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'Empire' season finale: The 'catfight' stars

Cookie has fists of fury, as Anika found

Cookie has fists of fury, as Anika found out the hard way on Wednesday's two-part finale of "Empire." But what is it about the "catfight" -- a soap convention for decades -- anyway? Credit: AP / Fox / Chuck Hodes

On Wednesday's "Empire" two-part finale: Lucious punches Hakeem, and tries to con Andre's spiritual adviser -- who looks just like Jennifer Hudson. He finally gets around to pretending to love Jamal, upon whom he bestows his entire kingdom, as vice chairman, which doesn't make Hakeem or Andre too happy, as they try to figure out how to take away the whole shebang. Cookie learns some of Lucious's deepest secrets while he's in some sort of drug-induced stupor. Lucious is arrested at the end for murder.

Oh, and Rhonda kills Uncle Vernon, my favorite character on "Empire"-- who has the best name, of course.

And that's what you missed on the season finale of "Empire," TV's hottest show.

But if you actually were otherwise engaged and missed Wednesday night's "event," what you really missed was the "fight" -- the one between Grace Gealey's Anika and Taraji P. Henson's Cookie.

It was a knockdown and drag-out, which went about two rounds -- a full-on fury of fists, hair, legs, and heels.

It was also a tip of the hat, or tribute, or flat-out copy of the oldest soap convention of them all: The so-called "catfight" that befalls the two female leads.

It's the soap operatic showstopper of showstoppers, two women, usually alone, finally confronting each other over that one slight, that building resentment, that sense of justice denied or prolonged.

There's usually a man involved. He typically makes his entrance after the furniture has been destroyed, the bodices ripped.

"Enough of this!" he yells.

One of the combatants is often a “nice” character, the other a “mean” one.

The fight has been building for days, months, even years. And finally, the eruption!

What is it about soaps and catfights? Feminists have decried them for years -- justifiably so, as some sort of overwrought woman-versus-woman coliseum spectacle that demeans both, while reinforcing stereotypes or exploiting them.

But still, they endure.

And so, if you want any further evidence of what "Empire" really is, and why it has been so successful so quickly, look no further than last night and the "catfight."

This is just another vintage prime-time soap, with tropes that have been part of the oldest form of televised entertainment -- the soap opera -- for decades.

Let's go to the videotape.

Here are just four examples from year's past. Follow the links -- some of these clips feature some raw language, but nothing you didn't hear Wednesday night. .

Here's one of the most famous, from NBC's "Generations" -- a groundbreaking soap featuring a mostly African-American cast, which aired from 1989 to 1991.

This brawl was between Doreen Jackson (Jonelle Allen) and Maya Reubens (Vivica A. Fox).

Next, this one's a classic -- from "General Hospital." The combatants are Olivia (Lisa LoCicero) and Claudia Antonia Zacchara Corinthos (Sarah Brown). Claudia's the daughter of a mob boss.

On our next card, we have Traci Abbott Carlton Connolly (Beth Maitland) versus Lauren Fenmore Baldwin (Tracey E. Bregman) from "The Young and the Restless." Now ladies, is this any way to behave? 

And finally, the most famous fight of them all, known simply as "Dynasty's"  lily pond slap-down.

Krystle Grant Jennings Carrington (Linda Evans) had a long and fraught relationship with Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan (Joan Collins). Alexis was constantly trying to undermine Krystle and Blake over "Dynasty's" 10 seasons, while periodically, Krystle would lash out.

Finally, enough was enough. Krystle throws Alexis into the drink, and then connects with a flurry of rights to Alexis's jaw Even the frogs were horrified.

The lily pond smackdown made headlines.

But there was a long history. Go here for a sampling.

And so, to conclude Thursday morning's lesson, expect more Anika-Cookie fireworks on the second season of "Empire."

And if they both happen to be near a pond, watch out.

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