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Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Empire on Fox, called "Home is on the Way."
Empire has been known for its wild swings from high to low to high again over the years, and the news that the show would wrap two episodes shy of its planned finale after spending most of the season building to that finale meant that the last episode might be one of the most bonkers Empire episodes ever. Now that "Home is on the Way" has aired, it's safe to say that the series finale was indeed bonkers even by Empire standards, and I kind of loved how very little sense it made in terms of what viewers were promised.
Now, if this was the finale that had been planned, I wouldn't have loved it at all. Prior to the production halts that shut down the entertainment industry and cut Empire short by two episodes, Empire had included flash-forwards to the end of the story that would be completed in the finale. Most of the character fates were unknown, but there were two hard facts of what absolutely had to happen in the series finale: Lucious had to be shot (probably to death) and Cookie's car (possibly with Cookie still inside) had to blow up.
Neither one of those things happened in "Home is on the Way," which means that all of my dire suspicions that Empire would try to cram in explanations for the shooting and the explosion by cobbling together footage that had been shot for the flash-forwards didn't prove to be accurate. No, the Empire series finale just went ahead and ignored the promise of those twists and the long-running cliffhangers. And that is absolutely fine for two reasons, in my book.
The Episode Still Felt Like A Finale
Honestly, if not for the flash-forwards to Lucious and Cookie's possible deaths earlier in Season 6, "Home is on the Way" could have worked as a finale. Sure it was crazy, but Empire is always crazy, and many shows get bigger and wilder in their series finales anyway. This finale, rushed and semi-nonsensical though it was, may have been more triumphant for the Lyons than the original plan for the finale, considering both Lucious and Cookie were very much alive at the end.
The episode featured flashback montages and scenes so loaded with chemistry between Terrence Howard's Lucious and Taraji P. Henson's Cookie that I almost forgot how much I need their relationship to be over. The Lyon kids were included in flashback montages as well, including Jamal. Admittedly, the only Jamal footage that was included was of young Jamal, a.k.a. Jamal not played by Jussie Smollett.
Hakeem got in one epic performance of a song that basically summed up the series and the Lyon family. Andre didn't run off to South America. Everybody was dressed to the nines for the movie premiere.
Sure, some plot threads were left dangling, and the battle between Lucious and Damon Cross (which was somewhat hilariously resolved when Lucious pulled off his prosthetic leg and used it as a weapon) was rushed from beginning to end. I'm still not sure if Yana's death after Damon misinterpreted an intimate moment between her and Lucious and accidentally shot her rather than him was the most or least predictable part of the episode, but it was very Empire.
I had to suspend my disbelief kind of a lot, fill in some blanks for myself, and basically go with the flow for it all to track, but what are finales for if not for making the most of the experience? The focus deserved to be on the Lyons, so it worked as an Empire finale. While those pesky flash-forwards are what cause the problem, they're also what lead to my second reason why I kind of loved the Empire series finale.
The Empire Story Can Continue
Look, I don't know if it was at all possible for the Empire team to cobble together enough already-shot flash-forward footage to tell the full story two episodes early. Maybe they could have pulled it off. But all signs indicate that the team behind the scenes very much did not want to end the series that way, and the two creators are holding out hope for the chance to wrap things up as intended.
Maybe it would have been possible for Empire to get some version of its intended ending by cramming in existing footage; that definitely didn't happen, though, and if that's because the producers want to hold onto the ending and have the chance of actually making it happen someday, then I take my hat off to them. I like to imagine that the topsy-turviness of the unplanned finale might get enough people talking that Fox might consider starting production again for those last two episodes.
While I, and hopefully other viewers who tuned in to watch this fabulously ridiculous hour of television, enjoyed the wild ride that was the series finale, the potential for the rest of the story to be told is still there. Hey, if Supernatural gets to come back to film its final two episodes, why not Empire? Lee Daniels' Star may not have gotten its continuation, but Star never became the pop culture giant that Empire was at its height.
As of now, the future is very much uncertain for Empire. While there are seemingly no active plans in place to bring the show back to finish all the stories, executive producer Brett Mahoney commented on the possibility of more to Deadline, saying this about whether or not "Home is on the Way" was the end:
Hopefully it won’t be. I mean, the hope and dream and prayer of all of us is that we actually can shoot the finale that we intended. Now, of course, the complications are when will that be, when is production going to be able to be up and running again, and when that date happens, will everyone be available? What about the stages, what about the cost, but I mean, we all do have a will to come together and shoot the actual finale.
Where there's a will, there's a way, right? At the very least, fans can take heart in knowing that the Empire crew is willing to come back and film the planned series finale. The question now is whether or not that will be possible considering current events, practical concerns like cost, and what Fox does or doesn't have in mind.