Empire renewed Season 3
Courtesy of Fox

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the midseason finale of “Empire,” which aired Wednesday, Dec. 2.

“Empire” wrapped up the first half of its second season with the return of a cougar, the fall of an empire and a potential death — or two.

Picking up from last week’s cliffhanger, in which the openly gay Jamal (Jussie Smollett) kissed Skye (guest star Alicia Keys), the midseason finale opened up with the duo back together, but not in a romantic way. Though Lucious (Terrence Howard) was delighted to see his son “fixed” by a woman, Jamal ended up telling Skye that he’s still in love with his ex-boyfriend Michael.

Keys wasn’t the only woman to step back into “Empire” Wednesday night. Naomi Campbell reprised her role as Hakeem’s much older former lover Camilla, who was booted out by Lucious at the end of the first season and came back with a vengeance.

Turns out Camilla was the voice on the other end of Mimi Whitman’s (Marisa Tomei) phone call that night when she was partying with Lucious — because she’s Mimi’s wife. Shocker of all shockers to the entire Lyon family, the two powerful women had teamed up for a very strategic relationship with their eye on the prize, in the form of taking Lucious and his Empire down.

Mimi gathered Empire’s board and called a vote to kick Lucious off his throne. At the end of the episode, the Lyon brothers gathered with their fellow board members to vote — all in favor of Lucious, other than Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), whose vote was the final straw. Well against Cookie’s (Taraji P. Henson) wishes, with Hakeem’s “nay,” Lucious lost his title — and quite possibly his son, who shamed his father worse than he could have ever imagined.

“Hakeem just committed the cardinal Lyon family sin, and I would say that he stands alone at the end of this episode,” showrunner Ilene Chaiken tells Variety.

As if Lucious losing Empire’s reigns wasn’t a big enough cliffhanger, a Lyon may never come back. After hanging out with the secretively pregnant and very jealous Anika (Grace Gealey) in her unborn child’s nursery, Andre’s (Trai Byers) expectant wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) got violently pushed down the stairs by a mysteriously hooded figure who broke into her mansion, which Lucious has bought for his oldest son and daughter-in-law. Before the midseason finale came to a close, Andre called Rhonda, whose phone rang and rang next to her lifeless body.

Though the motive points to Anika, Chaiken says it’s “not definitive” who pushed Rhonda. “We never see who actually pushed Rhonda down the stairs, and it’s possible that it was someone other than Anika. But Anika having a motive is certainly true.”

Here, Chaiken talks more about Rhonda and her baby’s possible deaths, plus teases what’s to come for the Lyon family now that Hakeem has burned Lucious so badly.

Let’s just clear this up: Is Rhonda dead? Is her baby dead?
I would say based on that fall that we should be concerned about Rhonda and her baby.

You said Anika was not definitively the person who pushed Rhonda, but she certainly has a motive, carrying Hakeem’s child. Will Hakeem and the Lyons find out about her pregnancy when the show returns?
I think it’s safe to say that at some point the Lyon family will find out.

Where does the back half of the season pick up? Is there a time jump?
We can’t let too much time elapse because if we were to jump ahead in time, then we wouldn’t be answering those questions. Everybody needs and wants to know what’s going to happen immediately. If we did our jobs well, these cliffhangers demand those answers.

So viewers won’t have to wait a long time to find out if Rhonda is dead or to find out what happens with Hakeem and his family?
We’re going to see how everybody reacts to those moments in which we leave each of our characters.

Is there a theme for the back half of the season?
The Lyon family coming together against an external adversary and regrouping to reclaim their company and their bond.

Where does the family stand now? Is Hakeem disowned from the Lyons?
That remains to be seen, of course. Where the family stands at the end of the episode is that everyone is stunned by Hakeem’s actions. One of the things we know about the Lyon family is that they can fight with one another, slander, destroy one another, until someone attacks them or the empire and then they all band together, and none of them from within has destroyed the family.

Why did Hakeem vote against his father? 
It was impetuous. It was not something that he planned or anticipated, but I think that the question is answered in the moment. The way that the scene is edited — the flashback sequence, the thought process that Hakeem goes through — he finds himself in this position with the fate of Empire in his hands and his alone, and the ability to finally pay Lucious back for all of the humiliations and indignities and everything else. The many things that Lucious has done to control him that have hurt him; he finally has the opportunity to hurt him back and to accomplish the thing that he set out to do in the every first episode of this season, which was to take down Empire.

Should we expect Hakeem to continue to side with Camilla or will he regret his decision and run back to his family?
That remains to be seen. We find out going forward. He and Camilla haven’t been planning this. This is as much of a shock to Hakeem to anyone else in the family. I don’t believe that Camilla has Hakeem in her thrawl — I believe that Hakeem makes an impetuous decision realizing that he has to act now or else he may never get the chance to again.

If he does regret his decision, is there anyway he can turn back? Or what’s done is done?
I don’t know that you can take back a corporate vote. I don’t know that the bylaws allow you to unvote.

Were Camilla’s motives with Hakeem twisted from the get-go? Was she using Hakeem to take down Lucious?
I think that up until the moment that Lucious banished Camilla, Camilla was ambitious and perhaps her relationship with Hakeem had in part to do with ambition. I think sometimes it’s hard to distinguish love from ambition. I think that she genuinely wanted to be with Hakeem and believed in their plans, and those plans were cruelly dashed by Lucious in our first season. I think that her relationship with Mimi is the scheming, strategic relationship.

So Camilla and Mimi met after Camilla was hooking up with Hakeem?
Yes, they got together post Camilla and Hakeem.

How did Mimi and Camilla meet each other?
This isn’t a story that we tell on camera, but we could possibly say that they’ve known one another for years and Mimi hit on Camilla years ago and Camilla rebuffed her, but remembered how crazy Mimi was because we’ve seen that Mimi can be obsessive about the women she sets on. So let’s say that they’ve known each other for a while and Mimi made her interest in Camilla known, and then Camilla went to Mimi when she needed someone that could help her.

Is there any romance involved with Mimi and Camilla or their relationship is purely strategic?
I would say that it was strategic. I don’t think that it was distasteful to Camilla, but I think that Camilla is certainly using Mimi to get what she’s after.

Since she was a big part of Lucious’ take-down, will we see more of Marisa Tomei in the back half of the season?
In the final boardroom scene, Mimi gave Camilla her proxy and said she was leaving for Rancho Mirage to undergo chemo and radiation. Marisa won’t be back except in spirit.

How much more of Naomi Campbell will we see in the second half of season two?
I’m not sure if I should tell you because it spoils the latter half of the season!

How will Camilla’s return impact Hakeem’s relationship with Laura (Jamila Velazquez)?
We’ve seen that Hakeem loves Laura genuinely, and clearly the return of Camilla is going to force a reckoning for him. What choice he makes is something that remains to be seen, but we should definitely know that this is going to be a challenge for Hakeem to figure out where his affections and loyalties lay, and also what sacrifices he’s willing to make for ambition.

Speaking of relationships, Skye brings up Michael’s name to Jamal, but we haven’t seen him for a while. Can we expect him and Jamal to get back together?
We haven’t seen the last of Michael. He is certainly, to date, the love of Jamal’s life.

And another relationship: Jamal and Lucious. Both were nominated for a major award against each other, and there seems to be a lot of tension. Should we anticipate bad blood between father and son when the show returns?
They’ve been aligned with one another for quite some time, but this is a tension that neither of them — especially Jamal — didn’t anticipate. We saw Lucious do something to undermine Jamal before he even learned that they were pitted against each other. This definitely is a new tension in the relationship and one that they’re both going to have to grapple with, and that threatens to pit them against each other.

The final scene when Cookie consoles Lucious seemed to go back to the old Cookie and Lucious. Is there any chance for a rekindled relationship?
The way that the events throw Lucious and Cookie back together are with deep feeling. The scene in which she comforts him is a very big scene in our world, and one that I think reminds us of the deep bond between them and possibly marks the beginning of reigniting of some kind.

Weigh in: What did you think about “Empire’s” fall finale? Do you think Rhonda is dead? What about her baby? Leave a comment below.

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