'Empire's' Taraji P. Henson Breaks Down Cookie's Quest for Closure

The actress talks with THR about the central Lyon relationship and Cookie's own musical talents.
Chuck Hodes/FOX

Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) got out of jail and stormed straight over to Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), determined to get what was hers. As the founder of Empire Entertainment, she felt she was due half the company that now encompasses so much more than just the one artist she was helping to make big 17 years ago. But as Lucious' wife and the mother of his three sons, she also felt she was due something much more important than money: closure.

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"It’s unfinished business! When there’s no closure, there’s always questions. So, if anything, she has questions. Does she love him? Abso-f—ing-lutely. She did 17 years for him. Absolutely, that’s a no-brainer [that] she has a deep love for him. She has three boys with him, and that will never change," Henson tells The Hollywood Reporter of the Fox hip-hop drama's central relationship.

"Let’s be real, here: This woman went away 17 years ago with mad love for that man," she says. "That doesn't go away. She wouldn't have gone away if she didn't have that love for him. And I can understand her pain — I can understand her snitching to get out — [because] it was 17 years, and he didn't come to visit her? She did this for them, she went away for them, and he didn't give her any closure."

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Now that Cookie has asserted herself directly into Lucious' life again — his family, his business and, yes, even his heart — it is becoming clearer that the need for closure cuts both ways. He has shown his hand more than she has (calling her "baby," giving her more access than he technically has to, looking at her longingly, even when she throws shoes at him), even though he is still technically with Anika (Grace Gealey) — a woman Henson admits Cookie doesn't take seriously as a threat, hence the "Boo Boo Kitty" nickname.

"Cookie knows what's up. She went away 17 years ago with mad love for that man, and that doesn't go away, [but] it doesn't even go away for him. They are one and the same. They are cut from the same ilk. They know each other. It’s deep; it’s so deep,"  says Henson.

Since Lucious never really visited Cookie in prison, they didn't get their time to hash things out or even put their relationship to rest. Now is their time to see what's left of what they once were, and they are starting slowly, circling the water around one another, revealing the admiration and respect that runs deep through some surprisingly tender and lighthearted interactions. Whether this means a reconciliation — or a turn on the heel when they learn what they've each been keeping from each other — remains to be seen.

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Empire has already proven itself as a show that allows its characters to work through some of the things they are struggling with through song. Two of Cookie's sons' stories are ripe with that kind of potential, because they are both musicians, trying to follow their father's footsteps to stardom. But what about Cookie herself? Even without musical aspirations or ambition, there could be something lurking underneath — even if she sees music simply as a medium through which to connect further with the man she loves.

"I never thought Cookie sang, because that’s why she went to jail: Lucious was the talent, and if she snitched on him, how would her sons eat and get out of the ghetto?" says Henson. "She wasn’t the talent. … So I never thought she could sing, but we’ve already established that she plays piano, and [co-creator] Lee Daniels and [music supervisor] Timbaland were like, 'The people will want to see her sing! They’ll go nuts! We have to do it!' So I’m sure it’s going to happen in the second season; I’m sure."

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. What do you think of Cookie and Lucious' relationship? Sound off in the comments below, and stay tuned to THR's Live Feed for more Empire coverage.

Twitter: @danielletbd

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