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When Empire returns for its sixth and final season, it will do so with a very different status quo. Season 5 ended with Lucious going on the run from the feds after Damon Cross orchestrated a frame job, Cookie lying to get Lucious to leave her behind, Andre recovering after receiving a heart transplant following the big death, and Jamal gone and not coming back. A big question that went unanswered was what was in store for Empire itself.
Giselle and Becky probably aren't going to be much help after their decision to form their own women-centric record label, Cookie specifically said Empire was bad for her, and Lucious at the end of the Season 5 finale was going to have to leave everything behind. So, where are Lucious and Cookie when Season 6 picks up, six months after the Season 5 finale?
Empire executive producer Brett Mahoney shared what Lucious is up to, saying this:
Lucious is still on the lam trying to find some way to prove his innocence.
Empire would have let Lucious find all the answers he needs over hiatus, so he definitely won't be hands-on at the company. I wouldn't put it past him to try and maintain some kind of control over Empire from afar, but he has much larger concerns.
Damon Cross dotted his i's and crossed his t's when it came to working with the feds to frame Lucious, and he seemed to have his eye on a relationship with Cookie once Lucious was out of the picture, so Lucious proving his innocence is a tall order. Lucious did also beat a guy to death in Season 5, and I'm still waiting for that to come back to haunt him in earnest.
Will Lucious prove his innocence and return in Season 6? Most likely. Will it be soon enough to salvage his relationship with his kids and Cookie? Maybe not entirely. For all we know at this point, Lucious won't be interested in mending things with Cookie now that he believes she slept with Damon Cross, not knowing she only said that to get him to go on the lam without her.
As for Cookie, she will have left Empire and begun a career as a TV personality, which includes such gigs as appearing as a guest host rather than just guest on a daytime talk show akin to The View. Brett Mahoney went on in his chat with TVLine to say this about Cookie in Season 6:
She is living her best life. But she is finding it more difficult to move on from Lucious than she might have thought.
As justified as Cookie really was in deciding to try and make a clean break from Lucious at the end of Season 5 and as much as she seemingly wants to leave that time in her life behind, she'll apparently have a harder time than she expected. This does make sense, despite how determined and clear she was about what she does and does not want when last seen.
Cookie has always come across as more willing to emotionally invest in the relationship than Lucious, in my opinion, and she was absolutely distraught at the fact that she kinda sorta almost cheated on him with Damon Cross in Season 5. She couldn't bring herself to do it, despite everything Lucious had done to her.
Neither has been a saint in their marriage, of course, so it should be interesting to see if either/both are at least attempting to try relationships with other people. Lucious would be smart not to start anything with women, considering the last thing he needs is to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and get the feds on his back before he can prove his innocence.
Cookie will presumably have more options, considering she's not on the lam, will apparently be "living her best life," and may even have Damon Cross as an option. If she doesn't know about his hand in framing Lucious, she may be willing to turn to him. Despite everything, he was there for her when she was struggling with Andre's illness throughout Season 5.
Speaking of Andre, he will apparently have bounced back in a big way since his brush with death in Season 5. Brett Mahoney didn't say anything about Andre and Teri having a baby on the way, but he did reveal that Andre stepped up for Empire, saying this:
Andre is sitting on the throne.
Once upon a time, it would have been all but inconceivable for Andre to be given the reins for Empire. His mental health struggles from earlier in the series resulted in Lucious not really trusting him with important matters for a while, and Jamal was always arguably more hands-on with the music production side of the business while Andre handled the money and the books.
I do have to wonder if Jamal would be the one "sitting on the throne" if not for the mess that got Jussie Smollett booted from the show. Empire creator Lee Daniels confirmed back in June that Smollett will not be back on the show, which didn't come as a surprise after how much negative buzz was generated after Smollett claimed that he was attacked and was subsequently arrested (although the charges were dropped) for allegedly filling a false police report.
Although the reason for Jussie Smollett's departure is pretty ugly, Lee Daniels and Empire aren't giving him an ugly sendoff after making history with him in Season 5. Instead, Jamal won't be around in Season 6 because he's "taking a sabbatical from the family" and does not want "to be caught up in Lyon family drama."
So, what is Hakeem up to while Andre is running Empire and Jamal is taking his off-screen sabbatical? We'll have to wait and see. Fortunately, hiatus is almost over, and the sixth and final season (which will include a Lethal Weapon star in what could be a key role) is only weeks away.
Empire will return to Fox on Tuesday, September 24 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox, on a big fall premiere night that also includes NCIS Season 17, This Is Us Season 4, and New Amsterdam Season 2, among others.