Spoilers ahead for the spring premiere of Empire Season 5, called “My Fault Is Past.”
Empire finally returned to the airwaves after more than three months, and a lot has gone down in those three months. Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal on the series, claimed that he was brutally attacked in Chicago, but investigations into his claim resulted in Smollett’s arrest. He faces allegations that he staged the attack, and his future on the show is uncertain. Now, the spring premiere of Season 5 may revealed a way Empire can write him out of the show, if that’s the direction the producers decide to go.
“My Fault Is Past” didn’t address the winter finale cliffhanger that seemingly indicated Andre is the one in the coffin, and the show is actually done with the flash-forwards. Instead, the episode dealt with the fallout of Kingsley’s reveal that he is Lucious’ son from before he met Cookie, which raises the potentially sticky issue of Kingsley as Lucious’ eldest child, even if Andre is the oldest with the Lyon surname. Meanwhile, Jamal was faced with the very real possibility of the permanent end of his relationship with Kai.
Although Kai previously helped out the Lyons with his connections and reach as a journalist, he clearly hasn’t been on the same page as them with regard to their methods of fighting their way to the top. His love for Jamal was primarily what kept him around, and he revealed in “My Fault Is Past” that he treasures the memories of their time together in London, before Jamal was pulled back into his family’s drama.
Kai also confessed that the Lyon family scares him, which is a pretty big deal considering he’s no longer afraid of violence or physical harm. He can face violence without flinching, but seeing his potential father-in-law and brother-in-law dangling a man out of a window for information threw him. Kai just wanted to leave the Lyons behind with Jamal by his side.
This didn’t work for Jamal, who reached out to Kai for one last favor before Kai returned to London to take some time away from the relationship. Kai did help out one more time, and he made his final overture to Jamal for him to leave his family behind, but Jamal stated that the man he spends his life with needs to accept all sides of him, and that includes the Lyon family. Jamal returned his ring, and Kai left.
Despite each of their conviction that they were in the right, both men were clearly devastated by the breakup, and Jamal was struggling to deal with it by the end of the episode. “My Fault Is Past” gave the impression that Jamal is sticking around despite his heartbreak; could the Jussie Smollett scandal result in a change of plan, with Jamal deciding to join Kai in London for an off-screen happily-ever-after?
If the Lyons continue to cross lines, even Jamal may not be able to stomach their actions. Alternately, perhaps the big death will be enough for him to want to live life to the fullest, by the side of the man he loves in a relationship that conveniently takes him out of the main action without being killed off. It would certainly be a more upbeat ending than Riggs got over other Lethal Weapon when his actor had to be written out.
All of this said, it’s not certain at this point that Jussie Smollett will be leaving Empire, and showrunner Brett Mahoney recently raised the point that only time will tell. No decisions have evidently been made at this point. Rumors of a recast have also been circulating, so it’s possible the show decides to simply reveal a Jamal with a very different face in Season 6, assuming Season 6 happens.
If Empire does decide to go the route of writing out Jussie Smollett without recasting Jamal, then giving him a happy ending with Kai in London could be an ideal way to pull it off. Of course, that would mean my theory about Kai as the big death of Season 5 is no longer viable, and the fact that Smollett won’t be in the final two episodes of Season 5 would mean that he’d have to embark on that happily-ever-after without appearing on camera. We’ll have to wait and see.
Tune in to Fox on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET for new episodes of Empire in the 2019 midseason TV lineup. There are plenty of viewing options now and in the not-too-distant future.
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