As a primetime soap, Empire is, by design, A Lot. Feuds, schemes, and general treachery are constantly afoot, and people happen to say, “To the empire,” far more in one episode than I’ve said in my entire life. But, amid all of this drama-filled chaos, Empire is at its heart about one Miss Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). That’s the reason the story begins on the day Cookie gets out of prison and heads to New York City to reclaim her part of “the empire.” I mean how many times over the last four seasons have we heard the former convict purr some variation of, “I’m going to get what’s mine?” That’s why it was so fulfilling to finally see the FOX drama make a huge change in the smallest of ways during the season 4 premiere, “Noble Memory.” That much-awaited moment arrives when viewers finally see Cookie’s golden likeness emblazoned above the Empire insignia during the title card sequence.
Although the gesture only appears onscreen for about five seconds, what it actually means for the Lee Daniels series is monumental. Over nearly 50 episodes, the face of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) traditionally appears in that spot. You know, the same Lucious Lyon who allowed Cookie to go jail for his own crimes, went on to use his wife’s money to create an empire, cut her out of the narrative, and divorced her while she rotted in jail, alone. Yes, that Lucious Lyon. Despite all of Lucious’ actual and spiritual crimes, the title card signaled the rapper-turned-mogul was still the top dog of the series and his company, whether he deserved it or not.
By finally giving Cookie the spotlight above Empire’s name, the show is suggesting this will finally be the Year Of Cookie when it comes the company she built with her blood, sweat, tears, and incarceration. Since the beginning of the show, Cookie has desperately been trying to get a handle on Empire Entertainment while continuously being thwarted by the boundless ego of Lucious. Despite all of the hits Cookie has made, starting with her “ex”-husband’s iconic career, and the fires she put out, Lucious insisted he would never hand over a single drop of power to the woman who gave him everything he holds dear.
After seeing Cookie take center stage in the “Noble Memory” title card, it’s especially exciting to watch where this new season will take her. During the season 3 finale, she and Lucious were ready to give their relationship a real try by traveling the world together. They would take in the sights while eldest son Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) would lead the family company — everyone gets what they want. This happily-ever-after plan was foiled by the explosion of a car bomb hiding under Lucious’ vehicle, which left the Lyon patriarch in a coma. As we learn in the season 4 premiere, he also lost his left leg.
Considering the proclamations of love between Cookie and Lucious before the accident, that could mean the former hypothetically could have left Empire Entertainment behind to care for her man full-time. But, this is Cookie Lyon we’re talking about. In the first moments we see the businesswoman after the title card, she’s in full CEO mode. She making big decisions about press briefings, media coverage, and the upcoming Empire 20th anniversary concert. “Our share prices are high, or revenue is strong, Lucious’ back catalog is more valuable than ever,” Cookie rattles off to an underling, sounding every bit the chief operating officer she is. While Cookie easily could have ran to Lucious' side and handed the company over to Andre, as she had originally planned before the explosion, she’s instead continuing to be the boss we’ve always known her to be.
The Lyon mom’s calm, cool, and collected stewardship of Empire comes in stark contrast with the only other person who has dethroned Luscious in the deeply metaphorical opening sequence. That person is her son Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y. Gray). Please let it sink in that Mr. “Drip Drop” himself got the keys to the Empire kingdom long before the wildly capable Cookie ever did. As you can expect, the entire thing was a disaster. In "A Rose By Any Other Name," Hakeem makes a manipulative, eventually fatal sex tape, Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) is murdered by her wife — and Hakeem’s lover — Camilla Marks-Whiteman (Naomi Campbell), and Lucious bullies Camilla into committing suicide. Literally all of that happens in a single 43-minute episode because Hakeem was in charge. Yet, Empire’s answer to Joffrey “Baratheon” (Jack Gleeson) made it to title card infamy in less than 25 episodes. It took Cookie nearly double that amount to get the same golden treatment on a show that’s arguably hers before anyone else’s.
At least we can rest assured knowing we’re going to see more of supreme boss lady Cookie going forward in season 4. As previews confirm, with Lucious’s garbage self sidelined following his traumatizing accident, Cookie will be in charge of protecting the Empire Entertainment ship from all sides. Not only will she be leading the business as we see in "Noble," she’ll also be going toe-to-toe with Diana Dubois (Phylicia Rashad) as she attempts to completely dismantle the Lyon family by whatever means necessary, blackmail and sexual collusion included.
While Diana is a formidable opponent, she should probably watch her back. As I said, Cookie has been trying to get what's hers for four seasons now. Now that she's grabbed it by the gold-plated credits sequence, not even Claire Huxtable can get in her way.
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