(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Wednesday’s “Empire”)
One day after Fox renewed “Empire” for a sixth season, with “no plans” for Jussie Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon to return “at this time,” the series’ aired the first episode of Season 5 without the actor and addressed how Jamal was written out of the remaining two installments of the show’s current run.
Following Jamal’s wedding to his fiance Kai (Toby Onwumere) on last week’s episode of the hip-hop soap, the middle Lyon son was barely mentioned at all on Wednesday’s hour. However, one of the two references made to him at least let fans know Jamal is honeymooning with his new husband.
The explainer came during a scene in which Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) and Giselle (Nicole Ari Parker ) were discussing the current state of Empire’s Trust Tour — an attempt for the Lyon Family to revitalize faith in the label — with exec Kelly Patel (Pej Vahdat).
“Wasn’t Jamal supposed to be in this meeting? He’s the one who’s actually on the tour, yes?” Patel says. “Yes, but he’s on his honeymoon in the Seychelles,” Giselle says. Becky reminds Patel that, oh, yeah he wasn’t invited to the wedding because “nobody likes” him but it was “gorgeous.”
Jamal is referenced just once more during the hour, when Andre (Trai Byers) places three suicide notes on Lucious’ (Terrence Howard) desk, one of which is clearly labeled “Jamal.”
Later in the episode, Andre tries to take his own life with his father present and prepared, but Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) — having discovered the note Andre left for her — storms in to stop the act, screams at Lucious for supporting his son in the first place, and reveals Andre’s girlfriend is expecting a baby. In the closing moments of the episode, Andre keels over in distress, clutching his heart.
It remains to be seen how Jamal will or will not be referenced on next week’s finale, which is expected to reveal the identity of person inside the casket in all those flashforwards — a mystery fans have been waiting for an answer to all season.
“Empire” was renewed for a sixth season Tuesday, one week ahead of its Season 5 finale, though Smollett’s fate on the series is still uncertain.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,” Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV said in a joint statement Tuesday.
After news of the renewal broke, TheWrap obtained this statement from a representative for Smollett: “We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on ‘Empire’ in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open. Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and ‘Empire’ leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
Smollett was written out of the last two episodes of Season 5 after he was accused by Chicago police of orchestrating a staged assault against himself earlier this year. He was initially charged with 16 felony counts related to filing a false police report, but the charges were later dropped.
Before Smollett’s final episode of the season aired last week, a letter was sent to Fox and the show’s producers by series regulars, including Henson and Howard, calling for Smollett to be brought back to the show next season. Other names signed to the letter include Byers, Sidibe, Parker, and Bryshere Y. Gray.
The Season 5 finale of “Empire” airs next Wednesday at 8/7c on Fox.