Is the Empire about to lose two heirs?
Wednesday’s episode of Empire was a big one for many reasons. “Never Doubt I Love” focused on the wedding of Jamal and Kai, and even with the progress made in pop culture with LGBTQ characters, it’s still momentous to see two gay black men married on network television. But unfortunately, the wedding will most likely be overshadowed for two reasons.
It’s been rumored since season 2 that Trai Byers wanted off the show, and between Wednesday’s final reveal that Andre only has weeks to live, him flatlining in the flash-forward, and that mysterious coffin, it looks like the (previously) eldest son could be on his way out. And he’s not the only one, as Jamal’s wedding could also serve as the character’s swan song, considering this is the final episode of the season for Jussie Smollett, who Fox previously removed from the next two installments, leaving his future on the series beyond that in doubt due to the controversy surrounding him.
So, with this possibly marking the conclusion of Smollett and Jamal on Empire, here’s how he went out. Things kicked off with The New York Times profiling Jamal’s marriage and interviewing all of the Lyons. But the happiness takes a turn when an anonymous email to the reporter says the wedding is off because Kai hide his HIV-positive status from Jamal, which we know isn’t true. Jamal thinks they should get ahead of this, while Kai doesn’t want his business out there like that. The tough wedding times continue for Jamal when Lucious, who has long struggled with his son’s sexuality, balks at Jamal’s request to walk him down the aisle alongside Cookie. And Andre inviting new big brother Kingsley to his bachelor party didn’t exactly go over well with Jamal, whose night got better once Kai was revealed to be one of the strippers.
It was then wedding time, with last minute invite Damon Cross arriving early to sweet talk Cookie, before Jamal spots them, confronting his mother. Meanwhile, Lucious is running late because of the FBI bringing him in for questioning. When he finally arrives, he’s ready to walk his son down the aisle. “You thought I was ashamed of you,” Lucious tells Jamal. “I’m ashamed of me. I still can’t make heads or tails of this stuff, but none of that matters. What matters is that you are my son.”
The ceremony gets underway with Chaka Khan performing and Becky officiating. After Kai delivers his passionate vows, the show attempts to fake us out with Jamal saying he can’t go through with it. But he really just means that he can’t read his “cookie cutter” vows, instead going off the cuff and from the heart. And the result is a beautiful and emotional scene. The action really gets going post-wedding with Teri revealing she’s pregnant, just as father-to-be Andre is telling Lucious that he only has weeks to live. There’s no cliffhanger for Jamal, though, with Kai telling the reporter that she can print everything, including his HIV status, and Jamal making nice with his mom and saying she doesn’t owe him any explanation for what happened with Cross.
The question now is what’s next. In the immediate future, Jamal’s wedding serves as a convenient close to his story for this season, with the next episode sure to have a throwaway line about how he and Kai are off enjoying their long honeymoon. But after that, the tougher decisions must be made. Empire hasn’t yet officially been renewed, but it should be a no-brainer as it continues to be one of Fox’s more successful series. The network and creative team must then make a final decision on Smollett’s place on Empire, which might now be even more complicated after the main cast penned a letter asking that Smollett be allowed to stick around.
“It’s a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there,” showrunner Brett Mahoney told EW back in March. “And it’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie. We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it’s bigger than one character, but it’s too early to think about the show without him.”
All charges against Smollett have now been dropped, but he’s still dealing with the aftermath, including a lawsuit from the city of Chicago, where Empire films. From Smollett’s point of view, would he even want to return to a city that is suing him? And from the show’s standpoint, would it be worth it to keep him around? Smollett and Jamal have always been at the heart of the series, with co-creator Lee Daniels pulling from his own childhood experiences for the gay middle son of the Lyon music dynasty. And if Byers’ Andre is indeed revealed to be in the mysterious coffin come the season finale, then will Empire want to continue with only one Lyon son left? Well, they did just conveniently introduce a new son in Kingsley. We should soon know if Smollett gets to fulfill the declaration that he made to EW ahead of season 5: “Let’s get this straight, I’m in it with Jamal for the long run.”
Empire airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created this Fox drama about a kingpin of hip-hop (played by Terrence Howard) and his family, who fight him for control of the empire.