fences and perform together in a ridiculous set that features women in bikinis with televisions for heads.

But “Our Dancing Days” is meant to trace Lucious and Cookie’s inevitable reunion, just  as its about seeing the Lyons come together under stress. Lucious finally confesses to his diagnosis, which sends the gathered family into their respective emotional spirals. Hakeem and Jamal are devastated, and Hakeem has no idea why they’re even doing all this and making Empire go public. And Andre devolves into a frenzy, almost coming to blows with Hakeem and snapping at Rhonda before returning home and sitting in the running shower so Rhonda has to go in and try to rouse him.

It’s a wonderfully emotional episode, and the show’s used the secret of Lucious’ illness with some skill, only letting it out when it’s going to be most affecting. The episode is more subdued than previous ones to better sell this emotional arc, and it finally comes through on having Lucious and Cookie pick up where they left off seventeen years ago. The two falling into bed together is predictable and a long time coming, but by slipping it in here there’s a lot of drama to be mined from it, which is already beginning as Anika catches them in the act.

I can’t wait.

Stray Observations

  • Camilla: “Bae? What is a bae?”
  • I shudder at the thought of someone thinking they’re allowed to call Naomi Campbell “bae”.
  • Camilla got an invite to the showcase (because she guilted Hakeem for trying to give her some ugly necklace that read his name) where she weirdly flirted with Lucious a little bit? More age appropriate but also…ew?
  • Rhonda and Andre were also very touching, and of course they remain touching while Rhonda also makes sure Andre knows that he’s going to end up with everything just like he wanted now that Lucious is dying.
  • Courtney Love’s smile is so pretty I can’t deal. Also, her giving Anika air kisses was hilarious, but I can’t describe why.
  • Lucious’ song was positively embarrassing. “You got me watching you like a camera do” is an actual lyric and that makes me question Cookie calling him a musical god during her speech.
  • What was Malcolm even looking at? I thought he might have seen Anika spiking Elle’s drink but apparently not.

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