taraji p henson empire

Performer of the Week: Taraji P. Henson

THE PERFORMER | Taraji P. Henson

THE SHOW | Empire

THE EPISODE | “Rise by Sin” (May 11, 2016)

THE PERFORMANCE | Over the course Empire‘s two seasons, Taraji P. Henson has played pretty much every emotion under the sun.

In last Wednesday’s installment, though, the Emmy-nominated actress managed to impossibly pack all those disparate moods — grief, rage, flirtation, fear, sympathy and pride, to name a few — into a single hour.

As her character, Empire Entertainment’s mercurial co-CEO Cookie Lyon, prepared for a hotly anticipated American Sound Awards performance by ex-husband Lucious and sons Jamal and Hakeem, Henson allowed the audience to see the unbridled ambition of a woman who’d spent too much of her adult life behind bars — and wasn’t about to let family drama overshadow her carefully orchestrated moment.

To that end, Cookie took it upon herself to investigate her recovering addict sister Carol’s new relationship with ex-cop Tariq, giving Henson a chance to show the street-smart ex-con always percolating beneath her character’s intermittently more polished facade. While letting Tariq know she had no doubts about his being an FBI agent, Cookie delivered her nuclear parting shot with hilarious, oh-yep-she-went-there glee: “Watch out: My sister has herpes — hope it’s not too late!”

That penchant for unfiltered nastiness took a more serious turn, though, when Cookie realized Carol had once again slipped off the wagon. The way Henson recoiled with indignation and hurt as Carol seethed, “you ain’t got nothin’ of your own — just what Lucious let you have,” made it believable that she’d take the lowest possible road, screaming for her “washed-up crackhead” sibling to pack her bags and get out of her life for good.

Henson’s work was far from over, though: As Lucious presented Cookie with an outlandish diamond bracelet and asked her to be his date to the ASAs, we got to see her character’s playful sentimentality — a startling juxtaposition to the eruption of terror and grief that followed after Jamal was gunned down on the red carpet.

As Cookie hovered above her middle child, begging him to keep his eyes open and fight for his life, the moment was painfully real — and a reminder of Henson’s greatest accomplishment on Empire: Her ability to convey the unmatchable intensity of a mother’s love.

unnamed-3HONORABLE MENTION | Senator Melody “Mellie” Grant has always been one of the more complex players in this game we call Scandal, and watching her evolve into a full-fledged presidential candidate has been more delicious than that slice of apple pie Andrew requested moments before Olivia beat him to death with a metal chair. (But I digress.) Bellamy Young has fearlessly hugged her storyline’s curves all season, from her first big lessons (“America hates me!”) to her latest fiery confrontation with Fitz during Thursday’s season finale. After seeing Mellie absolutely eviscerate her self-important ex on the dais (“This. Stage. Is. Mine.”), we have no doubt she’ll be able to hold her own against Frankie and Cyrus. #WereWithHer

SUPERNATURAL HONORABLE MENTION | When Supernatural‘s Jensen Ackles unleashes his trademark single tear, you know you’re in for a treat — and this Wednesday’s episode was no exception. After 11 seasons of fighting all forms of evil, Dean finally came face to face with Creation’s maker, which lead to an emotional, long overdue conversation with Him. As Chuck/God tried to justify his MIA status during Earth’s downfall as being for humankind’s own good, Ackles — in one of his most soulful performances in recent memory — perfectly captured Dean’s frustration and hopelessness. “It didn’t get better,” the elder Winchester weeped. To Ackles, we say, feel free to cry us a river any time.

UndergroundHONORABLE MENTION | She could have had it all… and yet she wanted none of it. And in the end, she wound up with even less than that. As Underground‘s freshman run came to a close, Amirah Vann made evident that house slave Ernestine would not fall for the illusion of a grand life at her master/baby daddy Tom Macon’s side. Because, she observed as she hanged him in his wine cellar, “There is no surviving this life” — a “hard lesson” that daughter Rosalee realized before running. As Tom gargled his last breaths, “We both goin’ to hell,” ‘Stine said, having earlier admitted her role in ending Pearly Mae’s suffering. “You just a bit sooner.” Later, as the episode ended, Vann uttered not a single syllable to convey ‘Stine’s reaction to Savanna’s revelation of her new fate, but instead used her silence, deep breaths and a clenched jaw, to underscore the character’s strength against the latest adversity.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Matt C. says:

    Yes, Taraji was amazing (obviously). But this week really should have been a 3-way tie between Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, and Nestor Carbonell on Bates Motel. Absolutely stunning performances by all 3 of them.

    • Michael Ausiello says:

      Those three were indeed incredible. But we already honored both Vera and Freddie this season. —MTA

      • Ugonna Wosu says:

        Did you make Tatiana Maslany performer of the week, for orphan black’s premiere? Cause that was the best performance this year, and if you didn’t, I find it hard to take you seriously right now. Lol. Don’t overlook her this season!

  2. Master_K says:

    I agree with this Performer of the Week 100%. Taraji’s acting in this episode could be the best performance I’ve seen all TV season!

  3. Ralph says:

    So agree with Bates Motel. I know you can’t give it to the same people every week, but Highmore and Farmiga ESPECIALLY deserve it. The entire cast does honestly. Holding my breath for Monday. It seems WAY too early for Norma’s fate…..could be really interesting next season.

  4. Al says:

    Christine Baranski

  5. Ninamags says:

    Jensen was heartbreaking this week.

    His hurt for all of humanity was devastating. He was great.

  6. Once again, Bradley James is overlooked. Sad because he was phenomenal on Damien.

  7. Marie says:

    Jensen was amazing this week and my heart broke for him. The cast of Bates motel are just amazing. So many actors on shows are overlooked because they’re not on the big channels.

  8. Mary says:

    Grant Gustin.

  9. Spence says:

    I know its already been mentioned, but it’s hard to believe there’s not a mention of Nestor Carbonell or any cast member from Bates Motel. Yes, they’ve been mentioned before, but that just goes to show their talent and the perfection of that episode to see them on here again.

  10. Lola says:

    Taraji was fabulous. Amira Vann has been A+ during the entire first season of Underground. Wow. A mother with barely the scraps of what that life provides her and yet she remains strong and steadfast to protect her children as best as she can. She’s played ruthless, cunning, heartbroken, worried. The emotions were real. Amazing. I look forward to her in season 2.

  11. angelasl813 says:

    Pierson Fode as Thomas Forrester on The Bold and Beautiful. Pierson showed hurt and vulnerability as he found out that Douglas is actually his son.

  12. snazzyo says:

    Jensen Ackles’ performance is even more impressive when you find out that what was written as a trademark bluster was turned into a devastating confrontation because the actor understood that was the more authentic response for the character. And it was so much more cathartic as portrayed. But don’t reduce it to just ‘tears’; it was body language, facial expressions, tightly controlled parsing of words with an overlay of radiating fear and pain. Kudos to the actor for bringing the appropriate gravitas to a conversation overdue for 11 years.

    • Jensen Ackles is a great actor, and his magnificent talent broke my heart during this scene with Chuck. Totally believable, nuanced, and growing over the 11 years that the Winchesters were indeed humanity’s “fire wall” while Chuck was MIA. Wonderful scene, episode, and performance. Thanks, Jensen.

    • Aly says:

      Just wanted to second your whole comment. I agree completely. So happy and proud of him.

      Thanks for including his performance, Ausiello! Very well deserved praise.

    • Agreed. Jensen is amazing and truly knows how his character would react to things, that it was scripted as anger/yelling and he transferred to quite anger/pain because it was more true is a great credit to him.

  13. Dakota60 says:

    Jensen talked about filming this scene at a recent convention. He knocked it out of the park. Going on 12 seasons and these guys have never phoned it in.

  14. SassyAF28 says:

    i wish you guys had mentioned grant gustin, he was fantastic in this week’s flash episode

  15. Jim says:

    No Grant Gustin? I rarely cry during TV shows, but when he read the childs book to the speed force posing as his mom, I lost it.

  16. Cat says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned Jensen Ackles. But it was much more than “Single Man Tear:. His voice, his face, the pacing of Dean’s words ..were devastating. I’d also like to point out Jensen’s work later in the same episode when he is acting as bait to keep Amara away from Casifer. Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe Dean’s predicament.

  17. Viviana says:

    Charles Michael Davis really deserves to be acknowledged his performance in the past two episodes of the originals have been amazing and he’s never been acknowledged. He’s so under appreciated on that show.

  18. Ugonna Wosu says:

    She really just had one moment I found impressive in this episode. I think she’s a good actress, but a little overrated.

  19. Ralph says:

    Also agree with Grant Gustin. He was great this week, but ALWAYS is great on The Flash

  20. Patrick Maloney says:

    I have to say *Spoiler Warning* Vincent D’Onofrio brief appearance in this season of Daredevil was better than all four of these choices!

  21. Shaun says:

    Penny Dreadful should have gotten some love this week.Also Eliza Taylor on The 100.

  22. Katie says:

    Jensen Ackles deserves so much more than an honorable mention. He deserves an Emmy and Oscar and SAG every year!!!

  23. Ackles absolutely knocked it out of the park this week. I expected Dean to confront Chuck with anger, or snark, but the PAIN radiating from him was utterly heartbreaking…

  24. Ram510 says:

    Mellie was hands down the best part of that entire episode! Her performance during her monologue with Fitz was superb. Fitz also did well with his scene with Olivia

  25. Rose Vera says:

    Jensen Ackles has and continues to raise the bar for good acting. This coming from a fan between the ages of 40-60 years. Don’t believe? Follow me @rosevera on Twitter

  26. fran velarde says:

    Cookie wins hands down. She showed emotions only a mother could feel.

  27. Mare says:

    Jensen Ackles was AMAZING this week! Even more amazing was the fact that the script originally had him acting one way, but knowing his character and the history better, he took it another way and blew it out of the park! It’s a shame that man is on a network and show that will never be respected, because he should have had an Emmy years ago!

  28. Jensen Ackles by all means!

  29. Kristen says:

    I really thought Marina Squerciati (sp?) would get a mention. She gave me all the feels.

  30. Glad she won. Taraji aka Cookie rock her scene nothing like a mother hurt over er children Jamal is her heart

  31. Jinn says:

    That was no “single tear”, he’s crying out of both eyes thanks very much, but it was a fantastic performance, especially given he chose to play it that way, the instructions in the script was more of a “yell at God” type thing and Jensen decided it was the wrong way to play it and he was right.:)

  32. spnlit says:

    Jensen Ackles’ performance was excellent. His infusion and layering of emotions, thoughts and feelings for Dean meeting his maker WAS perfection!

  33. Ken Wales says:

    Good Grief, Jensen Ackles???