Empire wrapped up its second season with an explosive cliffhanger finale that left the Lyon family in turmoil and a life hanging in the balance. Luckily, fans don’t have to wait until the show’s fall premiere to get details about the show’s third season. Showrunner Ilene Chaikene has already started dropping hints about about what audiences can expect to see in future episodes. Here’s everything we know so far about Empire Season 3. [Update, 8/16/16: Added Season 3 teaser (see above).]
1. We’ll find out who went over that balcony
The Season 2 finale ended with Rhonda and Anika getting into an ugly brawl, after the latter confesses to pushing the former down the stairs. As the two get more aggressive, one (or both) seems to fall off a 30-story balcony, but it’s unclear who it was.
Chaiken says that one of them did likely die in that scene and audiences will find out who it is early in Season 22. “We love both of these characters and both of these actresses — and it’s hard to think about losing either one of them. In this instance, there’s no character motivation to consider: One of them is simply going to win the fight, and the other is likely to be gone. It’s in the hands of the gods, and whoever survives is going to have quite a story,” he told TV Line.
2. Hakeem will be left reeling
After Laura left him at the altar, Hakeem will be left struggling not only to move on, but to build up his reputation back up after a challenging few months. “[Hakeem] suffered humiliation after humiliation over the course of Season 2. He really made a noble effort to be a better man, and he did grow up some, but everything he tried ultimately came back at him,” Chaiken told TVLine. “His failures were public. So, first and foremost, Hakeem needs to regain his dignity, and hip-hop is going to play a big part of that. Given who Hakeem is, though, you can expect him to get into some trouble.”
3. Jamal will be changed by his recovery process
In the penultimate episode of Season 2, Jamal ended up taking a bullet for Lucious. He was recovering in the finale, still confined to a wheelchair. But it’s the emotional recovery that’s going to have an impact on him in the coming season.
“It changes him and impact him in huge and small ways,” Chaiken explained, per The Hollywood Reporter, also adding, “The next season is, for Jamal, largely about recovery. As I said, physical pain, emotional trauma and all of the revelations that come to a head in this finale about who his family is and whether or not that’s who they’re destined to be.”
4. Cookie will be devastated by Lucious’s marriage
Cookie and Lucious had grown close again toward the end of the second season, with the latter hinting strongly at a romantic reconciliation. But after he was forced to marry Anika to prevent her from testifying against him, Cookie is devastated — and she made it known in the finale, turning to her sons and saying, “I love you and I’ll always do my best for my family, but your father and I are through. ”
She intends to stick to that promise, as Chaiken recently told THR. “She’s not leaving the family; she’s not leaving the company. She and Lucious will always be in one another’s lives and in one another’s faces, but Cookie made a vow. And Cookie is a woman of her word so let’s see what that vow looks like and what that turns out for her,” he said.
5. Andre will embark on a “huge journey”
In the last moment of the finale, Andre is seen screaming, “No!” as either Rhonda or Anika go over the balcony. The presumed death of one of the women will have a significant impact on Andre’s life in Season 3, according to Chaiken.
“We leave Andre in a very precarious and potentially devastating place. I’m not going to answer who it is that went over the edge, if indeed someone did – and I would venture that it sure sounded like someone went over – but Andre is about to go on a huge journey,” he said. “Andre is really going to come to grips with some things that he’s battled in his own nature and we heard Rhonda set him up for it and challenge him for it. Rhonda is going to continue to be a voice in his head challenging him for it so I think Andre is about to have the biggest story we’ve ever told for Andre.”
6. We’ll learn more about Tariq and Shyne
The Season 2 finale introduced two characters: Tariq, who is Lucious’s half-hour and one of his big adversaries; and Shyne (above), who was an old acquaintance of Lucious and Cookie’s. “Tariq is going to be a big character in our third season. Both Tariq and the other character that we introduced finally in the finale, Shine Johnson, who has been teased since the pilot of Empire. Both of those men are going to feature in major stories in season three.”
Update 7/21/16: In addition to learning more about Tariq and Shyne, there will be at least one new face making waves in Season 3. According to Deadline, Ezri Walker has been cast as Zeah, described as a nerdy 16-year old “with an edge and real talent as a rapper. With his high GPA and serious smarts, this teenager finds himself torn between a future at an elite university and a career at Empire under the guidance of the legendary Lucious Lyon.”
7. Expect more guest stars
Though this season (hopefully) won’t go as overboard with guest stars as the first half of Season 2 did, audiences can still expect some famous faces to pop up on future Empire episodes. Case in point? According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mariah Carey is now set to guest star on Season 3. The famed singer will play Kitty, a superstar collaborating with Jamal on an explosive new tune. When their duet hits a few obstacles, Kitty helps Jamal dig deep to overcome personal difficulties and reach a musical breakthrough. Her episode is set to air on Ocober. 5.
Taye Diggs, rapper French Montana, singer Sierra McClain, singer Kid Cudi, and rapper Birdman are also expected to appear on the upcoming season. Per TVLine, Diggs will play Angelo Duboi, a city councilman hailing from a respected and affluent New York family. Meanwhile, Birdman will play himself while Montana has been tapped to play a music mogul named Vaughn.
8. Season 3 will be inspired by The Godfather
According to Chaiken, the upcoming season will be “a Godfather-style opus of crime and hip-hop.”
The showrunner said, “It’s going to be wall-to-wall music, but also all of Lucious’ demons coming back to roost. [There are] a lot of real-life references that I think our audience will recognize and appreciate that go to the history of the music and the hopefulness of it and the dark side of it.”
Update 7/21/16: Speaking of Lucious’s demons, it seems audiences can expect to meet the teenage version of Cookie and Lucious in the upcoming season. Per Deadline, Ajoina Alexus has been cast as young Cookie, seen in flashback as a beautiful, innocent teenager, whose Catholic school uniform can’t hide “the Cookie spark.” Meanwhile, Jeremy Carver will play Lucious in flashback as a teenager with an incredible voice “and a bad-boy edge that captures the heart” of young Cookie.
9. The theme will be dark vs. light in the battle for the empire
As the family continues to fight for their empire, it will dissolve into a conflict between the dark and powerful Lucious and the gentler Jamal, who is fed up with Lyon’s cycle of lies violence.
“Dramatically Season 3, and we set it up in this finale, is a battle for the soul of Empire. It’s dark versus light, it’s Lucious versus Jamal in large part, because Jamal, after being shot, vows to end this thing,” Chaiken hinted to Deadline. “Cookie’s fighting for the souls of each of her sons, knowing that Jamal is on the far side slouching towards the light, and Lucious is throwing down his dark gauntlet and trying to claim everyone’s soul.”
10. Season 3 will be “a slow burn”
Season 2 ran for 18 episodes, up from the freshman season’s 12-episode order. The increase resulted in a somewhat fractured feeling sophomore season, with the first half, in particular, feeling rushed and incohesive. That will change in next season’s storytelling, as Chaiken recently suggested.
“You’ll see in Season 3 more than ever, is that we’re going to slow burn our stories a little bit more. It will always have those big Empire moments, but every moment, every story that we’re telling, is driven by character,” he told Deadline. “We really are taking our time with them and, going forward in Season 3, we’re being rigorous with ourselves about earning every moment and giving our characters and our stories time to play out. And I think that you’ll see that in a really satisfying way in our third season.”
Empire will return to Fox on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern on September 21.