EXCLUSIVE: 'Empire' Producer Explains Shocking Hookup: 'Sparks Will Fly'
By Philiana Ng
Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched tonight’s episode of Empire!
Another week, another shocking love triangle on Empire!
Fox’s hit music drama ended Wednesday’s episode, titled “Cupid Kills,” with a surprising hookup between the eldest Lyon son, Andre (Trai Byers), and singing prodigy, Nessa (Sierra McClain), whom Andre’s younger brother, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), has a deep fondness for. But things took an unexpected turn when Andre’s late wife, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), took part in the steamy “threesome.”
Co-executive producer Matt Pyken, who co-wrote the episode with Attica Locke, jumped on the phone with ET to dish on the eyebrow-raising moment, the other biggest developments from the hour and what’s next.
ET: At the end of episode, Andre and Nessa sleep together. Why put those two characters together?
Matt Pyken: On Empire, nothing happens without a complication. The plan for those two is that because Andre is the one Lyon brother who doesn’t do music, it’s interesting for him to finally find his muse in a girl who’s all about music.
That was compounded by the fact that he’s still seeing visions of Rhonda, or the ghost of Rhonda. Why was it important for Rhonda to be incorporated into Andre and Nessa’s intimate moment?
Anyone who’s lost a friend or a loved one so suddenly often sees those people, almost sees them in their daily life. Because he was so dependent on her, Rhonda still lives -- in our mind [in the writers’ room] -- as a part of Andre’s mind. Her literally participating with Nessa gave him the permission to go love again, at least a little bit, because it hasn’t been very long since Rhonda’s been gone.
Is Hakeem going to find out about Nessa and Andre?
All things in the family eventually come out. Someone’s gonna find out. (Laughs.) You can be sure sparks will fly from that.
Is the Rhonda-ness of it all continuing for the foreseeable future or will Andre reach a point where he will address it head on?
That’s a good question and a prescient question. You’re going to see Rhonda again, I can tell you that, and there will be some very interesting resolution. The audience can look forward to that sooner than later.
We also saw a different side to Andre, where he, at one point, gets into a violent fight with Lucious and Shine. Is that also going to progress?
There are two sides to that. One is the Shine side; he’s obviously much more formidable this season than the buffoon gangster that we teased him in at the end of season two. That was the part of the writers’ idea to let Shine get closer to the family without seeming threatening. On the Andre side, after his arrest and his “woke”-ness that occurred after that, Andre has figuratively and literally taken the gloves off. He has lived his life as the Wharton MBA and finance guy for all these years, but underneath, Andre was a kid who grew up on the streets and, in a way, he’s coming with grips with that part of his personality and his life, realizing that in some ways, him being powerful, physically and mentally, is an asset.
Shine makes a declaration that he is going to take down Lucious and Andre. What can we expect from his mission to try and triumph over the Lyons?
The great thing about Shine is another character that could populate Cookie and Lucious’ past. Shine and Lucious have gone through their ups and downs over time; in the best literature and the best television, people who harbor these long-term desires and grudges are the most interesting characters. Shine, in some ways, always wanted what Lucious had. Why didn’t he get Empire? Why didn’t he become Lucious Lyon? When Lucious and Andre beat him savagely in this episode, you know Shine isn’t going to take that lying down. Long-term, Shine and Lucious have been in these wars before and what’s great about Empire is you can be enemies one week, but have reason to ally the next. I’m not saying that’s what happens, but self-interest trumps anger sometimes.
Jamal’s trying to deal with his PTSD in a healthy way, but at the same time, he’s relying on his pain medication more and more as a crutch in order to overcome his inability to perform and create music. How far of a spiral downward is he in for before he hits rock bottom?
Jamal’s dealing with PTSD because being at the end of the gun with Freda standing there pointing it at him; this is a hard thing to deal with. On top of it, he has to deal with all the pain, and on top of that, he has to deal with having to perform again. So this has been extremely hard on him mentally and physically. He’s slipping slowly into this trap of taking too much of this medication and using this medication a bit as a crutch.
In this episode, we see it progress and it’s not something that’s going to be easy for Jamal to kick and also, with PTSD, it’s going to be easy for him to put [that] aside. We’re not going to let a storyline like that drop, and certainly, it gets followed through to an interesting conclusion from the PTSD side and from the medication side.
Lucious makes a veiled threat toward Cookie’s new man, Angelo, who, to his credit, isn’t backing down. We know Lucious is ready to battle, but how far is Angelo willing to go to keep up with him?
The cool thing about this love triangle is Angelo is, in a lot of ways, represents that good guy that Cookie’s dad always wanted her to be with. A lot of people, when they saw the show for the first time, always thought Cookie popped out fully formed, that she was always this tough gangster of a woman. But the truth is, she was a very studious, energetic, young schoolgirl who -- through a combination of her own force of will and through circumstance -- turned into this formidable woman. Cookie is hoping to relive her original Kansas. It’s the “What if” -- if you turned back the clock to be with that guy [Barry]. The problem is, she’s lived 30 years since then and the [Cookie] personality is fully formed and that’s what makes it difficult.
We know of course that Lucious is never going to back down and Cookie’s resisting, she’s doing the best she can. Angelo, who’s not used to this world, he’s used to the rough and tumble of politics, is not going to take it lying down. We’ve got one immovable object and two immovable forces; expect this to intensify.
Empire returns Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 9 p.m. PT/ET on Fox.