Screens: FOX

Why, Lucious, You Seem Almost Human!

Empire gives this jerkhole some believably touching scenes.

Welcome to The Faces Of Empire, where I select the shameless mugs that best express the weekly spirit of America's favorite hip-hop soap opera.

It feels weird to say this, but Lucious was actually a central character in last night's Empire. I know! Even though he's ostensibly the protagonist, he's felt like a background figure for most of this season -- at least to me. Tonight, though, he had the good sense to fully put himself back on Cookie's team, which means he can return to the center of things again.

And it absolutely makes sense that Lucious and Cookie end up screwing by the final scene. After all, he overhears her defending him to his sons, and then she steps in and delivers an IPO-saving speech about what a great man he is to a bunch of potential investors. Nothing moves Mr. Lyon like someone feeding his narcissism, burnishing his brand, and fattening his wallet.

But it's not just his monstrous side getting stroked, which is what makes this episode so satisfying. Because when Lucious collapses after taking all those creepy drugs, he almost asks Cookie to ride in the ambulance with him instead of Anika, and everybody clocks it. When he finally comes out to his family about his ALS, he also seems genuinely concerned about how Cookie's taking it, which leads directly to their boot-knocking.

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What I'm saying is that while the show doesn't forget this man is a villain -- he did kill his best friend, remember -- it also allows him to be a romantic who can actually love at least one person. Watching Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson rotate around each other, I totally buy them as lifelong lovers who just can't quit each other, and I buy that Lucious really does feel things about her that don't involve platinum plaques.

The other half of this, of course, is Cookie, who has further solidified into a saint on this earth. It's fascinating how she's basically the only character who never does anything cruel...who helps people constantly and seems to love them with her whole heart. She may say she's only praising Lucious to protect her own money, but it's obviously not true. (Again, it helps that Taraji P. is a really good actor.)

It has finally clicked for me that THIS is why she's the center of the series...because in a world of vipers and backstabbers, she's a good guy with power. Jamal and Elle both seem essentially good, too, but they both need Cookie right now in order to thrive. So obviously, we want to watch her do her thing because even though she's drawn to the destructive side of Lucious, she's got enough agency to create a moral universe all by herself. She's flawed, but she's a hero. And not an anti-hero, either, which is nice. Just a hero in amazing furs.

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When Cookie finds out that Anika drugged Elle before her big comeback concert, however, she may take a temporary walk to the dark side. That was some cold shit! And once again, it seems really bad for this business that everyone seems to care so much about. But what's an IPO, I guess, when you need to sabotage Cookie by sabotaging the artist she's trying to help?

Sidebar: I'm really glad we got to see Courtney Love perform Elle's song before the character got messed up on secret drugs. Because she killed it. You can watch those few minutes and understand why Love's been a rock star for so long. It's not just her enormous personality and frequent craziness. It's her undeniable, animal talent.

Okay, where we? ...Oh right! Weird love affairs! The worst writing moment of the episode arrives when Anika walks in on Cookie and Lucious doing it. Because of COURSE she gets home early from her out of town meeting with Lana Del Rey (!!!). I don't know why the writers succumbed to that trite mess. It would be completely believable (and much less predictable) for Cookie to get out of bed and text Anika with lyrics from "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)."

Equally dubious is Andre's reaction to finding out his dad has ALS. Of COURSE this is the precise moment his bipolar disorder flares up, which means the bad news sends him screaming around until he winds up fully clothed in his shower, with the water on full blast. But then -- and I'll give the writers this -- Rhonda gets in there with him and tenderly promises him that he still has what it takes to take over Empire. And it's weirdly touching, because she obvious cares about him. But it's also really messed up, because she uses their evil plot to bring him back to reality.

I'm interested to see where that goes, but I'm even more fascinated to find out what happens to Security Guard Malcolm. Cookie wants a taste. Becky wants a taste. I'm sure at least three other ladies do, too. BUT WHO SHALL BED HIM? AND WILL THEY WRITE A HOT-ASS SONG ABOUT IT?

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