Midway through Wednesday’s episode, Jamal’s older brother Andre — played by fellow original cast member Trai Byers — received a terminal diagnosis. “I have cancer — advanced lymphoma stage 4,” he solemnly informed girlfriend Teri. “I’m dying.. [I have] a few months at best.”
The onscreen twist arrives 24 hours after news broke that prosecutors dropped all charges against Smollett, who stood accused of faking his own hate crime back in January. Fox initially maintained it was “gratified” by the development, but that was before the backlash kicked in. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel went so far as to call the turn of events “a whitewash of justice.” Smollett, meanwhile, remains the subject of a federal probe related to a potentially self-penned, hate-laced letter that was mailed to the Empire set prior to the alleged January attack.
According to our sister site Deadline, the network and studio may opt to “cut their losses” and make Smollett’s current two-episode suspension permanent. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Jamal. As TVLine reported back in February, producers were already toying with the idea potentially recasting Jamal with a different actor in the not-yet-officially-ordered Season 6. As if that weren’t enough drama, Empire has all season long been teasing a major onscreen death via a flash-forward mystery, with the identity of the victim set to be revealed in May’s Season 5 finale.
For his part, Smollett continues to maintain his innocence. At a press conference Tuesday, the actor thanked “my family, my friends, the incredible people of Chicago and all over the country and the world who have supported me, prayed for me, who showed me so much love,” adding, “No one will ever know how much that has meant to me, and I will be forever grateful.”