Cookie Games The System On 'Empire' As "Poor Yorick" Shows Why She'll Always Come Out On Top

Who is the true star of Empire? I can say without a doubt that it's Cookie. Some may prefer Lucious’ sociopathic tendencies or Andre’s slow descent into darkness or Hakeem’s wild antics, but Cookie’s character arc has been the most rewarding of the show thus far. The writers of Empire have shown so many facets of Cookie that it can sometimes be hard to tell if you love her or hate her — and that just makes her more compelling.

One of the most engrossing things about Cookie is her ability to simultaneously give up everything for her family while still acting in her own self-interest. During Season 1, viewers were treated to the story of why she came back from jail after 17 years looking for what was rightfully hers — Empire. It turns out, Cookie went to jail for Lucious so that he could build Empire Enterprises into the behemoth that they both knew it could be. Too bad Lucious gives Cookie credit for, um, nothing.

In flashbacks of Cookie in jail, viewers see what kind of person she was when she entered the slammer. Leaving three young kids, she was still strong, but much more quiet and reserved than she is now. I would also add highly vulnerable into that mix, too. In “Poor Yorick,” we get to see a flashback of Cookie crying in her jail cell, begging whoever is listening (God? Other prisoners? Just talking to herself?) to let her die so she could end her suffering in jail.

That Cookie is not the one we know in present-day Empire. Today’s Cookie would never think to crumble like Past Cookie — she would just put her best face forward and try to find a way around it. Today’s Cookie is a problem-solver because she knows that whatever happens to her, it cannot be worse than the pain of being taken away from her three sons and serving 17 years in prison.

In fact, Cookie is now using the very same institution that locked her up and took away nearly two decades of her life for her own personal gain. In “Poor Yorick,” Lucious’ prosecutor Roxanne Ford arrests Cookie under the guise of an outstanding warrant for skipping on a subway fare (it was actually Cookie’s assistant, Porsha, who gave Cookie’s name when she got caught). Roxanne is trying to find out what Cookie knows about Lucious and his connection to Bunkie’s death, and she is so not buying it when Cookie feigns ignorance about the whole thing. In reality, Cookie does know the truth, but she’s not going to take the easy route by selling out Lucious to the cops. That would have been Past Cookie — Today Cookie knows better than to trust people like Roxanne Ford.

After her conversation with Roxanne, there is a slight flicker of remembrance across Cookie’s face — she is recalling the night she spent in jail, waiting to die, and she’ll certainly be damned if that will happen to her again. Game face back on, Cookie tells Roxanne that Bunkie and Lucious argued about a new deal, in which Lucious would have to buy Apex Radio — the very radio stations on which Lucious has promised not to feature any Lyon Dynasty artists. Is it a lie? Absolutely. Is it brilliant? Absolutely.

Because Lucious is involved in an active murder investigation and this Apex Radio deal seems to be his motive for the crime, Roxanne vows to block the deal. This frees up all of Cookie’s new artists from Lucious’ reign of terror and allows them to be played on pretty much any radio station Cookie can get her hands on.

Sure, Cookie doesn’t want to go back to jail, but it’s more than that. She’s watched the people who go through the system — both the “right” way and the “wrong” way — for years, and has has learned that neither of those groups really get what they’re after. So why not play both sides and use the system to get what she needs?

Cookie’s actions in “Poor Yorick” are a brilliant manifestation of evolution. She has adapted so well to life both in and out of prison that she is able to manipulate either side to suit her next plan of attack. At this point, it's impossible to watch an episode of Empire without finding yourself in awe of Cookie's tenacity.

Images: Chuck Hodes/FOX; Giphy (3)