Creator Lee Daniels previously announced that the embattled actor would not be returning to the show after Smollett became embroiled in controversy since what initially appeared to be a racial and homophobic attack against him came under question, resulting in his eventual arrest. The charges have subsequently been dropped, but he still faces a lawsuit from the city of Chicago where Empire films.
Smollett’s departure with two episodes left in Empire‘s fifth season was explained by Jamal being on his honeymoon, and Fox CEO Charlie Collier said at Wednesday’s Television Critics Association press tour that Jamal is still “on his honeymoon.” When asked if the character was just never coming back from the honeymoon to appear in the sixth and final season, Collier replied, “Lee has spoken a lot about the situation and the story will reflect it.”
“You’ll see pictures of him in the background and he’s on his honeymoon in the storyline,” Collier added. “And Lee and the team have talked a lot about what they’re going to do and there are some surprises in the beginning of the season that you’re going to love. I really think Empire is going to go out just on a high.”
Sources tell EW that Jamal and Kai (Tony Onwumere) actually move to London after their honeymoon to get away from the family drama, and there will be references to them living their lives. There are currently no plans to bring Smollett back in-person, but there might be references to Jamal sending in a new song as a way to keep the character included in the storyline. There are also “contingency plans” in place for him to potentially make an appearance down the road.
After May’s season 5 finale, showrunner Brett Mahoney previously told EW that it was “hard to imagine” Smollett returning and that the writers were still figuring out how to handle his permanent absence. A Variety report that Empire writers were preparing for Smollett’s return was soon emphatically denied by Daniels.