[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Empire's Season 5 premiere. Read at your own risk!]
Empire rang in its fifth season the only way that Empire could--with death, mystery and plenty of drama.
The new season kicked off with a two-year time jump that show the effects of what fighting to regain Empire Records cost Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). Now broke and sweating in a house with no air conditioning (the horror!), it's clear they've lost nearly everything in the battle against Eddie Barker (Forest Whitaker), forcing them to start over. But with Eddie dead (boy, bye), the only person standing in their way is Giselle (Nicole Ari Parker), who's got her eye on taking what she believes is hers.
Meanwhile, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) has been thriving in London with a new life and a stable relationship. His brothers, however, haven't been doing quite as well. Hakeem (Bryshere "Yazz" Gray) finds himself in a dark place after losing part of his lung and his ability to perform as a rapper in the wake of the shooting in the Season 4 finale. And Andre (Trai Byers) has spent the last few years behind bars for spiking Anika's (Grace Gealey) drink, an act that ultimately led to her death.
But honestly, all of this is nothing compared to the main storyline of Season 5: Someone on the show is poised to die! In a flash-forward six months ahead, Lucious is seen tearfully standing over a closed coffin, but the deceased's identity has yet to be revealed. Who is it? With so many questions hanging in the balance, TV Guide called up showrunner Brett Mahoney to get some answers on who might be in that coffin and what's in store for the season. Keep reading to see what he had to say.
The episode opens and closes with an ominous flash-forward to six months ahead. We see Lucious is standing over a casket morning a loss, but we don't know who's inside. What can you tell me about this mysterious death?
Brett Mahoney: We will have intermittent flash-forwards throughout the season. By the end of the season, we'll know who is in that coffin, how and why.
Any hints? Is it a major character?
Mahoney: Hopefully it will feel satisfying and significant. And it will have deep ramifications.
At the beginning of the episode, it looked like Hakeem died during that shooting in the Season 4 finale, but he turned out to be alive. Has killing off one of the Lyons ever crossed your mind?
Mahoney:It absolutely has. In the world that Empire has created, it's a world where there are life and death stakes and where death can happen to a Lyon.
Hakeem lost a part of his lung which makes it hard for him to breathe and perform live. Losing that part of himself really put him in a dark place. Is that something we will see him overcome or is it something he will continue to struggle with throughout the season?
Mahoney: It is something that he will definitely struggle with. It is a challenge and something that he's dealing with.
Lucious lost part of his left leg and even his memories at one point but managed to bounce back. So is there a chance that we can see a full recovery for Hakeem?
Mahoney: With proper rehabilitation and proper therapy, [there is a chance] he can get back to his full self. The thing is, taking away his ability to rap is really taking away what defines him as a person and makes him overcompensate in other areas. That's why we see him with all the guns. He's trying to replace his ability to rap with some other ways in which he can reinstate his manhood.
He hit a snag during his comeback performance where he had trouble breathing and was caught lip syncing. Blake stepped in and finished the song with Tiana, so is he trying to replace Hakeem?
Mahoney:I think what we have to think about is, the three of those people were caught in that shooting two years ago. During that two-year period of rehabilitation and coming back to wellness, those three really bonded and created a really deep friendship. But it looks like Blake may have been eyeing Tiana in a way that didn't seem so brotherly.
On the flipside, it's great to see Cookie and Lucious enjoying their marriage two years after renewing their vows. Is that something you've been waiting to portray on the show?
Mahoney: When we decided that the Lyons would lose their empire, it was like putting Cookie and Lucious back to that place when they were first falling in love, where they have all that energy and all that affection for one another. What they're finding is that they're having struggles and conflicts, but they're finding that young love that they have. It's being rekindled.
I think you alluded last season to this idea of the Lyons rebuilding after losing Empire Records. Is that something they can truly give up or will they always be fighting to get that back?
Mahoney: I think that Lucious and Cookie have different takes on that. With Lucious, he's so identified with Empire so it's a little more difficult for him just to move forward. But with Cookie, yeah she's committed to Empire, but Empire was sort of built without her and I think why it's more easy for her to look forward and be excited about what's next and not be still tied to empire. But I think that could also could end up being a source of conflict between them.
Jamal has been living his best life in the past two years, starting his own label and finally enjoying a stable relationship. But now the family wants to pull him back into Empire, something that he didn't seem very enthusiastic about. How will returning to this thing that destroyed his family affect him this season?
Mahoney: That's what he has to deal with this season. In fact, with the three brothers, what we see this season is their maturation into men and trying to create families aside from their Lyon family. And so, Jamal is sort of caught in that. He's got the man, he's got the life in London and it's going well. He went to London to establish himself on his own outside of Empire. But now he's being pulled back so what will he have to give up?
He seems to have found something good in his relationship with Kai. Will they continue to enjoy romantic bliss or is there trouble ahead?
Mahoney:It's Empire, so you can definitely imagine that there's going to be trouble. But the thing about the relationship between Jamal and Kai, and Jamal's other boyfriends, is that Kai is his equal and Jamal loves that about him. Kai challenges Jamal and doesn't want anything from him, and that's what brought them together in the first place. They are true partners. So that's why Jamal is so committed to this relationship. It is a true love relationship. But now Jamal is being dropped back into his family's drama and their relationship is gonna be tested in the lion's den.
Andre has been in jail for two years for spiking Anika's drink and we're now seeing a different version of him. How has his time behind bars changed him?
Mahoney: It absolutely is a different Andre. He's always used his brain to get ahead and always knows how to outsmart someone. So he's had to bring those same skills in prison, and then he gained a different skill set in terms of the street knowledge and how to work within that violent environment.
How will his time in prison affect his relationship with his father?
Mahoney: At the end of Season 4, Lucious finally told him he loved him, something Andre has wanted his entire life and he got it. I think Andre is committed to that relationship, but he might find a couple of stumbling blocks along the way, which will pull him toward the light while he's trying to comfortably go down a darker path without having any lawyers or conscience about it.
Eddie died in the premiere and it looks like his death will result in Giselle taking over Empire. Can we expect her to be the Lyons' biggest opponent this season?
Mahoney: It's Empire so you know there are a lot of twists, turns and surprises. I know it kinda looks like Giselle is set up to be an adversary but there could be twists and turns where Giselle ends up more of an ally as opposed to an adversary.
She gave Eddie the ultimate sign of disrespect when she poured his ashes in the street. What does his death mean for her moving forward?
Mahoney: Giselle is very excited to step out of the shadows of any of the men that she's had in her life. She feels that she is the most capable, the smartest, and her journey this season [is] trying to gain that respect that she feels she deserves.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.