Showrunner Ilene Chaiken talks about restoring the show's "realest" relationship, Lucious' "unlikely alliance" with Mimi and what to expect when Cookie's other sister Candance (Vivica A. Fox) comes to town next week.
Cookie and Jamal started the season in such a bad place. What do you think ultimately brought them back together?
This was a story that we, the Empire writers, were most excited to tell. We knew in the beginning of this season when Jamal and Cookie were at odds with one another and it was so heartbreaking – the richest, realest and most tender relationship on the show falling apart in the way that it did – that we would have to find a way to bring these two characters back together at some point, and it would be in the face of adversity. There are now people, not in the audience but in the world of Empire, who are rooting for them not to get back together for their own nefarious reasons. But Cookie and Jamal have a special bond and it's a bond of mother and son. It's a bond of loyalty and history. He was the only member of her family who never forgot her and stayed connected to her during her 17 years in prison, she fought for him against his father, against homophobia, believed in him unconditionally and helped to make him into the artist that he is. All of those things are so essential to the bond between them and yet, they came apart over circumstances and because Lucious is a treacherous bastard. (Laughs.) But they have to find a way back to one another because, without one another, they're incomplete. We talked about it, and I hope in a way that doesn’t ever sound creepy, as a love story. We talked about it as a love affair between mother and son. They're each cheating on someone: Cookie is cheating on Hakeem and Jamal is cheating on Luscious, both of whom would be upset if they knew that these two had started working together and reconnecting with one another.
In the episode, Lucious reaches out to Huey Jarvis and instead Jamal gets to work with him. What can you say the future holds for Luscious and Jamal now that there are all these factors that might impact their relationship negatively?
That's a big foreshadowing of what happens between Luscious and Jamal and its inevitable because they both are aimed towards the same goal, which is musical dominance and superstardom. Jamal, with his world view, would support and certainly tolerate, and he would know that there's room for lots of great music in the world and he'd want it both for him and his father, but Lucious isn’t that guy. Lucious always wants to be the most powerful. He wants to be the sun, the moon, the stars and whatever else is left in the universe needs to revolve around him. The idea that Jamal maybe is going to outshine him in any way isn’t going to sit well with him.
Is that why Lucious keeps pushing Andre and testing his devotion to his religion?
That's part of the reason. Part of the reason is that Lucious, in his twisted way, wants to be everybody's only God. Lucious is a monotheist and he's the God in that universe, and if Andre is devoted to another power, that undermines Lucious' power. We'll also find out going forward that there's another reason, a much more personal and psychological reason for Lucious' disdain for religion in general and particularly for Andre's faith.
Andre chooses using blackmail to get what he wants rather than using sex to get what he wants because of his religion. What is Andre's reasoning that blackmail is less sinful than infidelity? How will he juggle his job and his religion going forward?
I don’t think it's going to get any easier, but that particular thing goes, firstly, a little bit to the hypocrisy inherent in any kind of rigid belief system. You can commit some fronts and not others and you can break your principles in order to achieve a greater goal. Everybody has to face that and Andre and his pastor had to weigh their sins and decide what was worth doing and not doing. On a personal level, Andre is engaged in a battle with his soul between his father and his faith and he has to find a way to navigate it without losing the things that he seeks.
What attracts them to one another superficially, and I think in some ways it's real, is that they both are masters of their universe. They both are people who consume other people for their own purposes, need to feed their appetite and celebrate themselves in triumph in these kinds of ways that might possibly dehumanize others in order to make them feel God-like. They definitely are two people who have connected and its an unlikely alliance for Lucious – this white Lesbian. She's an unlikely person for Lucious to have connected with as his partner in crime and yet, there you have it. I think part of the three-way is about, almost, mixing blood: 'We're bonded now. We're allies. We've conquered worlds together, and I trust you.' It's about a moment of trust. Whether it's genuine for Mimi Whitman remains to be seen or whether it's strategy in a chess game, but Lucious usually win. He's rarely out-crossed but we need to watch Mimi Whiteman.
Lucious has been struggling with the memories of his mother and her mental health struggles throughout the season. Why has this become such an issue for him this season? How much worse does this get before it gets better?
It's going to intersect with the present day and real life. It's a story that we're telling for a reason. We choose to tell it now, but it's always present for Lucious. We're telling the story of who Lucious Lyon and how he became the man he is and there are revelations in those flashbacks that inform his behavior in the present, but that are also going to shine a light on other relationships that he has and that are going to converge in a big story that we tell in the latter half of the season.
Speaking of family, next week we get to meet Cookie's other sister. What can you tease about their dynamic? What does this sister bring out in Cookie that we haven’t seen before?
It's a great relationship, a really fun episode and a different place for us to go on Empire, to see these three sisters together. In a whole different way, we'll start to understand who Cookie is and where she came from. It's the same kind of history told through a different lens: Lucious we're learning about through flashbacks; Cookie we're learning about through seeing a present-day relationship among sisters. You can just imagine that this is who they are, this is who they've always been and they interacted that way as girls and when they all get together, everyone reverts to her child self. You learn that Carol was always the follower, the most susceptible one; Cookie was the bad girl who could really take care of her self and who took care of Carol in spite of herself; and Candace was the well-behaved and judgmental older sister who made her younger sisters, and especially Cookie, miserable with her attitude.
The episode description for next week also teases "life-changing news" for Anika. What hints can you give?
I would just say that we'll learn that Anika is not finished with the Lyons, and that she just can't get them out of her system. There's a scene that actually didn’t make it into the cut but we probably will find another time and place to say these words because Anika realizes that she's become addicted to the dysfunction. As poorly as she's been treated by all of the Lyons, she just longs to be in their lives and she's going to learn something that reinforces that.