(This post contains spoilers from Empire's fall finale so read with caution!)
Whew! Empire might be in its fifth season but the Fox drama is showing no signs of slowing down. Wednesday's emotionally draining hour forgot all about the holiday spirit and wrapped the first half of Season 5 on one shocking, demoralizing note.
After coming together to rebuild the empire they lost to Eddie (Forest Whitaker) and later Kingsley (A.Z. Kelsey), the Lyon clan found themselves once again splintered when Kingsley dropped a bombshell reveal during Lyon Family Management's artist showcase: Lucious (Terrence Howard) is his father. The stunning news was especially difficult for Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who stormed off the stage and possibly out of her marriage.
And after Andre (Trai Byers) vowed to end Kingsley for destroying his family, it looks like those harsh words may actually come back to haunt him. A flashforward several months into the future shows Andre flatlining on a gurney, but it's unclear whether or not doctors were able to revive him. Could he be the mystery person in that coffin we've seen Lucious mourning over throughout a series of cryptic vignettes?
In an effort to find an answer to that very important question, we hit up showrunner Brett Mahoney for more clues about that mystery death and picked his brain about what's to come in the second half of the season. Check out the interview below and let us know who you think might be in that casket!
The last image we see is a flash forward to the future showing Andre flatlining on a gurney. Is it safe to assume that he's the one in the casket or do we have it all wrong?
Brett Mahoney: It's not safe to assume that. This is Empire! I will say that he is a big part, in a way, of the casket [mystery] but I will not confirm that he's in the casket. He may be.
What additional clues can you give about the identity of the person in that casket?
Mahoney: I think that being a Lyon and being a part of Empire is dangerous. As we will see, any number of people could be in that coffin.
Right now, Kingsley is determined to destroy the Lyons. How much of a threat will he be to that family in the second half of the season?
Mahoney: Kingsley will be a threat but, at the same time, Kingsley is also a Lyon. So I think a question for the back nine episodes is can the Lyons bring Kingsley in and make him part of the family or is he so angered, so crazed by what he's experienced that there's no way he can be brought into the fold and will therefore try and take the whole [family] down?
Given what's going on at the moment, it's impossible to imagine him being part of that family. But in the world of Empire, you never know.
Mahoney: The thing with Kingsley is, he's heard just one narrative in terms of how he is Lucious' son. He hasn't heard from Lucious and what Lucious' experience of that is. So hearing that might challenge the way that Kingsley sees himself and sees his role in that family. But of course, that would shake up his world so that may be a difficult pill to swallow.
And on Lucious' end, how will this knowledge that Kingsley is his son affect the way that he treats Kingsley moving forward?
Mahoney: Lucious is truly rocked by this news. He's someone who is down for his children to the extent that he can be down for them. Learning this, that Kingsley is coming for the Lyons and the way that he's come for Empire, has put Lucious on his heels. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucious try and reach out in some way to heal that wound that Kingsley has.
It's interesting that this episode ends with everyone walking away from Lucious given that this season so far has been about the family coming together to rebuild their empire. So where do they stand now? Who's gonna stick by him after all of this?
Mahoney: That's exactly the journey that they're gonna go on in this latter half of the season. A lot of this first half has all been about the Lyons coming together as underdogs and either trying to reclaim Empire or deciding to give it up to form this new company. This latter half [will be about whether or not] they're able to stay together. And also, what it might mean if they do get Empire back. What does it mean for their family? What does it mean for Cookie and Lucious?
Cookie has stuck by Lucious through a lot but this feels like a different beast. How will we see Lucious try to win her back and what will it take for her to forgive this latest indiscretion?
Mahoney: What Cookie first needs to learn is what exactly happened and is this a indiscretion? Did this happen before her? Did it happen while they were together? Did it happen during their marriage? She has questions, first off, that she needs to get answers to and then she'll move on from there. But regardless of that, Cookie has stood by him through a lot of stuff. As we saw in this episode when she finally gave up the condo, she's all in with their [effort] to try and make Lyon Family Management a success and get back Empire only to be blindsided by another shock coming from Lucious. Whether he's fully responsible or not, it's just something else that she's blindsided with and how much more of that can she put up with?
Giselle (Nicole Ari Parker) offered to work with the Lyons to oust Kingsley from Empire if they agree to make her co-partner. Can she be trusted? Whose side is she really on?
Mahoney: Giselle has been really upfront and clear at who she is and whose side she's on. Giselle is on Giselle's side and she will go wherever is necessary to make sure she gets what she wants and achieves what she can. After what happened with Eddie, she's never gonna let that happen to her again. I don't think that she minds making alliances, whether that be with Kingsley or with Lucious and Cookie in order to get herself further ahead. She goes where the power is and where she sees it's gonna get her the furthest.
Even though Hakeem (Bryshere "Yazz" Gray) and Tiana (Serayah) have broken up, there's obviously still lingering feelings there so how will that affect their attempt to co-parent while not being together romantically?
Mahoney: They have real feelings and emotion for each other but they're finally saying we need to put our kids first and that might mean we need to seek healthier relationships outside of one another. There's the intellectual thing which is "Yes, we're gonna do that" versus the emotional thing of actually moving forward. That will be a challenge for both of them moving into the second half of the season.
Is it possible for them to be in a healthy relationship together or is that an impossible feat?
Mahoney: I don't think it's impossible because everything has to do with timing and where they are in their lives and where they are at their maturation level. It's something difficult for them to achieve right now but there may be a time.
Is there hope that they'll rekindle things in the future?
Mahoney: Well, but at the same time, that doesn't mean that they won't find something else before then. It may be decades before they get back together.
Hakeem and Blake (Chet Hanks) also came together in this episode so is their beef officially squashed or is this peace only temporary?
Mahoney: At least for now, they will temporarily squash that because Blake does feel like a part of their family and he loves those kids. He is just as traumatized by what happened to Bella and also these threats to the kids that made them want to maintain the peace.
There was some flirting going on, at least on Blake's end towards Tiana earlier this season. Will that continue or will it end now that his feud with Hakeem is over?
Mahoney: Blake is definitely carrying a torch for Tiana. After the shooting at the end of last season, since the three of them had been through that experience, they have been bonded and spent a lot of time together. Blake's feelings for Tiana are real. At the same time, Tiana sees Blake as a friend. She's been more focused on being a mother and her career and Hakeem so she hasn't really been able to pay attention to Blake.
After arguing over whether or not to release an incriminating dossier on Lucious, Kai (Toby Onwumere) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) decided to take a break from their relationship. How long will this time out last given that Kai has a full-time job waiting for him in London?
Mahoney: Kai and Jamal truly love each other. And so, I think one of the essential questions for Jamal is, is he gonna be Kai's husband or is he gonna be Lucious and Cookie's son? Jamal has to come up with some sort of answer for that before they can be together.
What can you tell me about the remaining episodes? What will the second half of the season be focused on?
Mahoney: The second half will be focused on... it's sort of like moving forward. All the Lyons have to ask themselves is it more important to be themselves or is it more important to be a Lyon family unit? And also, what does it mean if they were to have Empire back in family hands? Do they have to give up their souls to keep Empire? What will they have to sacrifice if they have Empire?
Empire returns to Fox in 2019.