Empire boss dishes on who's dead, who might be dead, and what's to come
Bye bye, Boo Boo Kitty.
It’s been a wild four years for Anika (Grace Byers), but on Wednesday’s Empire season finale, the Lyon lover-turned-foe finally met her end. Anika’s death — she fell to her death after Andre (Trai Byers) drugged her, which had her seeing Ghost Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) — was only part of the eventful episode that also saw Tory (Rumer Willis) die, the Lyons lose Empire, and Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) get remarried.
To get all the scoop from the inside, EW called up Empire showrunner Brett Mahoney to find out why this was the end of Anika, who else could be a goner, and what’s to come in season 6.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was this the time for the Lyons to lose Empire? Can you have Empire without Empire?
BRETT MAHONEY: It was sort of this journey of what’s most important and where does the Empire fit into it. Are the Lyons and love and Cookie and Lucious and their relationship the most important thing that’s bringing them together? Or is it the Empire? So in the finale, they really have to choose love or Empire. Cookie chooses love and then Lucious comes around to it, realizing that the most important thing in his life is his love of Cookie, and with that, they believe that they can retake Empire some time in the future. It’s the journey they went on through the season in terms of realizing how important they are each to other and finding their love for one another again — and earning their love for one another.
So you’d say the battle for Empire isn’t over?
I would definitely say it’s not over. When they’re outside Empire as they’re taking down the sign and Lucious looks back as they’re leaving, Cookie says, “We’re going to take this back.” The Lyons don’t give up easily. I don’t think it will be easy for them and who knows what will happen and whether they will, but they will try.
The episode ends with Cookie and Lucious getting remarried, so obviously that means nothing but smooth sailing from here, right?! [Laughs]
I think they’ll always be a volatile couple, but the question is whether they can keep it together. I think it allows us to look at what is a relationship, the love of your life, you finally have them, now you’re together, how do you keep it together? And I think that’s really relatable in people in marriages today. How do you keep marriages alive? And that’s what Cookie and Lucious will go through, but, of course, in a very heightened sense.
We had their happy ending, but this was a pretty deadly episode. Can we say for sure that Anika is a goner?
Yeah, Anika is dead. [Laughs]
Anika has been through such a wild ride over the four seasons — why was this finally the end for her?
Well, I think in some ways, she’s almost the inverse of what’s going on with Cookie. Whereas Cookie decided that Lucious was the most important thing to her and she was going to value that, Anika had a different course over the series. At first, she had Lucious and the Empire, then she had to give up Lucious and the Lyons, but she finally gets the Empire. So she really does win at the end, only to the cost of her life.
It was very fitting that Andre and Ghost Rhonda were the ones to finish her off.
To me, it felt like karma. Anika had so wronged Rhonda and Andre that it just seemed natural that Rhonda had to be there and part of the end of Anika. That’s what the audience and fans would have really wanted. Besides the fact that Rhonda’s dead, we found a way to give it to them.
Also, you had the nice little touch that Grace’s real-life husband is the one who basically kills her. That seems to live up to the soap aspect of the show.
It always had to be Andre. He is the one who has been most aggrieved and so vocal about what Anika has done and how she took everything from him. So it just made sense that he would be the one to play a part in finally ending her. But one thing, for the Andre of it all, Andre could not have known that Anika was going to die in this instance. He is just trying to shake her up and embarrass her. He didn’t know that this was going to happen to her, so Andre has taken a life and he wasn’t expecting to do that.
We’ve seen how he deals with things, so should we expect another possible episode with his mental health? Or is this one different because he feels like Anika had it coming?
I don’t know if it will send him spiraling, but I definitely think it will have ramifications. And in that discussion he has with Lucious, Lucious says, “You’re the one who’s most like me,” and so Andre may be embracing more of his darker nature and this may be a part of it.
Also gone, even though it was off screen, is Tory. When we first find her overdosed, she could have just been dead there, but she survives long enough to have one last moment with Jamal (Jussie Smollett). Why was this the end for her and the right way to say goodbye?
It’s really informing the Jamal story. When she says to him, “You’re always going to be running back to your family, you have this band that you love, but you sacrifice it all for your family,” that just needed to land and come home to Jamal in a visceral way. And the fact that he pulled Tory in and pulled her onto that stage really did have true ramifications — and what’s more visceral than her death?
And that sends him off to London. How will the loss of her inform him moving forward?
He has to reassess who he is and what he wants and how that fits into the Lyon family.
We lost Tory and Anika, but we might have lost even more people. The fate of Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), Tiana (Serayah), Bella, and Blake (Chet Hanks) are all left up in the air when we see Blake’s father firing on them. I’m not expecting you to tell me that they all died, but what can you say about what we were left with there?
I would just say: Whether they live or die, it’s going to have true ramifications moving forward. Nothing between the four of them will be the same.
The story with Blake and his father deals with white nationalism, which has been in the news quite a lot over the last year or so. Why was that something you wanted to touch on and thought would fit in this world?
Hopefully it does resonate. I just think there’s an aspect that we’re all seeing and dealing with and it’s roaring its ugly head, and even with your wealth and your privilege, it’s nothing you can really protect yourself from. We can’t just ignore it, because some things can come out of left field and really take a toll when you’re least expecting it.
I know it’s so early in the process, but what can you tease about the theme or direction of season 5?
It’s almost a reset. We’re opening it up again for a new journey, a new venture with the Lyon family. With them having lost the Empire, we’re taking them back to their roots, to their beginnings, and allowing them to start over, but this time with Cookie there to help rebuild the Empire. And we’re going to see what that looks like and what that journey is. I think in each of the story lines, our characters will be finding new identities, new roles for themselves, and how they define themselves as they move forward.
Empire returns to Fox for season 5 in the fall.