Empire EP on Rhonda-Anika Cliffhanger Fallout, Cookie's 'Pygmalion' Arc

Michael Slezak

Two women. One high-rise balcony. A violent struggle and a terrible scream. That’s where Empire left its startled fandom at the end of its Season 2 finale last May, as Rhonda went into street-brawl mode in an attempt to get revenge against Anika for previously pushing her down the stairs and causing her miscarriage.

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Fans will learn if one (or perhaps both) of the fan-favorite characters meets a grim fate within the opening minutes of Wednesday’s Season 3 premiere (9/8c on Fox). And while showrunner Ilene Chaiken is reluctant to give any definitive spoilers, she’s clearly troubled by the thought of a future without Kaitlin Doubleday or Grace Gealey’s alter-egos.

“Rhonda and Anika are both such sexy, dark, interesting characters,” Chaiken says with a sigh. “I can’t imagine saying goodbye to either one of them.”

We pressed Chaiken for further teases about the Rhonda-Anika fallout (emphasis on fall), asked about Season 3 arcs for Cookie and Jamal, and got the skinny on what’s in store for new cast additions Taye Diggs, Phylicia Rashad and Mariah Carey.

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TVLINE | I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to tease the outcome of Season 2’s monumental cliffhanger. In our episode post-mortem last May, you said that someone would die.
Did I say that? Oh gosh.

TVLINE | Well, to be specific, you said, the look on Andre’s face “says somebody went over that railing” and that “it would be ludicrous to say that would be a survivable fall.”
Well, if I said that, I’d better make good on that promise. [Laughs]

TVLINE | Does it break your heart to lose Rhonda or Anika?
I’m devastated at the thought of saying goodbye to either one of them. And I’m not even sure how we’re going to get through it.

empire taye diggs
empire taye diggs

TVLINE | You’ve got some new characters entering the scene this year. Taye Diggs will be playing a potential love interest for Cookie, and Phylicia Rashad has been cast as his mother. What can you tease about this romance? How hot, explosive, tormented, etc, will it be?
It will be all of those things — and Lucious plays a big role in all of that, too. The history of when Cookie met Lucious intersects with this story in the present day. And there’s one other shade for Cookie in this story with Taye Diggs’ character Angelo: Pygmalion. It’s a Pygmalion story that’s unique to Cookie. We wanted to see and tell a story for Cookie that we’ve never told before. And if you think about Cookie in Season 1 and all she faced, we wanted an arc that was just as big, that talked about facing new challenges.

TVLINE | What can you tease for Jamal? You’d hinted to me last spring that his recovery from being shot by Freda Gatz would continue to have a ripple effect.
Jamal’s story for Season 3 is very much one of recovery. Even though we have a lot of fun on Empire, and we can get a little wild sometimes, there are things we take very seriously, too. And getting shot is a serious thing. We weren’t going to make light of it or minimize it. We wanted to talk about the meaning of that incident in Jamal’s life and in the world, and look at the process of coming back from that. It’s going to be a long and harrowing journey, and it’s going to be a journey that brings him into an even sharper reckoning with his family and Lucious’ own darkness.

Mariah Carey Empire
Mariah Carey Empire

TVLINE | Probably the buzziest casting of the season thus far involves Mariah Carey, who’ll be playing pop diva “Kitty.” Was it fun to write for her?
She’s fun and fabulous. She’s in Episode 3, and there might be a second appearance. We’re working that out. But the first episode it’s really a delicious musical moment, conspiring with Cookie.

TVLINE | Do Kitty and Cookie get along?
In this episode, they do.

TVLINE | You’ve also cast younger versions of Cookie and Lucious. What can you say about their appearances? Will they be similar to the snapshots of Lucious’ boyhood with his mother that we got in Season 2, or will they be more fleshed-out?
It’s more than what we’ve done in the past. They’re flashbacks, but they don’t take us out of the story, they take us even deeper and inform the stories we’re telling in the present. They’re fleshed-out characters. These are actual scenes and a story that we’re telling.

TVLINE | What’s something you can tease that no one knows about yet.
Lucious and Cookie have an unexpected adversary.

TVLINE | How quickly does that adversary come into play?
You should look for it right away, but you won’t see [the adversarial nature] ’til much later. But again, you should be looking for it all along.

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