'Empire' returns with tearful Jussie Smollett and fans on Twitter have some strong feelings
Empire returned for its Season 5 midseason premiere on Wednesday, marking the show's first new episode since the complex and shocking drama surrounding series star Jussie Smollett unfolded over the past six weeks.
While there has been a lot of speculation regarding Smollett's future on the show -- as Empire's own future is now shrouded in mystery and facing rumors of cancellation -- several episodes of the second half of Season 5 were already in the can when Smollett was allegedly involved in an attack on Jan. 29.
Meaning Smollett's character, Jamal Lyon, also made his return to TV, in an emotional Spring premiere that saw Jamal break down in tears, give up on love and sing a hopeful new song (which, in the light of his legal troubles, now feels sadly ironic).
While Jamal doesn't have a whole lot of scenes in this drama-packed premiere, he does get some of the episode's most emotional scenes, and they all focus on his troubled relationship with fiance Kai Givens.
At the start of the episode, Kai chastises Jamal for still being loyal to his crime-prone and scandal-ridden family. Later, Kai is exposed to some of the Lyon family's favorite way of dealing with problems (when family patriarch Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) hangs a man by his legs out a window and threatens to kill him), and asks Jamal to turn his back on his dad and come with him to London.
Jamal essentially tells Kai that he can't spend his life with someone who doesn't accept every part of him -- even his criminal tendencies -- and ends up giving Kai his engagement ring back. The men part, both openly weeping.
The episode ends with Jamal somberly playing a tune on the piano and singing a song about heartbreak as the drama of the episodes' other various storylines play out, and it was an interesting choice to highlight Smollett's character in such a big way, considering reports that Fox was trying to tone down his involvement in episodes that had already been shot.
However, that wasn't the only song Jamal sang in the Spring premiere. During a performance at the Urban Arts High School, the musician performs a new song that he'd just written, and listening to the lyrics (while keeping Smollett's legal issues in mind) gave the song a weird vibe.
In what seemed like it was supposed to be a positive, hopeful moment for the character, Jamal sang an upbeat new song with lyrics that included, "I'm probably going to have to fight/ but know it ain't nothing I can't handle/ Eventually I will be alright," and "I'm coming, I'm shining, I'm going all the way to the top. Going all the way, yeah. I'm finally gonna give it everything I got, give it all or nothing."
Also, "What's your reaction when life's got you in a funk? Are you gonna stay down, or are you gonna get up? I hope you jump."
Considering how Smollett has just been indicted on 16 felony counts by a grand jury in Chicago - for allegedly making false statements to police regarding being the victim of a hate crime, which he has staunchly denied - the song has the sort of positive, motivational message the actor himself might benefit from listening to.
In fact, the scene even ends with Jamal telling the audience, "I don't know if y'all been reading the blogs and all the foolishness, but it's kinda been a tough week." Sure, Jamal was referring to some (absolutely bonkers) high-profile drama regarding his family, but that line is downright prescient.
Finally, let's quickly recap of an important ongoing aspect that has been developing through out season five: One of the biggest mysteries from the first half of the season revolved around brief flash forwards in time showing Lucious crying over a coffin. Fans have been speculating who, exactly, is in the coffin.
While the midseason finale in December and Wednesday night's premiere implied that it's the oldest Lyon son, Andre (Trai Byers), who ends up dying -- after being rushed to the hospital where it's suggested that he flatlines -- showrunner Brett Mahoney said in several interviews that the character in the coffin hasn't totally been decided upon.
While it seems like the show was angling toward Andre dying, misdirects are a staple of fun, soapy dramas like Empire. So it seems likely that they had another character in mind all along. Now, with Smollett's real-life drama casting a pall over the show, could Jamal be the one who ends up getting killed off?
Yes. Obviously. That's almost definitely going to happen, whether or not he's the one in the coffin.
Either way, Smollett's first episode back after the drama had a lot of fans watching and freaking out on Twitter, with many admitting that it was hard to watch Smollett play Jamal without thinking about his real-life legal troubles.
For more on the ongoing legal battle surrounding Smollett, check out the video below.