Empire ended it’s successful six-season run abruptly after the coronavirus (COVID-19) shut production down before filming the finale completed. The last season had 20 episodes planned, but they created an ending after 18 episodes using the footage they already filmed for Episode 19. In the finale, Cookie and Lucious realized their love for each other while Damon made an irrevocable mistake in the heat of the moment. While fans were already disappointed with the rush finale, they felt, even more, let down that Jussie Smollett didn’t return as Jamal Lyon.
Rushed ‘Empire’ series finale due to coronavirus pandemic
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down television and film productions. According to showrunner Brett Mahoney, the Empire cast and production crew were in the middle of shooting the final two episodes when they had to abandon their set.
Therefore, they had to end the series with the 18th episode instead of the planned 20th. In the 19th episode, the family came back together for the movie premiere, and the Lyon parents realized their unconditional love for each other.
Then, the couple were supposed to die as foreshadowed earlier in the series. Because of the unforeseen pandemic, the show didn’t reveal who shot Lucious or blew up Cookie’s car, leaving fans unfilled.
Instead, they ended with a montage showing all the poignant moments in the Lyons family throughout the past six seasons.
Jussie Smollett absent in the finale
In January 2019, Jussie Smollett, who portrays Jamal Lyon in the hip hop drama, filed a police report accusing two men of calling him homophobic and racial names as well as pouring bleach on him before putting a noose around his neck.
The Chicago Police Department investigated the situation and concluded Smollett orchestrated the attack himself by paying Nigerian brothers to portray the assailants.
Therefore, Empire married the actor out of the show and have barely mentioned his character throughout the sixth season. In the series finale, the family referenced Jamal, and the camera showed a picture of the family without the middle Lyon included.
During the montage of the family that played while Hakeem performed a song about the Lyon legacy, it featured Jamal as a child walking in his mother’s heels. However, the flashbacks did not include the adult Jamal, portrayed by Smollett.
‘Empire’ showrunner says they never planned to have Jussie Smollett in finale
Several fans speculated that Smollett would reprise his role as Jamal in the series finale and compared his absence to “cornflakes without the milk.” Additionally, they didn’t appreciate how the show made it seem as the character “never existed.”
Even though many understand the circumstances that led to his early departure from the series, several fans felt like he should have been in the flashback montage, at least, because he was an integral part of the show’s success. Others believe the finale, although rushed, would have felt “complete” if Jamal returned.
In the Deadline interview, the showrunner simply noted that “there was never a plan to have Jussie in the finale.” Therefore, if the show does return to finish the remaining two episodes, fans should not expect to see the middle Lyon.