Warning: This article contains spoilers for Empire season 6, episode 5, “Stronger Than My Rival.”
Cookie is done.
Through five-plus seasons of Empire, we’ve watched as Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) has repeatedly been put through the wringer by Lucious (Terrence Howard) — but Henson says the revelation at the end of Tuesday’s episode was the last straw. Still angered by Cookie’s refusal to go on the run with him in the season 5 finale and her relationship with Damon (Wood Harris), Lucious already had payback on his mind when Cookie delivered a powerful speech in which she told women to not follow men into bad choices like she had. Lucious then proceeded to turn Cookie’s world upside down. She had long clung to the belief that her money helped start Empire while she was in jail, but Lucious told her he quickly blew through that money and was only able to found his company after sticking up local rapper and bank robber Philly Street.
How will Cookie handle this news? EW chatted with Henson about the reveal, Cookie seemingly being blown up in a flash-forward, and her excitement over the show continuing to put a spotlight on mental health.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start by going back an episode: When you read the script and saw Cookie getting in a car and then that car exploding, what was your immediate reaction?
TARAJI P. HENSON: I was like, “The people are going to go nuts.” I was so annoyed because I had an event to go to that night and I couldn’t live-tweet, but I saw that Twitter was going crazy. They were like, “You better not kill Cookie! If you kill Cookie, I am done!”
Did you have a lot of questions for showrunner Brett Mahoney after reading that?
I didn’t have any questions. They tell us how things are going to go before we start the season. I mean, it’s the end, you’ve got to go out with a bang. That’s the only way that Cookie knows how to go out.
That’s a flash-forward so of course we’ll see more, but what can you tease about what’s to come with that moment?
Oh, absolutely, we’re going to fill you in. You’ve just got to pay attention. That’s what is going to keep people on their toes.
Moving on to this episode and something that has been going on throughout season, it’s been interesting watching Cookie go to therapy. Was it important to you to have Cookie find an outlet to open up in?
I love the mental health piece and how our show has dealt with it. In the African-American community, we don’t speak about it, so much so that I started a foundation because it’s something that needs to be addressed. And I just love that our show has always dealt with it, with Andre [Trai Byers] from season 1 all the way to Cookie now. And when you think about it, she should have been in therapy. Seventeen years of prison — what has that done to her? It took this tumultuous relationship to send her there, but she’s going to find out some other things about herself, and I think it’s beautiful that the audience gets to see what it’s like to be in a session, because I think that is what keeps people away from therapists. And I love that we do have an African-American therapist, so that we can show that they exist, even though there’s not a lot of them. Hopefully the work I’m doing with my foundation will change that. And hopefully us dealing with it on our show will normalize the conversation about mental health.
As always, Lucious will not forgive Cookie and move on, even after she has done exactly that for him so many times. Is she done trying for forgiveness?
She’s done. She’s tired. She’s been doing this with this man for her whole life. It’s his way or the highway, and it looks like Cookie is choosing the highway, which is good for her because she gets to spread her wings and do what she wants to do instead of being manipulated by the men in her life. I think this is going to be such a powerful season for people who find themselves stuck in these relationships that they can’t get out of. Lucious is a master puppeteer; he’s been pulling at Cookie’s heartstrings since she was a little girl — when is enough enough? She’s out of sync, and thank God the show made her go see about herself, because it’s actually helping her see the light in this tunnel that she’s been in with Lucious.
And her being done is so evident in her powerful speech at that event. What did you love about getting this juicy speech and having her express these emotions?
I can’t wait to see that. I love good writing. You give me good writing, I will eat that up and turn it into caviar on a silver platter. Especially with Cookie, because I know her. The writing this season has been impeccable; they haven’t dropped one beat. It feels like I’m in a movie. Wow, Brett is doing such an amazing job with these stories. When I read it, I felt her. I just felt the cloud lift and her wings expand when she walked out that door. I just felt her be lighter. Because I’ve been there, in a relationship where you know it’s not good for you but you’re just stuck. And she was tired of being stuck. For God’s sake, this woman has already been in a cage for 17 years. Don’t stay in the cage when you’re free.
I think you’ll really enjoy it when you get to see it.
Do you think I’ll get an Emmy?! Cookie deserves a damn Emmy! [Laughs] It’s Cookie that deserves one.
That speech leads into the final scene, with Lucious so angry that he decides to try and tear down her longstanding belief that it was her money that started Empire. Knowing how important that was to her, how did you take that reveal?
It was a kick to her stomach. He did that to hurt her. But when you peel back the layers, you still used that $400,000 and it helped. I don’t care what you say, you could have spent it on bubble gum, it don’t matter — you wouldn’t have had that money to spend on bubble gum before. You’ll see, it’s all going to be told in the flashbacks.
That’s a good point.
And I’m sure that money helped springboard into some more money. C’mon, stop, dude. But he’s so selfish and an egomaniac.
As you said, we’ll see this reveal play out, but what else can you say about what’s to come for Cookie in the next few episodes? We’re approaching the midseason finale, which you guys always go big for.
Cookie is on a journey to find herself, and to find joy and what makes her happy. Right now it’s the talk show, and then music starts to creep back in, but she’s really not interested in working with Empire. That’s how you know she’s really done with Lucious. She starts to dabble in music and it starts calling her back. Because that’s who she is, and that’s what her sisters tell her. To get her out of this funk from leaving Lucious, her sisters take her to Miami, and things get kind of crazy. A little bit of jail time. But they convince her, while chilling behind bars, that music has always been her love, so why is she running from it?
With each episode, you’re getting closer and closer to the end. Has that started to sink in yet?
When you’re in the thing and it’s like season 2, you’re like, “I can’t wait to the end of the season,” because you know you’re coming back. This time, it’s like, “No, no! We’re already on episode 10?! Noooo!” So it’s bittersweet. I’m glad we’re going out on top. People still love this show, but at the same time it’s so sad. All good things must come to an end, though.
Empire airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
- Empire showrunner on the bloody final season premiere: ‘He looks pretty dead’
- Empire showrunner teases the ‘big and dynamic’ final season
- Empire star Taraji P. Henson on saying goodbye to Cookie: ‘She gave me a second life in this industry’