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Empire season 2 study guide: Everything you need to know

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Chuck Hodes/Fox

The debut season of Fox’s Empire offered up enough drama, guest stars, and memorable moments to make the series a bona fide hit. Now, it’s time to look ahead to the new season, with the premiere just a short time away. 

For fans awaiting the return of the Lyon family, EW gathered up the latest Empire news as the series prepares to enter into its second season. We’ll continue to update this post as more scoop arrives. 

What’s it about?

If you missed tuning into the wildly popular drama for the first season, here’s a quick run-down of the premise: Empire stars Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, the CEO of Empire Entertainment, who hustled his way to the top, selling drugs in his early career to help build his fortune. Of course, Lucious is thrown for a loop when his fiery ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) returns home following a long-term prison stint — one she endured after taking the fall for his illegal activities so that he could continue to build their empire. After being diagnosed with ALS, Lucious must decide which of his three sons – Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), or Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) – will take over the business. Every family member has their own agenda, and tensions quickly rise as the epic power struggle threatens to tear the Lyon family further apart. But so much changed over the course of one season. Catch up with our recaps, here

Who will be stopping by Empire this season?

The Fox hit brought a number of big-name stars to its season one guest roster including Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, and Snoop Dogg. The reported line-up for season two – so far – includes: Chris Rock, Pitbull, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, Marisa Tomei, Ludacris, Kelly RowlandAl Sharpton, Andre Leon Talley, Swizz Beatz, Ne-Yo, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Busch, Becky G, Bre-Z Murray.

A new love interest for Cookie? Adam Rodriguez will be cozying up to our girl this season as recurring character Laz Delgado, a concert promoter and expert hustler.

“Laz comes in to help Cookie help and he does help her out in more ways than one. And he’s got an interesting agenda of his own that I think, Cookie’s power has a way of maybe skewing a little bit,” Rodriguez told EW of his role at the season 2 premiere at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 12 (more quotes from the event are available below). “You can’t help but be drawn in. She’s so magnetic that you can think you’re going to do one thing, but Cookie’s just so strong and powerful that you end up doing another.” 

Additional casting includes Andre Royo (as reported by TVLine) and Tyra Ferrell (as reported by Deadline), who will both be featured in recurring roles.

News circulated back in March that Oprah and Common would potentially guest star, though showrunner Ilene Chaiken noted in a recent interview with Deadline that as of now, she was not aware of any episodes featuring Oprah for season 2.  

Smollett told People back in August Mariah Carey would make an appearance, and co-creator Lee Daniels confirmed to EW the singer will be making an appearance — although she doesn’t want to play herself. 

“I think it would be great to play her but she doesn’t want to play her so that’s what we’re doing,” Daniels said. “She’s giving us the hard assignment of trying to create a character which we’re doing right now. I think she’s going to be in our finale, which I’ll be directing.”

What can fans expect this time around?

Fox released the first full trailer in early August with a look at how the Lyon family is shaping up now that its patriarch is behind bars. Andre makes moves to remove his father as the CEO of Empire Entertainment, but Lucious has a few special instructions for his other son, Jamal. And as Cookie and Andre move forward with their own plans, Jamal and Hakeem just can’t seem to get along – but what else is new?

While the first season tackled a few timely industry happenings, some of the biggest stories of the summer, such as the Drake/Meek Mill feud, will reportedly be incorporated into the next season.

EW chatted with several of the series’ stars (Gabourey Sidibe, Kaitlin Doubleday and more) at the season 2 premiere to give fans a little better idea of what to expect (some spoilers ahead):

Michael’s back and there’s a “new dynamic” in store for his relationship with Jamal: “I think that [fans are] gonna be surprised,” Rafael de la Fuente, who plays Michael, said.   

This season, it’s all about sex, baby: “Sex, we’re going to start with sex. Everybody’s sleeping with everybody,” co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels explained. “People that you don’t expect to be sleeping with are sleeping with people. Without spoilers, I can’t say but there’s a lot – women are sleeping with women, men are sleeping with men. Honey, it’s sex. It’s crazy. It’s what you’re not expecting.”

Queen Becky is back, and we’re learning a little bit more about her: Now a newly minted series regular (along with costar Ta’Rhonda Jones), Gabourey Sidibe says we’ll get to a look at “boss” Becky: “Well, at the end of the last season, she was promoted to head of A&R, so now she’s no longer serving tea or making phone calls for Lucious. She now has her own roster of artists, so we get to see her in more of a boss mode with more responsibility. You also get to see more of what she’s like away from the office.”

Another big Rhonda twist is on the way: Last season, Rhonda killed Vernon in an attempt to protect her husband, Andre. But the act is now driving a “wedge” between the two as he’s off finding God and she’s worried he might spill the beans. And, to make matters worse, she’s pregnant. “There’s a cliffhanger again in the middle of the season, just like the last one,” Kaitlin Doubleday told EW. “I can’t spoil it at all. I mean, it’s crazy; I was literally shocked so I don’t think it’s anything you’ll suspect.”

Anika and Cookie form an alliance … that may or may not be what we think it is: “I can’t tell you exactly how the dynamic has shifted but I can say that it’s continuously shifting. So when you think it’s one thing, it might be something else,” Grace Gealey said. “They’re two smart business women and I think in the first episode of the second season, we’ll see that maybe they’ll need to put it side to get the job done.” 

Empire returns Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.

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