Post Mortems
empire season 2 finale

Empire Boss Talks Finale Cliffhanger, OMG Wedding and Season 3 Plans

Talk about putting the craziest possible spin on Empire‘s weeks-long promo promise that “a Lyon will fall!”

Wednesday’s Season 2 finale ended with Rhonda channeling her inner Cookie and going into full street-brawl mode vs “Pearl-Clutching Debutante” (aka Boo Boo Kitty) (aka Fake-Ass Lena Horne) (aka Becky With the Blonde Wig) (aka Anika Calhoun) — and one or both (but probably not neither) tumbling off a 30-story balcony.

Oh yes, it turns out if this were a game of Clue, the final answer would’ve been “Anika on the Staircase With Her Louboutins!” The woman carrying Hakeem’s baby admitted mid-scuffle that Rhonda was correct in believing she’d assaulted her during December’s winter finale and caused her to lose her baby with Hakeem’s brother Andre. And she didn’t seem the least bit sheepish about it, either!

The eruption of violence between the women was a fitting end to the most horrific nuptials since Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding.

Oh, c’mon, you didn’t think Hakeem would actually wind up putting a ring on it with Laura, did you? (Not that he didn’t try!)

Just as Laura came down the aisle — here’s hoping she had a bottomless mimosa beforehand! — Anika got served with a subpoena to testify against Lucious by a woman disguised as a cater waiter. Cookie and Anika’s old cohort Shyne Johnson (who scored an invite as the Lyons attempted to buy his silence about Lucious’ murder of three rival dealers plus a fourth contract killing back in the day) popped someone in the face. And Laura and her family fled the scene — most likely forever.

As the family tried to figure out a plan to save Lucious from the Feds (led by Tariq the Freak), there seemed to be only one solid solution: So Lucious and Anika got married (by Andre) — as Cookie (who’d considered giving it another try with her ex) made her tearful exit. “I did not save this bitch’s life so she could ruin mine!” Cookie screamed, referencing the fact that she’d talked Anika off a suicidal ledge earlier in the hour. And you know our heroine was devastated, seeing that she didn’t even twerk or slap her own booty on her way out the door.

As the newlyweds headed back down the aisle, Lucious told Anika he knew she’d pushed his daughter-in-law — prompting her balcony reverie that led to the fateful fight. Meanwhile, Tariq showed up and got in Lucious’ face, prompting his mother Leah to ask, “Dwight, what’s your half-brother doing here?” What in the actual what? Yep, it turns out not only did a young Lucious witness his father’s murder at the hand of the man who raised Tariq, but he also heard the guy’s revelation that Lucious’ father was Tariq’s biological daddy, too!

Left at the altar, unable to get out a single note, was Jamal, who’d come home from the hospital promising to put his career on hold ’til his family ended their violent, crazy ways. Lucious managed to get him back into music-making mode with D-Major (not an entendre, necessarily) by visiting Freda in jail, truthfully noting “I never laid a finger on your daddy” (that was just his thugs), promising to pay for her legal defense and getting her to spit a sick rap on his cellular device. But methinks the balcony antics, subpoena serving and Tariq revelations might send Jamal back to his vow of (musical) silence.

Below, showrunner Ilene Chaiken breaks down the major moments of Season 2, Episode 18 — weighing in on Anika and Rhonda’s fate, Lucious and Cookie’s rift and Jamal and Hakeem’s futures following their family’s worst night ever.

TVLINE | Let’s dive right into that cliffhanger of Anika and Rhonda’s brutal fight on the balcony. Was it always supposed to come down to that moment? And did you feel like the most surprising twist might be to have Rhonda’s stairway assailant turn out to be the primary suspect – rather than some last-minute twist?
We always knew that it was Anika who pushed Rhonda. And we were aware how many viewers were dead certain that it was Anika who pushed Rhonda. But we did talk about whether it could be somebody else. There are certainly other characters in Empire who could have been culprits, given all the agendas and motives, and we could’ve done that just for the sake of defying audience expectations. [Laughs] But in the end, we wanted to tell the story we believed in and that we thought was the most earned, the most real and the most justifiable. And frankly, when you get deep into defying audience expectations, you can get all twisted up, sometimes to the point where it would have been less surprising if it were somebody other than Anika — as you suggested.

TVLINE | I actually howled when Anika spat out, “You’re damn right I did it, you bitch!”
It was loads of fun to create the scene — and I have to give Lee Daniels a lot of the credit for it. We went back and forth over where exactly the show, this season, and that particular storyline should end. Lee, with his love of heightened drama and classic soaps, really, really wanted to go there [to the fight sequence], and in the end, I’m glad we did. There’s some great scripted dialogue on our show, but that scene itself was very sparely written. It’s quite possible the only scripted line in it was Andre’s “No!” Rhonda and Anika just went at it!

TVLINE | Is one or both of them going to die?
I certainly know the answer to that question, but for the purposes of our conversation, what I’ll say is it sure as hell looks that way. All we have to go on right now is the sound of that scream and the look on Andre’s face — and that, to me, says somebody went over that railing. And it would be ludicrous to say that would be a survivable fall! [Laughs] We talked about how high up they are – and we agreed it was somewhere around 30 stories. Assuming one of those ladies went over, she’s in for it.

TVLINE | Andre already lost his baby: Would you really kill his wife? On the other hand, Anika just married Lucious – which is kind of delicious. Complicating matters, you’ve had both Kaitlin Doubleday and Grace Gealey in the cast since the very beginning — there has to be an attachment to both of them…
We ponder all of those things. We talk about what would be the best and most delicious story to tell in the next season. But we love both of these characters and both of these actresses — and it’s hard to think about losing either one of them. In this instance, there’s no character motivation to consider: One of them is simply going to win the fight, and the other is likely to be gone. It’s in the hands of the gods, and whoever survives is going to have quite a story.

TVLINE | Let’s talk about the wedding. Hakeem and Laura never felt like endgame, but the Lucious-Anika vow exchange was a whopper. How did you come to that moment?
You certainly got inside the heads of the Empire writers. We’ve known since the beginning of the season that there was going to be a wedding, that it would probably be the finale, and that Laura would leave Hakeem at the altar. That was the place we were going, and we knew we wanted someone else to get married in Hakeem’s place – probably Lucious. We could imagine him looking around and saying, “I spent all this money, I want someone getting married!” This finale — while it has a bunch of big moments — really sets the table for Season 3. We wanted to do the kind of finale where we move all the pieces around on the chessboard and leave them in that precipitous moment. It became clear at a certain point that there was a really compelling reason for Lucious to marry Anika.

TVLINE | Earlier in the hour, when Anika is threatening to commit suicide to avoid testifying, I’m wondering if that was just manipulation on her part or…
Oh yes. That was manipulation. Anika is wily — and that was her way to get sympathy from the Lyons. And she got them just where she wanted them. We may have underestimated her. Anika’s survival instincts are ferocious, but she doesn’t play the long game. She’s not on a level with the Lyons — or certainly with Lucious — when it comes to long-term strategy, but she’s really scrappy. I wouldn’t ever count her out.

TVLINE | Why was the Lucious-Anika marriage too much for Cookie? She knows he doesn’t really love her.
It’s too much for her because she was ready to have happiness. She and Lucious went through so much together – and although in our first season they hooked up and had that love connection, I don’t think there was ever a moment where Cookie believed they’d [reunite]. But in this moment, she was ready — and he was, too — to make a clean start. Cookie is someone who fundamentally believes if you start with deceit, that relationship is not gonna go well. Nobody was cheating on anybody here, though. They love one another, the path was clear, and all of the sudden, yet another thing from Lucious’ past and the mistakes he made got in the way. And I’m with Cookie on this one: This is it. She’s done. She’s finished being hurt by Lucious.

TVLINE | The finale’s other big bombshell: Lucious and Tariq are half-brothers. Is Tariq Season 3’s Big Bad?
We introduced two characters recently who’ll be really important in Season 3. One is Tariq, who’ll be Lucious’ big adversary. And the other is Shyne, who will be a really central character in that same story.

TVLINE | So let’s talk Hakeem, who couldn’t have ended the season on a worse note.
Hakeem is going to be messed up. He suffered humiliation after humiliation over the course of Season 2. He really made a noble effort to be a better man, and he did grow up some, but everything he tried ultimately came back at him. His failures were public. So, first and foremost, Hakeem needs to regain his dignity, and hip-hop is going to play a big part of that. Given who Hakeem is, though, you can expect him to get into some trouble. He also has a baby on the way.

TVLINE | As long as Anika doesn’t…
He has a baby on the way. And his father just married his baby mama.

TVLINE | Hakeem and Laura are done-done, right?
She closed the door in his face — hard.

TVLINE | Jamal’s vow not to make music ’til the Lyons end this cycle of violence was noble, but part of me wanted to say, “Oh honey, do you know your family?” After the wedding, when Lucious demanded “Sing!”, nothing came out of Jamal’s mouth. Was that symbolic?
That was very symbolic and very much indicative of where we’re going with Jamal. He said that and he means it.

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