THE PERFORMER | Terrence Howard
THE SHOW | Empire
THE EPISODE | “The Empire Unpossess’d” (May 23, 2018)
THE PERFORMANCE | Taraji P. Henson’s performance as Empire‘s queen-bee matriarch Cookie is so masterfully intoxicating that it’s easy to overlook the incredible work being done week in and week out by her leading man. But this season, as Lucious slowly, agonizingly recovered from a car bombing that left him physically and mentally impaired, Howard allowed us to see a new, vulnerable side of his alter ego — and we couldn’t take our eyes off of him. Turns out, he saved his best for last (aka Wednesday’s Season 4 finale).
Two moments in particular stood out. The first one found Lucious — eyeing a long-term prison sentence for his role in Shine’s death — pleading with his eldest son Andre to look after the family business and, more importantly, the family while he’s away. “Out of all of them, you’re the one who’s most like me,” he wept to his embattled progeny, Howard exuding remarkable restraint. “You have me in you. You’re the Lyon, son.”
The second scene arrived at hour’s end as Lucious vowed to love, honor and cherish Cookie in an impromptu wedding ceremony at City Hall. “You are my breath,” he began, Howard’s voice trembling with nervous anticipation and genuine affection. “You’re my song. You’re the chorus that plays in my head. You’re the lights I see when I close my eyes. You’re my everything, Cookie.” It was a moment four years in the making, and thanks in large part to Howard’s deft, subtle touch, it was ridiculously satisfying.
HONORABLE MENTION | Margo Martindale only needed a single scene this week to earn a spot here, as The Americans‘ spy handler Claudia learned that Elizabeth had betrayed her and exposed her plot to undermine the Soviet leadership. Martindale didn’t scream or cry — that’s not Claudia’s style — but through her carefully chosen words and icy demeanor, she made it very clear that Elizabeth had ruined everything she’d been working towards for decades. “I had so much faith in you… the damage you have done is indescribable,” she said, spitting out that last word with a barely contained hatred. Martindale only let Claudia’s tough exterior drop for a moment, as she served herself a bowl of Russian stew and her eyes flickered with fear of an uncertain future. Next week is the series finale, so if this scene is Martindale’s swan song, we can only say: Bravo. (Or whatever “bravo” is in Russian.)
HONORABLE MENTION | Dan Conner has always prided himself on being able to provide for his family. But in Roseanne’s Season 10 finale, the breadwinner was at his wits’ end, burdened by unforeseen expenses at an age where most people are settling into retirement. Portrayer John Goodman made us feel for his character, a once stoic figure who now looked haggard and defeated as he reckoned with the hand the universe dealt him. “I spent my whole life hanging on by my fingertips, telling everybody not to worry, that I was gonna make it OK because that’s my job,” Dan lamented to his longtime pal Chuck as he stood in the middle of his flooded basement, Goodman infusing every word with heartbreaking desperation. “Well, now I can’t promise that anymore.” Later, while alone, he let his anger about his current predicament take root when he grabbed a crowbar and put it through a door. Dan didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. The pain and despair in Goodman’s face spoke volumes.
HONORABLE MENTION | NCIS: Los Angeles left many lives in peril with its finale, but the state of Deeks and Kensi’s union is also up in the air in the wake of a scene that featured an emotionally crushing performance by Eric Christian Olsen. When Deeks pitched the rescue of Mosley’s son as “one last mission” for the to-be-marrieds, Kensi’s deafening silence foretold hard truths to come. “We can have the most amazing life together,” Deeks pleaded. “Just me and you and all the things we should be doing with our lives” — including having kids. Or not, Kensi proposed. “Baby, we talked about this…,” a gut-punched Deeks responded, Olsen’s eyes communicating shock and sadness. It was then Deeks who went silent, before coming out and saying it: “I don’t think we should be getting married,” with so many “big questions” on the table. Ouch, our Densi-loving hearts!
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!