The series finale of Empire flashed back through the Lyons family legacy, showcasing the characters we’ve come to love (and hate) over six seasons. But there was one notable absence from both the flashbacks and the finale: actor Jussie Smollett. Smollett played Jamal for five seasons until police suspected the actor staged his own hate crime and he was written out of the show. (He recently pleaded not guilty to new charges.) With Smollett no longer on the show, Jamal was the only Lyon without closure in the finale. Showrunner Brett Mahoney mourned Jamal’s absence with Entertainment Tonight and talked about how they managed to paste together a finale amid the coronavirus. “I think it was tremendously difficult in the sense that Jussie is such a big part of the show, especially when it’s a family show,” Mahoney said. “He is a very important member of the family, so it was very difficult to think of closing and ending the series without him.” The showrunner didn’t have any plans for how Jamal’s story might end, aside from his new life in London. “If I had the opportunity to have him, I would’ve come up with something important and great and integrate it into the story,” he said. Even old clips of Smollett as Jamal were omitted from the flashbacks. “You see him as young Jamal, so Jamal is represented, but Jussie is not there, that’s true,” Mahoney noted. “I would talk to the network about their choice about that.”
Tough calls had to be made in order to produce a fulfilling finale, Mahoney explained. When production was shut down due to the pandemic, half of episode 19 and the entire finale had yet to be shot. “But luckily there were elements in what we had shot of 19 that had the spirit of what we wanted to eventually go through in our series finale, in terms of putting the Lyons over Empire, in terms of Cookie and Lucious recognizing their love for one another,” Mahoney explained. Some storylines, like Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) working on Bossyfest, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) confronting her drug use, and, of course, finding out who shot Lucious (Terrence Howard), didn’t make it in, but Mahoney is confident fans will see it some day, whether online or in a “proper” season finale. “We’ll find some way,” he promises.