At first, I thought “Our Dancing Days” was going to be another Empire episode where boneheaded moves would be made left and right, by both the characters and the show. Some of the characters make decisions so poorly thought-out in the beginning that Bill Engvall’s “Here’s Your Sign” bit kept running through my head.
Let’s start with Lucious, who really can’t hide the fact that he’s dying anymore. As the episode begins, with him, Cookie, Vernon, Anika, and his bodyguards marching through the Empire Entertainment building, walking and talking like they’re on The West Wing or something, it appears obvious to everyone that dude is not looking good as they constantly ask him, “Are you all right?”
After Cookie gets up in his grill and reads him a bit too far, he eventually passes out on the floor of his office, sending him to the hospital. Collapsing couldn’t have a come at a worse time: Empire is throwing an investor showcase at Leviticus. There’s one important investor he was supposed to meet for lunch, but he dispatches Andre to the lunch meeting, giving the man a bogus story about plane trouble in Baltimore. I was a bit befuddled by this — since Lucious is a major celebrity, wouldn’t news of him getting wheeled off to the hospital be all over the news or TMZ (or, in this show’s case, TMI)?
Even though a doctor informs him that he’s in the early stages of liver disease, thanks to those cockamamie cocktails his personal physician (who apparently doesn’t have a license to practice medicine) gave him, Lucious gets out of bed and gets back into the-show-must-go-on mode. He heads over to Leviticus right as Cookie orders a feuding Hakeem and Jamal to stop the childish infighting and work together, for their father’s sake.
Hakeem and Jamal are also making some silly-ass regretful decisions this week. Jamal sadly lets Michael get away, still fuming after Jamal said he had no one special in that interview last week. As he packs up all his things and speeds off from Jamal’s life (so long, Dora, we hardly knew ya!), Michael is also pissed about that whole Jamal-is-a-baby-daddy thing. Of course, last week ended with the bombshell that Jamal has a daughter from a previous marriage to Raven-Symoné’s Olivia. Symoné is sadly nowhere to be found this week, but she did leave the kid at the Empire offices. This makes things awkward for Jamal, who spends part of the episode dodging the kid and his newfound single-parent responsibilities.
But Hakeem takes the Dumb Cake this week. Practically cutting Tiana out of his life for creeping around with another girl, he gets his fortysomething side chick Camilla back to his place for a romantic dinner. The capper is when he gives her a necklace with his name dangling in gold-plated letters. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who yelled, “THIS MUHFUCKA HERE!” when he does this?) Fed up with having an on-the-low relationship, Camilla demands that they at least go out like a couple, since Hakeem is too scared to bring their relationship out into the public. (Once again, this is a bad week for Empire to pull this shit like this, especially since the No. 1 movie last weekend was directed by a woman who’s proudly married to a guy almost half her age.) Seriously, what the hell does this woman, who obviously has enough confidence and beauty to snag any man she wants, see in this self-centered punk? Does she honestly think this fool has potential?
She gets Hakeem to invite her to the showcase as an investor — and, of course, when we finally get to the showcase, that’s when things get interesting. A clean-and-sober Elle Dallas is there, all glammed-up and ready to wow these folks, thanks to Cookie’s support. This does not sit well for Anika, so she slips something in Elle’s coffee, which turns her into a woozy mess. This obviously enrages Cookie, who has to bite the bullet and tell Lucious she can’t go on. But she eventually redeems herself by speaking to the investors about Empire when Lucious briefly loses his voice.
Let’s just go ahead and say “Dancing” will be Taraji P. Henson’s submission for an Best Actress Emmy nomination. Along with chewing out Jamal and Hakeem earlier, Henson was in full assertive swing as she took the podium and winged it, Cookie-style. Those investors are in the palm of her finely manicured hand as she recounts how she and Lucious started Empire back in the ghettos of Philly. Her rousing oratory skills obviously wow the crowd and even prompt Lucious to say he loves her — in front of Anika!
The success of the show leads to Lucious to finally come clean to the family about his ALS, which I still think he should’ve done episodes ago. (But of course we wouldn’t have had all these weeks of amusingly ratchet, dysfunctional-family chaos.) This, of course, sends the fam through a tailspin of emotions. (Hell, Jamal and a hyperventilating Andre almost get into it, forcing Andre to rush home and hop in the shower with his clothes on.) Lucious, who has surprisingly been acting less like a manipulative tyrant and more like a father figure for most of the episode, urges his youngest boys to stay strong. They even have a literal head-to-head-to-head bonding moment.
And then there’s this week’s “Oh, shit!” ending, in which Lucious and a distraught Cookie end up in bed after a brief dance. Unfortunately, they both don’t hear Anika, who silently catches them in the act, coming through the front door. Whereas the first half of “Dancing” had its dimwitted moments, the show seemed to straighten itself out in the second half, becoming both dramatically compelling and entertainingly soapy with a strong finish. This episode is practically reflective of the show as a whole. It proves that Empire is still trying to find its way in becoming more than just tawdry, extravagant, watercooler TV. As this episode shows, it may take a while to get there, but it’ll get there eventually.
A FEW STRAY THOUGHTS:
- Well, Anika’s back to being a bona fide piece of work! Drugging Elle was such a desperate, mean-girl move. I do feel that the writers are making it too easy for us to write her off. These past few episodes have shown us that the woman does have a sympathetic side, being there for her man in his time for need. It’s like drugging Ellie was the writers’ way of making sure we didn’t think Cookie was wrong for going to bed with Lucious, even though Cookie still doesn’t know about Anika drugging Elle. This love triangle will certainly get heated in the weeks to come, especially since Malcolm possibly saw Anika slip Elle the mickey at the club. Speaking of Malcolm …
- Becky’s back — and she’s pushing up on Malcolm! Even though it appears a Cookie-Malcolm union is inevitable, I wouldn’t be mad at all if Malcolm found some BBW love with Becky.
- Seeing Courtney Love all diva-ed-out is beginning to grow on me, especially when she says lines like “I’ve been around Empire for so long, I’m on CP time.” (She’s like the show’s own Sandra Bernhard.) Perhaps we’ll see her try to get her act together in future episodes. Maybe she’ll even find a sponsor in fellow addict Vernon, who we saw escort her through the crowd outside Leviticus.
- Seriously, where is Tiana? Wouldn’t she have been a part of the showcase, being that she’s the label’s Rihanna and all?
- So Lucious finally realizes, after me and mostly everyone else came to this conclusion weeks ago, that Jamal and Hakeem work well together and has them perform as a duo at the showcase. While it's awesome seeing them perform “Live in the Moment” again outside Leviticus, I gotta admit that song they did inside, with the dancing girls with TVs on their heads, was a bit on the tacky side.
- A big shout-out to Mark Harris for noticing how the opening credits messed up a special guest star’s name.
- I hate to keep bringing this up, but DIDN’T COOKIE KILL SOMEBODY A COUPLE OF WEEKS BACK? So we’re just gonna put a pin in that for the time being, huh?