Empire has continually surpassed expectations, both ratings-wise and critically, and we have no doubt Wednesday's two-hour finale will do the same. "It's a very explosive finale," co-creator Danny Strong told reporters. "It was really just a matter of how can we conclude the season that we've set up and have been playing out in a way that was exciting and powerful and fun, but then also kept the door open to go into Season 2. And it was tough."
However, Strong assured us that in the end, they figured out a way to get everything resolved - or at least almost everything. There will be a few big cliff-hangers to keep viewers chomping at the bit for Season 2.
Hakeem and Jamal's relationship will continue to be tested: Hakeem and Jamal have been the on-and-off couple of Empire's first season, but will their current alliance survive the finale? "As you've seen throughout the season, the brothers, they're clashing, there's a lot of success going on, they're making a lot of money," Gray told reporters. "It's about if they're going to stick together through the new adventures in their life and the season finale is where you'll see that. It's going to be crazy."
"The thing about Hakeem and Jamal is that they compete and there are other people that really have their hands in the pot of their brotherhood, but at the same time they always find themselves back to each other somehow. And I think that's the beautiful thing about them," Smollett added.
As for Andre (Trai Byers), he'll continue to distance himself from Lucious as he continues his religious therapy under the guidance of Jennifer Hudson's Michelle. "We're excited about Andre. Where he goes, he gets better and better," Gray said.
Jamal will get some:Jamal's love life has hit some serious highs and some serious lows this season. But now that Jamal's not worrying about his daughter half-sister Lola, things are finally heating up between him and Ryan. "Shortly put, Jamal is not done with Ryan yet," Smollett said. "There's a desk involved. There's some lovin' involved and they're not done."
Hakeem is out for blood:There's been a chip of Keem's shoulder all season, but rather than piss in a restaurant or write a hateful rap, the youngest Lyon is going to exercise his anger in a much more spiteful fashion. "My most turned-up moment is coming up actually in the finale," Gray revealed. "It's very sexual. It's about a rivalry, to really get back at somebody." Hmm... could that have anything to do with this?
This might not be the last we see of Jennifer Hudson: Whatever goes down in the finale - including learning whether Hudson's character Michelle is as godly as she seems - Empire will leave the door open for the Dreamgirls alum to return. "I can't say what's going to happen with her character because, to be honest with you, I don't know," Strong said. "We're just starting to talk about Season 2 now. I know we loved her and think she did a fantastic job, and she has this song in the finale that I just love, I think it's one of the coolest of the season. So, you know, it's certainly a possibility and she was lovely on set, so it could definitely happen."
There's going to be a fantastic catfight - directed by Debbie Allen! The Fame alum was enlisted to direct the finale, and according to Strong, Allen can add "catfight expert" to her impressive list of skills. "I was on set for a bit, and she's sort of everything you'd imagine her to be," Strong said. "She's just super cool, super hip, really smart, really talented, and I remember there was this catfight that she was directing, and at one point she yelled out this direction, 'Now toss the bitch!' and I just remember thinking 'That is, I think, the greatest piece of direction I've ever heard in my career.'" So who do you think the fight's between: Cookie and Boo Boo Kitty? Naomi Campbell and Tiana? Courtney Love and Rhonda? Does it even really matter? It's going to be great either way.
Season 2 might not be bigger, but it may be better: "There's so much more to come," Smollett said. "The dope thing about Season 1 is that there are still questions to be answered in Season 1. I feel like Season 1 was the setup and Season 2 will be, 'OK, let's go back and let's clean up all of the Lyon's stuff,' if you will."
Strong and the rest of Empire's creative team understand that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. "We'll stick to our guns of what made these stories great, that we tried to make them great. I'll let other people decide if they think they were, and we'll just keep trying to do the best we can," he said.
Another way Empire plans to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump is to stick to a smaller episode order (Season 1 is only 12 episodes). Though the episode order for Season 2 hasn't been announced yet, Strong told reporters "I don't think 22 is a discussion."
Empire's two-hour season finale airs Wednesday at 8/7c on Fox.
Watch the cast show us their bizarre hidden talents: