Much like the series that tries to contain her, Cookie Lyon has kicked open pop culture and seized control of every conversation like a boardroom door. With every week of soaring ratings, Taraji P. Henson’s character continues to own every scene she’s in. Even the word “own” seems too weak a verb to describe Cookie’s power.
At first, the Lyon matriarch seemed like a scorned, embittered ex-wife, single-mindedly seeking power over her ex-husband’s record company. But that’s not the case. Cookie’s genuine love of music, Lucious, and her sons led her to taking that drug rap, sending her to prison for 17 years—where her family scarcely contact her to thank her for that sacrifice.
On Wednesday night, Empire wraps up its electric debut season with a two-hour finale beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. It’ll usher in a summer sans Cookie—a reality we can’t quite face yet. But let’s not focus on that here. Instead, let’s celebrate Empire Entertainment’s prime hitmaker and head of A&R. These are Cookie’s 10 best moments from season 1 (so far), one from each episode that’s aired. (Spoilers from the previous episodes follow.)
Honorable mention: Every board meeting interruption
Before she got her rightful spot at Empire, Cookie’s favorite pastime was busting open the boardroom’s doors and making her presence known—as if anyone could possibly ignore her.
10. “The name’s Cookie. Ask about me.” (episode 5)
A small moment in a slow-burning episode that turns wild at the end—and clearly, a favorite of creator Lee Daniels. Jamal needs to record away from Empire to stick it to Lucious. He opts for an overly ghettoized-looking Bronx studio… called Ghetto Ass Studios. Cookie meets him there, and as a way to sway the owner, she drops a more confident version of the “do you know who I am?” line some celebrities use to try to get what they want.
9. Gaming Titan’s Nation of Islam-following mom (episode 4)
Titan is dubbed “the most authentic rapper since 2pac,” so naturally Lucious wants to steal him from his rival and former boss Billy “John Bender” Baretti. While Anika and L plot, Cookie attempts to sway mama Titan by pretending she’s in the Nation of Islam, too. It nearly works… but Lucious’ prison visit to Titan seals the deal. A for effort?
8. Scoring Puma’s hit for Jamal (episode 3)
Cuba Gooding Jr.’s guest spot as Puma—the former producer-turned-horse-trainer-slash-bidder for Cookie’s affection—should have lasted longer than this brief moment. But he’s a strong partner for Henson, able to convince us that these two have a pst. With her moves, Cookie sets the course for Jamal’s career.
7. Telling Kidd Fo-Fo “You gonna Ray Rice me? I’ve faced bigger in prison—with more talent, bitch!” (episode 2)
Kidd Fo-Fo was Empire’s top rapper, but it wasn’t a great look when a mall shooter cited his lyrics as inspiration. In the tragedy’s wake, Cookie wants him dropped from the label, but Lucious refuses. Fo-Fo later disses Cookie, prompting this… timid response. Fo-Fo’s exhibition of disrespect leads to the Lucious kicking him to the curb. Cookie always wins.
6. “If you want Cookie’s Nookie, then ditch the bitch.” (episode 8)
Lucious is torn between returning to his ex-wife and staying with his young fiancée. When Cookie puts the situation in these delicate terms, though, he truly knows what’s up… and he still waffles, making things worse.
5. The rebuffed proposal (episode 10)
The clubhouse leader for last week’s episode might have been when Cookie believes Empire head of security Malcolm (Derek Luke) is watching her through hidden cameras, prompting her to “put on a show” for him. But that was before Lucious admitted to impregnating Jamal’s sham ex-wife Olivia, revealing himself as Lola’s father. When Lucious then asks to reinstate his and Cookie’s vows, she shuns him, stunned at the betrayal. The Lyon queen has been uncaged.
4. The investors speech (episode 7)
The scene is Leviticus. Lucious hosts an event for potential Empire investors for the IPO. After a stellar performance from Hakeem and Jamal, Lucious is set to give a speech… but his ALS causes a throat spasm, rendering him speechless. Whom does he tap? Anika, who wrote the speech? Andre, the eldest son and company CFO? No. It’s Cookie. Because family, and narrative. And she kills it.
3. Grabbing Jamal out of the trash in flashback (episode 1)
An emotionally devastating moment, to offset all the ridiculosity: We flash back to Cookie and Lucious’ cramped Philadelphia apartment. Jamal walks into the living room in his mom’s clothes. Lucious literally tries to throw his middle son away, taking him outside and leaving him in the trashcan. A horrified, infuriated Cookie runs out to fetch and reassure the young Jamal. It’s the moment we learned there’s more to Cookie than brashness—she’s also got a huge heart.
2. Drinking sizzurp in Ghetto Ass Studios (episode 9)
This is a landmark network television moment—how often do you see beloved characters drinking a codeine concoction? Cookie keeps step with the men in the studio, earning their props to prevent them from jumping off the Empire ship—ensuring it’s never sinking. What could possibly dethrone that moment? This one:
1. Coming to dinner in her birthday suit (episode 6)
I mean… this kept my jaw dropped throughout the episode. It was a massive miscalculation, but one that encapsulates Cookie. She dreams big and seeks what she wants—which is for her family to be strong and united. She’s still getting a hang of post-prison life. She’s not afraid to blow someone’s spot, or call them out if she thinks they’re disrespecting her… or show up to a fancy dinner in nothing but a coat and fancy underwear. Long live Cookie.