After a long twist of events over the past few months, it’s been announced that Empire is coming back for a sixth season. However, the popular Fox show will be leaving one prominent cast member behind. As of now, there are no plans for Jussie Smollett to return to the show for future episodes, a move that network executives heavily debated.
A Lost Character
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox TV released a joint statement to Entertainment Tonight confirming that Smollett will not be returning any time soon. “By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal [Lyon] to return to Empire,” the statement read. Smollett, who plays the middle son of the Lyon family on the show, had already been written out of the final two episodes of season five. “We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on Empire at the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open,” Smollett’s personal rep told ET in a statement. “Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew, and fans for their unwavering support!”
Regardless of losing such a major character, network executives remain optimistic about the future of the show. “Empire continues to break barriers with its emotionally powerful storytelling, and it remains a core part of the Fox legacy,” said Michael Thorn, President of Fox Entertainment in Empire‘s renewal announcement. “We want to thank everyone on the show—Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, and the entire cast, as well as [executive producers] Lee Daniels, Danny Strong] Brett Mahoney, Sanaa Hamri, Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo, Dennis Hammer and their teams—all of whom have done a tremendous job this season. We know there are so many more stories to tell, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for season six.”
A Case Looming
Of course, the decision to cut Jamal’s character now comes after Smollett was arrested in February for allegedly filing a false police report stating that he had been the victim of a hate crime. The actor had told police that he was physically attacked outside his Chicago apartment building by two men in ski masks who called him racial and homophobic slurs, poured an “unknown liquid” on him and put a noose around his neck.
After a lengthy investigation, the Chicago Police Department alleged that Smollett had staged the attack because he was unhappy with his pay on Empire. The actor maintained his innocence and charges against him were dropped. However, the city of Chicago has filed a civil complaint against him and is seeking reimbursement from the actor to the tune of $130,000 in investigation fees. That case is still ongoing.
Jamal’s storyline on the show was brought to a close for now with a happy ending for his character. His final episode showed Jamal getting married to his boyfriend, journalist Kai (Toby Onwumere), in front of family and friends. During the beautiful ceremony, Jamal was optimistic about his marriage and future, though it would be one of Smollett’s final scenes for now. “I can’t recite some cookie-cutter vows about love and marriage, because I know in my heart love and marriage is messy, messier than I wanted to admit before. But that’s what makes it real,” the character said at the altar. “Kai, I don’t want a fairy tale with you, I want something real. Something that endures, like what our parents have…maybe a little less drama than the Lyons.”
Empire‘s co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels is unsure what the direction of the new season will be without Smollett. “I haven’t convened with the writers yet — we haven’t started breaking what Season 6 will be — but it will require an adjustment in terms of him not being there in the first episodes,” Daniels admitted in an interview with Variety. “Season 6 will have to be somewhat of a reset, and we’re going to find some exciting, bombastic way in. And we may discover that it takes more than just blood to be a Lyon, and we might see some other characters step up and step into the fold.”
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