Will Cookie Crumble When Empire Returns This Spring?

Michael Logan
Empire - Taraji P. Henson
Chuck Hodes/FOX

Mama needs a new game plan. When the Fox hit Empire returns from its winter break on March 30, Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) will fight to get back the family business in an all-out war with conniver Camilla Marks (Naomi Campbell), the new head of Empire Records. “But this is not street fighting, which is what Cookie knows best, so she does not have the advantage here,” showrunner Ilene Chaiken says. “She will have to find another way to take down Camilla, relying less on her Cookie-ness and more on smarts and strategy.”

It was the youngest Lyon cub, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), who cast the fatal corporate vote against his father, Lucious (Terrence Howard), and Chaiken says we’ll find out if that vote was impetuous or planned. “Either way, the damage is done,” notes the exec. “Will Hakeem back down or take on his father? And, if it’s the latter, how will his father retaliate? It’s always dangerous to threaten Lucious. He’s just suffered the biggest attack ever leveled on his empire and he will come back hard.”

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Chuck Hodes/FOX

Hakeem and Camilla holding court

We’ll also quickly learn the fate of Cookie’s pregnant daughter-in-law, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), who was pushed down a staircase in her home by a hooded intruder. Chaiken swears there are several suspects besides the obvious one, Anika “Boo Boo Kitty” Calhoun (Grace Gealey), who is secretly pregnant with a Lyon heir and crazy-mad at the whole damn clan. “It might appear that Anika has become mentally unhinged,” says Chaiken, “but has she really? She is a sophisticated, highly intelligent woman who can pull herself together and turn things around.”

RELATED: 5 Huge Questions That Will Be Answered This Spring

New cast members include actor-rapper Xzibit as Shyne Johnson, a deadly drug runner who has bad history with Lucious Lyon. “This taps into Empire mythology—Shyne was mentioned in our pilot episode—and it reminds Cookie and Lucious that they can never truly escape their roots,” Chaiken says. “They got away from Shyne for many years, but suddenly he’s back in their orbit. Now they’re going to have to f--- with him again.”

All this bonding in the face of adversity will bring Cookie and Lucious closer together. “When push comes to shove, they have each other’s back—but what if the person who has your back is also wielding a knife?” Chaiken says. “It’s not a mistake to think this is the beginning of something really special for Cookie and Lucious. But it would be a mistake to think it will go smoothly.”

What about that much-rumored guest shot by Mariah Carey, which Empire cocreator Lee Daniels teased us with last year? “Lee is a great dangler of carrots,” Chaiken says with a laugh. “We’re not stunting right now. The Lyon family is the show and they are the most newsworthy. What happens to them in our season finale will leave you gasping.”

Empire, Midseason premiere, Wednesday, March 30, 9/8c, Fox

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