Empire‘s highly-promoted “Who’s in the coffin?” mystery turned out to be something of a bait and switch. None of the characters whose fate was left hanging in the balance in last May’s finale — most notably Hakeem and Tiana — were revealed to be in the pine box. (Both survived that season-ending shootout.) As we learned in the cold open of Wednesday’s Season 5 premiere, the foreboding scene in which Lucious is seen towering over a casket was actually a vision of the future — six months into the future, to be exact. And as pretty much confirmed in the episode’s final scene, Empire will not be divulging the identity of the deceased anytime soon (thanks for nothing, How to Get Away With Murder!). The one and only clue we were left with? Lucious presumably played a role in his/her passing, as hinted by the guilt-ridden “I’m sorry” he uttered.
One person we can safely rule out of the death derby Eddie Barker since, well, the power-hungry do-badder is already a pile of ash. Midway through the hour, Forest Whitaker’s villain banged his head during a tussle with ex-wife Giselle (newly-minted series regular Nicole Ari Parker) and croaked. As a result of his surprise whacking, Cookie and Lucious were denied a chance to take back Empire Entertainment. Instead, the company now belongs to Giselle.
Other highlights from the episode, which picked up two years after the events of the May finale: Bullet-riddled Hakeem lost part of his lung, compromising his ability to perform; Andre is finishing out a two-year prison sentence for indirectly causing Anika’s death; Jamal returned home from London with a new man of his arm (Kai, played by Sense8‘s Toby Onwumere); and Cookie and Lucious, who have been struggling to rebuild their music brand, stumbled on a possible golden ticket in the form of up-and-coming singer Treasure. So bullish are they on the chanteuse that they went ahead and started their own label.
Below, showrunner Brett Mahoney tackles our burning questions about the premiere and the season ahead.
TVLINE | How long until we find out who is in the coffin?
The mystery will play out the entire season. We will know who is in the coffin by the [finale]. The flash-forwards will play intermittently as we move through the season and provide puzzle pieces [to the mystery].
TVLINE | Were you inspired at all by How to Get Away With Murder‘s format?
[This twist] certainly lives in that world, but it was actually Lost that inspired me. There was that pivotal season when they did that flash-forward and you were like, “What? The flashback was actually a flash-forward?“ That’s what made me think of it.
TVLINE | Can you confirm that it’s a significant character in the coffin and not, say, Giselle?
[Laughs] Let’s not diminish Giselle. She’s significant! Hopefully, when [the victim] is revealed it will be satisfying.
TVLINE | Has the actor playing the deceased character been informed yet?
They have not.
TVLINE | Fair to say Lucious played a role in this person’s death?
In his mind, yes, he feels some sort of culpability.
TVLINE | Why kill off Eddie so early into the season? Was it a scheduling thing with Forest?
He did have conflicts this season which made [his death], creatively, the best way to go about it, since we did not have a guarantee that we would [be able to get him back].
TVLINE | Is Giselle the Big Bad now?
The assumption is that Giselle will be an antagonist to the Lyons. And to some degree she is. But, at some point, there may be an alliance formed [between the Lyons and Giselle].
TVLINE | Jamal has been in relationships before — what’s different about Kai?
Compared to other relationships he’s had, this is a true relationship of equals. And I think this may really be his true love.
TVLINE | Is Andre a changed man after doing time? Will we see him compare post-prison notes with Cookie?
They do discuss it in upcoming episodes. And it does have an impact on him. And in a later episode, he details what that impact was.