Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday’s episode of Empire. We mean it!
The Lyon family just can’t catch a break.
Still grieving over the death of Rhonda, Empire’s eldest Lyon son and widower, Andre (Trai Byers), finds himself in another grave situation. At the end of Wednesday’s episode, he is approached by two white policemen outside the home he and his late wife used to share, who aggressively confront him about recent burglaries in the affluent neighborhood. When Andre refuses to give in (because he is innocent), the police arrest him on the spot.
Empire co-producer and writer of the episode, Carlito Rodriguez, jumped on the phone with ET to chat about that shocking ending, the ensuing fallout and Taye Diggs’ debut as Cookie’s new love interest.
ET: We have to start with that ending with Andre getting arrested by the police outside the home he and Rhonda used to share. Was he targeted by the police?
Carlito Rodriguez: One of the things that we try to do on Empire -- as much as we’re soapy and heightened -- [is] be reflective of the real world. When we started to talk about what we wanted to do this season, it wasn’t so much that we were looking for topical stuff just to be on time. Where would be an interesting starting point to start talking about class? The natural entry into that story would be Andre because Andre is the buttoned-up, Wharton MBA graduate. Andre is “presentable” and “respectable,” where Lucious and Cookie are very, very, very blue collar -- and very proud of that -- roll your sleeves up, pull yourselves up by the boot straps, we made our money and reputation in the street and turned all of that crime and fringe existence into an urban success story. Andre did it the “right way,” and here he is coming out of his nice little penthouse and because he looks the way he looks, he must be up to something.
What can you tease about where this may go? It seems this will have immediate repercussions for the Lyon family…
Absolutely. The Lyon family is being investigated by Lucious’ half-brother [Tariq], who’s black but he’s a fed, and he hates Lucious -- that’s obvious from episode one -- and his family and what they’re about. Andre, legitimately minding his business, gets accosted by two cops who are a little aggressive about their approach. He’s fed up, he’s over it. He just lost his wife, he’s been through hell, he lost his baby last season. He’s just not trying to have it. Why? Because he’s done everything the right way. So connect those two dots. If I’m Tariq, there’s an opportunity there for me to explore. Regarding where we’re going in the future with it, Andre has for the most part been living his life very respectably and I put an emphasis on that word. It’s definitely going to have an effect on him and how he sees the world.
Jamal and Andre had a few moments in this episode where they vowed to be each other’s support systems. Will that bond continue to grow?
We look forward to scenes among the brothers, whether it’s two of them or all three of them together. We look forward to those scenes as much as scenes between Cookie and Lucious because we feel like that’s where our money is. These brothers, having the parents that they have, they find a lot of comfort in not only hearing each out but also helping each other out. As much as they jockey for position to be Mom and Dad’s favorite or Mom’s favorite or Dad’s favorite, we love that they’re also there for each other. Absolutely we’re very much playing into this idea that no matter how much Mom and Dad go at it -- they use these boys in their own tug of war -- these are grown young men with their own ideas about “OK, Mom and Dad are doing their thing but that shouldn’t affect us.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
We’re leading right into that. I can say that with no qualms. That is the point. We wanted to present Cookie with a bona fide reminder that you have choices. She made a choice a long time ago, as we learn in the flashbacks with young Barry. She meets this kid, pretty boy rapping on the corner with his friends and nice-guy Barry is all of a sudden not as cute as he might’ve been. Lo and behold, X amount of years later, here comes Angelo Dubois who’s this living manifestation of this long-lost “puppy love.” What we’re doing with Angelo is to present Cookie with not so much a “This is what your life might have been like,” but “OK, you’ve done a lot for Lucious, you’ve sacrificed half your life, you went to prison, he’s still putting you through hell. Here’s your opportunity, what are you going to do?”
What can we expect from Angelo’s courtship of Cookie?
With a woman like Cookie, I think that anybody who’s trying to woo Cookie and trying to get at her -- whether it’s Angelo, Laz in season two, Malcolm in season one -- is really going to have to step their game up. And not because Lucious is so formidable, she’s her own woman and I think that anybody who wants a serious relationship with Cookie Lyon is going to have to bring their A-game.
Jamal’s panic attack at the Summit forces him to come to grips with the fact that he isn’t in the right frame of mind to perform on stage right now. What are the steps he’ll have to take to get back to that level again?
Cookie has been in a little bit of denial over whether there’s something off with him and Lucious has been recognizing it right from the jump. Lucious has been through fire, he’s a reformed gangster, he’s been through it, so Jamal getting shot in season two, Lucious knows exactly what that’s like. Cookie has too, but she’s spent some time away and she’s a mom. What’s next for Jamal is "I’m admitting that I’ve got a problem, that something really awful [happened] to me, whose approach am I going to take? Am I going to listen to Lucious, who’s saying you have to get right back on the saddle."
For Lucious to call Jamal out like that at the Summit, none of us think that was Lucious being a d**k, that was Lucious -- who loves his son -- saying, “Young man, face up to what ails you. You have a problem. Don’t run from it. Own up that you have a problem and now the work begins.” Which angel on which shoulder am I going to go with: Dad with his tough love or Mom asking what’s next?
Becky is presented with the opportunity to leave Empire Records. If she does, how does that affect her relationship with Lucious?
Becky needs to have her own life. Now that she’s front and center, she’s A&R at Empire, how is that affecting her day to day? Empire is constantly under attack, Lucious Lyon is constantly under attack, and by default, so is Cookie and so are the Lyon boys. Now Becky has the opportunity to follow her heart and go somewhere else, what are you going to do? Guaranteed that the decision she makes is going to affect her in the future. We’ll see if she made the right decision or not.
That Beyonce reference with the “Becky with the good hair” line was a must, right?
(Laughs.) That’s Gabby [Sidibe] doing her thing too. She’s a beast. We love her.
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Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.