The sixth and final season of “Empire” hits its midway point with Tuesday’s fall finale, titled “Cold Cold Man,” and fans have more questions now than ever — including whether or not Jussie Smollett will reprise his role as Jamal Lyon for the series finale next spring.
“We still really don’t have an answer to that,” “Empire” showrunner Brett Mahoney told TheWrap in an interview Monday. “We’re still basically in the same position where we haven’t had a definitive conversation as to how to wrap up the character.”
Smollett was written out of the Fox hip-hop drama toward the end of Season 5, a few months after he claimed to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on the streets of Chicago in January.
An investigation was conducted, which revealed a connection between Smollett and brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were initially persons of interest in the case and say that Smollett paid them to stage the attack. Smollett, who has maintained his innocence all along, was eventually arrested and charged with 16 counts of filing a false police report — though all of those charges were later dropped as part of a deal requiring him to forfeit $10,000 bond.
When “Empire” was renewed for Season 6 in April, the option was extended for Smollett to reprise his role, but Fox noted there were “no plans” for him to return. Not long after it was announced the sixth season would be the show’s last, “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels said Smollett would not return to the series and Fox backed his claim, despite appeals from stars like Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, who wanted Smollett to rejoin the show.
Throughout the currently airing sixth and final season, Jamal’s absence has been explained by Cookie (Henson), Lucious (Howard) and the rest of the characters referring to him as living in Paris with his new husband Kai and wanting to stay away from the Lyon family drama.
“It’s a real challenge,” he added. “And I think up until now, we’ve found ways where it makes sense that he’s not present. But when you think about ending the show, and since the show is a family show, it is weird and particularly challenging to do it without him.”
Fox network and “Empire” studio 20th Century Fox Television declined TheWrap’s request for comment on Mahoney’s remarks regarding Smollett’s possible return to “Empire.”
Check back with TheWrap after tonight’s fall finale for more from our interview with Mahoney.
The “Empire” Season 6 fall finale airs tonight at 9/8c on Fox.