(Warning: This post contains spoilers from Empire's Season 6 premiere. Read at your own risk.)
Continuing its reign as the most extra show on television, Empire's sixth and final season kicks off with a real whodunnit mystery set nine months in the future. A flash-forward opens the premiere, with Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) confronted by a mystery person holding a gun.
"So I see you think you got balls now," Lucious says before charging toward his assailant, who opens fire like he's a T-1000. It's not until a second flash-forward at the very end of the episode that we see Lucious pass out in a scene that suggests he is dead and sets the stage for the season's exploration of the overarching mystery of who pulled the trigger. An even bigger question remains: Is Lucious actually dead, or is this another fake-out? As we've seen in the past, not everything is as it seems on this show.
Just last season, the series teased the death of Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) through various flash-forwards, including one where he literally flatlines on a hospital gurney, only to later survive open-heart surgery, so Lucious' presumed death in the Season 6 premiere could be just another red herring. Plus, this wouldn't be the first time he narrowly escaped death. Remember that limo explosion a few seasons back? Lucious lost a leg and suffered from temporary amnesia, but he still made a miraculous recovery and returned to his normal antics in no time.
However, it is the final season, which means Empire has nothing to lose by killing off one of its core characters, so there's a real possibility that Lucious Lyon is actually dead. Whatever the case, it's clear that this season's biggest mystery will be unlocking the identity of the person behind the trigger and piecing together the events that lead to that final moment.
There are plenty of people who might want him dead, including Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who is determined to remain separated from Lucious while he's on the lam from the FBI. In an effort to move on with her life, Cookie has put all her energy into establishing herself outside of the Empire brand through new projects like co-hosting a daytime talk show. In case you're wondering if she's dead serious about leaving Lucious for real this time, look no further than a scene later in the episode in which she secretly meets up with Lucious and tells him exactly that. That scene also includes this zinger from Lucious, which may go down as one of the most f---boi things he's ever said.
'"You didn't even sleep with him [Damon Cross]," Lucious tells Cookie. "You can't cheat on me because can't nobody do for you what I do for you." Boy, bye.
Meanwhile, Lucious took no time finding his Cookie replacement in a young, Erykah Badu type who's somehow enlightened but also mooching off her rich daddy. Unbeknownst to him, her father is Damon Cross (Wood Harris), the man hellbent on bringing Lucious down. Buckle up, kids, because that's not even the most dramatic part of this riveting, twisty season opener.
Elsewhere, Andre is running Empire as the permanent CEO and making moves like convincing financial backers to stick with him through the Lucious controversy and going along with Hakeem's (Bryshere "Yazz" Gray) public bid to play their father in Empire's upcoming autobiographical film. More importantly, Andre has a heart-to-heart with Kingsley's mom, Tracey (Amanda Detmer), stemming from their combined grief over Kingsley's death. Tracey asks if she can listen to her son's heartbeat (Andre received Kingsley's heart in a last-minute transplant following a heart attack last season). Andre agrees and Tracey gently rests her head on Andre's chest, which boasts a broken heart tattoo over his scar from the open-heart surgery and the heart of his deceased half-brother.
That scene is outmatched only by the show's final moments, in which Andre is confronted by the man he paid to kill one of his prison enemies. The fight escalates when the assassin whips out a knife, just as Andre's partner Teri (Meta Golding) goes into labor at their apartment. While Andre battles his former paid hand in a street fight, Teri fights for her life as abnormally painful contractions suggest something has gone terribly wrong. She hits her head on a coffee table, but the real danger is a possible miscarriage. The montage ends with Andre strangling his enemy unconscious and carrying his limp body away while Terri passes out in a pool of blood.
You never know what you're going to get on Empire, and this wild Season 6 premiere is emblematic of that. Just ask Giselle (Nicole Ari Parker) and Becky (Gabourey Sidibe), who signed a YouTube star with millions of followers who can only sing in the dark and when no one is watching her. Yikes.
Empire's final season continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on Fox.