‘Empire’ Showrunner Ilene Chaiken on Jamal’s Heartbreak, Hakeem’s Taste of Danger (and Love) and More

(Spoilers Ahead!) Empire was filled with its fair share of intense moments last night, culminating in the kidnapping of Hakeem (Bryshere ‘Yazz’ Gray), the baptism of Andre (Trai Byers) and the heartbreak of Jamal (Jussie Smollett).

The Lyon sons each had their individual struggles to deal with and none of the outcomes are looking great right now. We were finally beginning to see some growth in Hakeem, thanks to an unexpected interaction with his new girl group star Laura (Jamila Velazquez), but then he gets kidnapped by some unknown goons, so all that lovey-dovey stuff will have to wait until he’s done trying not to die.

While Hakeem was getting Keem-napped, Andre was getting baptized and dealing with the struggle of staying on his righteous path while working for a devil like his father.

Jamal ended up heartbroken, after his on-again-off-again boyfriend became permanently off thanks to cheating with the sleezy artist that’s been hanging around for the past few episodes.

Fans of the show have a lot to digest after last night’s episode and luckily series showrunner Ilene Chaiken has broken some of it down to Variety to help us all cope.

On Michael’s betrayal of Jamal

“As we talked about that story, we conceived that story a little behind the scenes — we met with all the actors over the course of the season and when Jussie Smolett came into the room, we wound up talking a lot about having a relationship when your fame is going through the roof. We thought that was an interesting story. We thought, is it going to go to Jamal’s head? And then we realized it was actually a much more interesting story to see Jamal’s boyfriend cheat on him. Jamal is a man who can pretty much have anyone he wants, and the one person that he really cares for hurts him because he’s so threatened by Jamal’s fame.”

On Hakeem’s kidnapping

“It’s got a trade term — it’s called a snatch-and-grab. It happens in the music business, in all kinds of celebrity business, but particularly in the hip-hop business. It really is the story in episode six, but the issue of whether or not Lucious and Thirsty have something to do with it is key to the story.”

On Hakeem’s budding interest in Laura

“Laura is a very different girl for Hakeem. He says to her, “I never met a singer that didn’t roll that way,” and she says, “Well, I don’t.” I believe that Hakeem is kind of stunned and intrigued by that….Part of Hakeem’s arc of growth of becoming a man and a more mature, thoughtful person is getting involved with a girl who comes from a different worldview to his own, who has her own values that he’s either going to respect or not, and I’m inclined to think that Hakeem might consider respecting her values and approaching relationships differently.”

On Andre’s struggle

“Andre is definitely in conflict at Empire. He so desperately wanted to be back, but yet, it challenges everything about his newfound faith. His newfound faith is helping to center him and deal with all the sins from his past. He’s a man in painful conflict.”

You can catch new episodes of Empire on Wednesdays at 9pm on FOX.

Photo Credit: FOX


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