SPOILER ALERT: This story includes details about tonight’s Empire Season 5 midseason finale
“The question will become if the Lyons retake Empire, what will it cost them?” says showrunner Brett Mahoney of where tonight’s Season 5 midseason finale is taking the Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard led Fox drama when it returns next year.
In the former Code Black EP’s first full season as solo showrunner on the Danny Strong and Lee Daniels created series, the endless twists, turns and betrayals of Empire were rocked tonight by the confirmation that now vengeful CEO Jeff Kingsley is in fact the son of Howard’s Lucious Lyon. If the showcase revelation of the parentage of the A.Z. Kelsey played character wasn’t Empire enough for you, plus his data selling to law enforcement, there was the midseason finale’s final minutes with eldest Lyon son Andre (Trai Byers) crashing fast in the emergency room surrounded by his wailing family.
— Empire (@EmpireFOX) December 6, 2018
Which, in a season hit the pedal on flash forwards, the family trying to regain their hip-hop perch and company and that ominous casket from the premiere, is too say – Mahoney let Empire be Empire tonight. Proving that, while no longer the blockbuster it was when it debuted in 2015, change has been refreshing for the soapy hip hop Bryshere Y. Gray and Jussie Smollett co-starrer, as sons Hakeem and Jamal Lyon, .
Getting ready to dig into work on the Season 5 finale itself after the holiday break, Mahoney chatted with me about tonight’s “Had It From My Father” episode, what that ER ending means, who lives, who dies and what will happen to Lucious and the Henson played Cookie’s marriage. The EP also talks about what’s up with that damn casket and who could be in it.
DEADLINE: So, Brett, right away, is Andre dead?
MAHONEY: (LAUGHS) Is he? I can’t tell you. That’s a flash-forward three months from now, so we’ll find out in three months. The final moment in the club is the normal telling of the story in the present day. Where you see Andre in the hospital, that’s three months from that final scene.
DEADLINE: What about that opening scene of the finale with Bella with the gun and the family trying to talk it out of her hands. There’s a mini encapsulation of a wake-up call to the hip-hop nation there, isn’t there? I mean, you have Cookie saying ride or die is a lie, and then you have Lucious trying to tell Hakeem that a lot of what we sold the world is a dangerous myth of a life we want to leave behind …
MAHONEY: Well, it’s just a truth, but it’s not necessarily something that has to speak to a larger culture. If people see that and they see it speaking to a larger culture and a larger issue, that’s great, but I think it’s certainly true for these particular characters. It’s true for Cookie, and it’s true for Lucious, and it’s like that truth hopefully is illuminating to the audience.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
MAHONEY: All season long, we’re looking at the things that occurred in the past and how it affects today. Can you make amends for the sins of the past and can you make things better? And that really is completely personified in terms of Kingsley, Jeff Kingsley, and how things you’ve done in the past are now rearing their head in the present, and how do you deal with them?
DEADLINE: Speaking of Kingsley, it’s now out in the open in the closing minutes that he believes himself to be Lucious’ son. There’s the showdown on the club floor with Andre as the family absorbs the shock of what they have just been told but where can it go from there?
MAHONEY: I think we’re going to hear Lucious’ side of the story. Then Cookie has to decide what she’s going to do about it and how she feels about it. Then the question is can there be another Lyon? Can he be accepted into the family, or is it a war between this new Lyon and the present Lyons?
— lee daniels (@leedanielsent) December 6, 2018
DEADLINE: Isn’t that the essence of Empire in many ways? A peace shattered by the revelation of a new lie?
MAHONEY: I’d say, it’s more along the lines of even if it’s not a lie, it’s another blindside for Cookie. So, Cookie, who, in this episode, decides she’s all in with Lucious, and she sold the condo, and they’re to get back Empire, and they’re going to also launch LFM to success, only to be shocked and surprised that there’s this new Lyon that she didn’t know anything about. Now, she’ll hear Lucious’ side and what Lucious had to say, but Lucious, he’s given her a lot of explanations for a lot of blindsides that she’s suffered throughout the years. So, the question becomes can she take anymore?
DEADLINE: With that other pillar of Empire throughout the years and the context of what we saw in the finale, what is the thrust of the second part of Season 5?
MAHONEY: The question will become if the Lyons retake Empire, what will it cost them? We’ve seen through the first half of the season the Lyons come together and appear where they’ve gone back to where they were underdogs and back to trying to launch something new and create something new. OK, but if they get back Empire, what will it mean for their relationships? Because, previously, we’ve seen them drawn together, but at what cost will it take for them to retake the throne?
DEADLINE: Will we learn who is in that casket?
MAHONEY: Yes! By the end of the season, I promise we’ll definitively know who’s in that casket. it’s really just sort of like a testing of the family as we move forward into the back half. You know, there are quite a few people, quite a few candidates who might be in that casket.
Let me also say that we are done with flash-forwards at this point. Everything that we’ll have in the back half of the season will be catching up to flash-forwards.
DEADLINE: Flashbacking for a sec, Empire has come down from the dizzying ratings heights it once had but the tone of the stories hasn’t slowed down a bit. Five seasons in, and your first as full showrunner, the pace has changed but how do you keep the soap twists fresh for a crowd that has been there, done that?
MAHONEY: I think that’s absolutely right in terms of one of my challenges.
You know, I watched Empire as a fan from the beginning, and, as a fan and as a writer, I just was amazed at how much story they just burned up so quickly, and how the audience seems to like that pace, So, for me now, it’s a matter of really just delving deeply into the characters and trying to find organic, real stories for these characters that haven’t been explored. You know, instances of things that haven’t been explored, or because some of it has been gone through so quickly previously, what can we take a breath, isolate, slow down, and show another side of it?
DEADLINE: An instance of that appears, at least to me, to be the now public relationship between Jamal and the Toby Onwumere portrayed Kai. In a show that has focused so much on the tumultuous relationship between Taraji’s Cookie and Terrence’s Lucious, this has all the hallmarks of a real mature partnership, at least for now.
MAHONEY: What’s interesting here is we’ve seen also all season long is the maturation of the sons and the boys growing up and creating their own families and their own familial structures and trying to find their own partners. So, with Jamal and Kai, they’ve truly found a partnership, but as we know from the beginning of the season, their relationship really grew in London outside of the purview of the Lyons. So now the question is, now that they’re back in New York and they’re with the Lyons, can that relationship be maintained?
What we see in the final episode is this crossing of a line where Kai is now getting involved in Lyon family business, and Jamal warns him and tells him this may not be the best thing for him to do. I’ll say that I think that that warning has some real teeth to it. So, we’re going to see whether Kai can really throw down with the Lyons and what it means for him to mix both his professional with the family, and how that impacts his relationship with Jamal.
DEADLINE: Will that be paralleled in Lucious and Cookie’s marriage?
MAHONEY: I mean, I think what we’ve been dealing with all season long is the Cookie and Lucious’ marriage, haven’t we? What that’s like, after the Kingsley news, and what their relationship’s like, and I think that’s further truly tested in the back half of the season – you’ll see.