Post Mortems
Empire Cookie Angelo

Empire EP Talks Fall Finale: The 'Most Dangerous' Character, Jamal's Struggle and That Nasty Leah Zinger

Plumbing. A little light vacuuming. Some unfortunate heaving into a bucket.

These aren’t the typical glamorous activities you’d expect to see from Empire‘s Lyon family, but they all figured prominently in the show’s Season 3 fall finale, which included a permanent character exit, two significant death threats, a major public shaming and one of the filthiest lines of dialogue on network TV all season. (Leah, you nasty!)

We caught up with executive producer Sanaa Hamri to dish the dirt about Andre’s power moves, Lucious’ revenge on Diana and Angelo, and Jamal’s heartbreaking trip to rehab — and where those characters are headed when Season 3 resumes in March — but first, a quick recap of Episode 9, “A Furnace For Your Foe.”

MOTHER OF MAYOR SLEEPING WITH DANGER | After Cookie oversteps at one of Angelo’s press conferences, redubbing the Captain’s Ball as “The People’s Ball” and making it an open-admission kinda party, Diana meets Lucious at the last Ferris Wheel in Brooklyn (wearing some ghatdamb opera gloves, I kid you not!) and strikes a deal: If Papa Lyon can “persuade” a journalist to kill a mayoral-race-ending story on her son, she’ll make sure Angelo and Cookie split. But after Diana casually reneges on the deal — “the Cookie effect” is helping her son in the polls, and she can get Lucious an ambassadorhip (girl, bye) — Lucious very publicly makes sure the story rises from the ashes. Turns out that Angelo’s old DUI arrest might contain an inconvenient wrinkle — a girl in the passenger seat who didn’t come out alive — and in the process, Mrs. Cosby learns Lucious Lyon is Not The One.

THEY ACTUALLY MADE HIM GO TO REHAB, AND I SAID “YES, YES, YES!” | Jamal’s got Lucious on one shoulder, suggesting that actual suicide would be prefereable to the release of his autobiographical-confessional tracks, and Cookie on the other, washing down the sink even the pills he hides beind his cereal boxes. But the night of the People’s Ball, when Cookie finds her son going through brutal withdrawal and unable to perform, she grabs a wrench, opens up the pipes and gives her son just enough oxy to crush his big comeback performance. How good is he? Even uptight Diana is shakin’ that azz. But as he exits the stage, Cookie, Lucious, Hakeem and Andre usher their tormented loved one into a car headed directly to a treatment facility to kick his out-of-control habit.

IF EMPIRE IS AN EXTENDED GAME OF THRONES METAPHOR, COOKIE IS TOTES KHALEESI, RIGHT? | Tariq uses cellphone footage of Freda’s freestyle rap to get a judge to freeze Empire’s assets for 30 days. (Yes, srsly.) Lucious swings by the fed’s office, though, and embarasses him with a very public Maury moment about their shared paternity. Shyne steps into the already crowded mix by offering to solve Lucious’ $50 million problem — in exchange for a stake in the company. “Empire is the Iron Throne, and everybody wants to be king,” he giggles to a furious Tariq, who didn’t realize Shyne was feeding him intel on Lucious just for his own personal gain. But it’s Andre who ultimately wields the biggest sword this week (not a euphemism) — which we’ll get to in a second.

GHOST PUNTER | OK, so about Andre… he finally reveals his bipolar disorder to Nessa, and how Rhonda helped him manage it. “I’m not gonna do any of those things for you,” she says, before admitting her loftier goal. “I want you to learn to do them for yourself.” This leads to one final hallucination/beautifully shot scene of Andre on the beach with Ghost Rhonda. She approves of his new merger (heck, she already got in on that otherwordly three-way a few episodes ago), and encourages Andre to proceed — with Machiavellian purpose. Oh, and one last thing, she adds: “Promise me you will destroy that bitch that murdered me and killed our baby.” Damn, girl, why not just skywrite “Surrender, Boo-Boo Kitty” right across the sky? Andre poetically tosses his wedding ring into the water, then reveals to Shyne that he knows the producer liquidated his assets two weeks before Lucious’ assets were frozen. He’s turned King Shyne into a mere rook for now, telling him to respect the heirarchy “’til it’s time to kill my father.” And the look on Andre’s face says he really means it. Dun-dun-dunnnnn.

Now, on to our Q&A with Sanaa Hamri!

TVLINE | Let’s talk about the final moments of the fall finale: Andre, who’s been frequently outwitted in the past, has in the wake of Rhonda’s death, become a colder, calculated man. He doesn’t want to just control the business, but kill his father, too. How dangerous will he become?
He’s extremely dangerous. Andre has nothing to lose. He is the shunned brother with no kind of creative talent, who’s never been the apple of Lucious’ eye. And not only that, Lucious let him falter and tread water in a very dangerous way as a teenager, not ackowledging [bipolar] disorder. Lucious never said, “This runs in our family. My mother has it.” His father always made him feel like a freak.

Now having lost his wife and lost his child, Andre has become the most ruthless one — and he’s learned a lot from his father, too. So I believe he’s the most dangerous character on our show right now.

TVLINE | Lucious always seems like he’s three steps ahead, crushing the people who plot against him. This time around, I am not convinced he sees it coming, but what can you tease for fans who have to wait ’til March for new episodes?
Lucious should really, really worry — and here’s why. The hack Andre pulled off a couple episodes ago with French Montana’s [Vaughn], Lucious had no idea that Andre had anything to do with it. Andre is going to be able to weave a web that could most probably or possibly take Lucious down. He’s going to do whatever it takes by any means necessary. Lucious is that way as well. And what I think people will enjoy is wondering if Andre is now even more Machiavellian and powerful than Lucious.

TVLINE | I was surprised that I was moved by what seemed to be a final farewell to Ghost Rhonda. It was so poetic and beautiful in Andre’s mind, but it also felt like a turning point that set up Andre to make these moves.
It was a really interesting process saying goodbye to the ghost of Rhonda. When I was directing it, I wanted it to feel super lyrical, super poetic and a true goodbye. I used extreme wide angles and certain cinematic accent to capture it as a bittersweet love story. It’s almost like reliving the death of Rhonda but in a less brutal way. With that said, we are saying goodbye to Rhonda, and this was Andre saying goodbye to Rhonda. He knows now where he’s going. He has the drive and direction. Before, he was flailing, and Rhonda was always steering him in the right direction. Now, though, he’s found solace in Nessa. He’s attracted to her, and she’s also attracted to his Machiavellian ways and his need for power, his need to take over and surpass his father.

TVLINE | This is a final goodbye to Rhonda, right?
For the character [of Andre], it is final. He throws his wedding ring into the water. Trai Byers and I came up with that on set.

TVLINE | On a side note, now the heck did you sneak in that exchange between Lucious and his mother, who comes in with a vacuum cleaner right as Anika is orally pleasuring Lucious. “Ma, what are you doing?!” “The same thing she’s doing — but I’m suckin’ the dirt out of the rug.” Weren’t the Fox censors all over that?
[Laughs] She didn’t say anything! She’s just sucking up the dirt! That’s what’s so brilliant about the writing on the show — if you deconstruct what everyone is saying, they’re not saying much at all. It’s the innuendo that makes it completely outrageous! [Laughs]

TVLINE | The way Lucious brutally exacted revenge on Diana, exposing Angelo’s past scandal, I wonder if she’s formidable enough to strike back.
It’s all very simple. Diana and Lucious made promises to each other. He fulfilled his, he did what he had to do. But she, in turn, reneged on that. So, she understand Lucious’ vengeance. She’s obsessed with her son, but not a Lucious herself. She messed with the wrong guy. But Angelo is in the second half of the season, so Diana will definitely make an appearance again.

TVLINE | Talk me through Jamal’s journey to rehab.
Jamal having to face pain-medication addiction, it’s a horrific thing. We see the rawness and the truth. It’s the unglamorous side of what a lot of artists have gone through over the decades — from Janis Joplin to Michael Jackson. We see what it does. It’s real. Cookie will do anything to get her son out of that pain, and that’s why she gave him those pills. It had to be addressed, but she couldn’t let him withdraw that severely. She and Lucious and the family all bonded in that amazing moment where Jamal has to go to rehab. He has to go through the program and come to terms with his addiction. And the journey now for him is if he can be sober — and if he can create being sober, which is a whole other thing.

What did you think of Empire‘s fall finale? Were you shocked by Andre’s desire to kill Lucious? Sound off in the comments!