‘Empire’ Showrunner Says Shocking Cliffhanger Is ‘Serious’ and ‘Life-Threatening’ (SPOILERS)

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead, if you have not watched “Empire” season 2, episode 17, titled “Rise By Sin,” which aired on May 11.

Empire” went out with a bang — and it’s not even the finale.

As teased in promos for this week’s episode, a Lyon would be shot down. Even with the warning, the final moment came as a shock when Jamal (Jussie Smollett) was shot by Freda Gatz (Bre-Z) at the ASA Awards and left in critical condition.

Rewind to the beginning of the episode and Lucious (Terrence Howard) was rehearsing for his ASAs performance. Over the course of the season, competitive drama has been heating up between Lucious and Jamal, as the father and son are going head-to-head at the big award show.

Meanwhile, while Jamal was in the studio, he and the closeted gay producer D-Major — who he hooked up with last week — were getting close again, until Lucious walked in, causing D-Major to pretend like Jamal was the one who made a pass at him. Seeing the situation prompted Lucious back into his homophobic rage and he reacted worse than ever before going as far to tell his son, “The day you die from AIDS, I’m going to celebrate.”

Fast forward back to the ASAs where the Lyon family was walking the red carpet before the big show. Freda, who was also walking the carpet, got tipped off by a very drunk and intrusive Carol (Tasha Smith) who said that Lucious had close ties with her father (played by Chris Rock earlier in the season) who was killed at the beginning of the season. Freda put the pieces together and realized that Lucious killed her father so she grabbed a gun from a security guard and pulled the trigger — though she was aiming for Lucious, Jamal stepped in front of his dad and took the bullet for him.

Also in tonight’s penultimate episode:

  • Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) took the limelight over Laura (Jamilla Velazquez), but they’re still going strong
  • Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) approached Anika (Grace Gealey) and told her that she thinks she is the one who pushed her down the stairs
  • The feds are back onto Lucious — Tariq (Morocco Omari) has his eye on Lucious and he brought Anika into the interrogation room
  • Andre (Trai Byers) and Lucious’ mother were locked up by Thirsty (Andre Royo), in order to keep Lucious’ mom secret from the world
  • During the very last scene, Lucious’ mother runs outside of the hospital where reporters were waiting to get any news about Jamal. The scene cut to black just as she was about to speak up to the press…

Here, “Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken talks to Variety about Jamal’s fate, Lucious’ mother and what to expect in next week’s finale.

How will Jamal being shot impact the entire Lyon family?

What happens next is about the consequences. Clearly, Jamal has been shot. It’s serious. It’s life-threatening. It happened because of everything that we’ve seen in the course of the season and all of the things that Lucious and Cookie have done, and the way they’ve lived their lives. It’s all coming back at them now.

Lucious is clearly feeling extreme guilt over Jamal being shot. How will this event change him?

Lucious feels horrified by the things that he said to Jamal just hours before he was shot, and on top of that, Jamal might have just saved Lucious’ life. It’s not only that Lucious said terrible things that he regrets to Jamal, but Jamal took a bullet for his father. I would say that should Jamal survive, there will have to be a big reckoning between father and son, and probably for the whole family.

Lucious says some really nasty things to Jamal, before he was shot. Why did Lucious go so far to attack Jamal?

We wanted Lucious’ homophobia to rear its head again. It never completely goes away. It’s an evolving process. In a moment when Lucious feels threatened and emasculated by Jamal, Lucious is reacting both to a shocking moment, but on top of that, it’s ASA day and he’s about to go up against his son and he fears that he’s about to lose to his son. The impulse to take him down is powerful.

Will we see more of D-Major?

We’ll see a little bit of him in the next episode. He doesn’t have a big story in the next episode, but we see him in passing. We’re looking at the possibility that that’s a big and ongoing story for us.

Freda just shot Jamal. Will she be back or will Lucious make sure that she’s gone for good?

We will see more of Freda. We’ll see her in the next episode. I think that it calls for that. Freda shot Jamal and tried to shoot Lucious, based on very quickly putting some pieces together that led her to a very damning conclusion. She now is a danger and a threat to Lucious as much as his mother and Tariq are to him.

It really does seem that everyone is against Lucious.

Yes, he’s battled. And yet, he’s got Cookie.

Will Cookie and Lucious grow closer together or apart, now that their son’s life is in danger?

It would depend on whether or not Jamal survives and how he survives. Even though Cookie is beyond devastated and initially angry with Lucious, we do see a moment at the end in which she lets her guard down. I would like to think that opens the door to healing, and that as parents, they come together as parents do when a child is danger.

Tariq has Anika in the interrogation room. That’s not good for Lucious, huh?

That’s a cliffhanger! And a set-up for real trouble for Lucious. It suggests that Tariq is really serious about pursuing Lucious. This federal investigation against Lucious isn’t over and Tariq is everything that Cookie feared that he was. He’s going to try in every way that he can to get at Lucious. He presumably knows or has reason to believe that Anika has information — whether or not she gives up that information in that moment remains to be seen.

Speaking of Anika, Rhonda finally lets her know that she thinks she pushed her down the stairs. Will that mystery be revealed in next week’s finale?

Yes. Rhonda is beginning to contemplate that it was Anika and is beginning to put together the pieces that suggest that Anika might have had a motive.

The episode ends with Lucious’ mother walking outside of the hospital to face reporters — what is she going to do?

It wouldn’t be a cliffhanger if I told you! We just know that she has in her power to do harm to Lucious, if she has the will. He gave her many reasons, so she now is in a position where she could now retaliate.

Laura is still standing by Hakeem, even with her music career faltering. Are they still on track for next week’s wedding?

There is a wedding next week. She’s still standing by him and he’s still standing by her. It’s a relationship that is about more than opportunism.

Will this be a happy wedding or a dramatic Lyon wedding?

Hmm…I’ll just say that there will be a wedding. It’s a big and festive event. It’s a wedding as only the Lyons would do a wedding. Whether or not Jamal makes it to his brother’s wedding is a very big question.

Is there a time jump going into the finale or will it pick up right with Jamal still in the hospital?

A little time jump.

What questions will be answered in the finale.

Will Hakeem get to start his new family? Assuming Jamal survives, what does his recovery look like, and what does he take from this legacy that has now taken such a violent turn? Will Lucious and Cookie continue their rekindling? Will Rhonda find out once and for all if her intuition is right about Anika, and if so, what will she do about it and where will that leave Andre? What’s going to happen to Leah?

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