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Warning! Spoilers ahead for the Empire series finale episode, called “Home Is on the Way.”
Empire wrapped its six-season run with a break-up, two deaths, and a reunion between Cookie and Lucious. The series finale was edited to include a combination of footage from Episodes 18 and 19, since the latter never finished filming due to all the TV production shutdowns that began in March. Except for the major flash-forward mystery, the Fox drama's ending still managed to wrap up several storylines, but Empire showrunner Brett Mahoney has explained how the shocking series finale death was supposed to be different.
The season’s flash-forward mystery foreshadowed Lucious getting shot and Cookie’s car exploding, and the originally planned series finale was supposed to resolve the mysteries surrounding their presumed deaths, such as who was targeting them, and whether or not they actually died. However, the series finale that aired featured Yana, Lucious’ ex-girlfriend, and Damon Cross dying instead. Showrunner Brett Mahoney revealed that, while Yana was always supposed to die, the events surrounding her death were to be different. Here’s what he told TVLine:
Episode 18 [originally was supposed to] end with the death of Yana, which would’ve given [viewers] a week to [recover]. It would have felt less abrupt than her getting shot and then we [immediately] come back after a commercial break and we’re mourning her death. The beginning of Episode 19 would’ve [picked up] after her death and then the episode ended with the movie premiere.
That makes a lot of sense, since the emotional turnaround on Yana's death was very speedy indeed, even for the Empire-verse. For whatever it's worthy, it's good to know that the creative team intended for viewers to have time to ruminate on all that before diving into everything else.
On the plus side, Brett Mahoney seemed highly confident that Empire will eventually get the intended ending that the writers had planned to wrap the series with. As has been the case, Empire’s penultimate episode would’ve included a twist that would’ve segued right into the original series finale. Here’s how Mahoney explained it:
Yes. Whenever we get to shoot 20, it will start with [the Episode 19 cliffhanger]. The [original] idea for 19 had us coming to this place where everything was good, and then [suddenly] that all gets turned upside down and they go on a journey [in 20, before ultimately] coming back to [that happy place]. But since we had shot this scene at the movie premiere, which [resembled the] spirit of the original finale, I [realized] I could build something [for the makeshift finale] with that [footage] and at least end it in the same spirit that we intended, in terms of Cookie and Lucious recognizing their love for one another, and the family coming together and realizing that the Lyons were more important than Empire.
There’s no telling if or when Empire will ever shoot its original ending, but viewers will have to settle for the series finale that did air for now. All things considered, given how many odds were stacked against the end of production, Empire's denouement could have been a lot sloppier.
Anyone hoping to see Empire become a full-on franchise have another big question, too: what about that Cookie spin-off? Brett Mahoney doesn’t know the status of a potential spin-off since he’s not involved, but he imagines viewers “would be something people would be interested in.” Let's make some noise for that happening, Empire fans.