Still Fox’s biggest drama — and one of TV’s, too — “Empire” nevertheless cooled during the first half of its second season, which ended in early December. Ratings remained sizable (11 million-plus viewers), just not as outsizable (15 million-plus) as they were during the first season. A sophomore slump? Tougher competition? Or a temporary blip?
The second half of the second season returns Wednesday night (Fox/5 at 9), and answers should be forthcoming. But in a recent call with TV writers, showrunner Ilene Chaiken said of the show’s many plot threads and of the many characters about to pick those up again: Steady-as-she-goes.
“If we think we’ve gone off-course, we course correct. But the ratings belong to someone else. Other people [at Fox] worry about those. I worry about telling these stories.”
But there will be some adjustments. What follows is an edited version of what Chaiken had to say of the “spring” season, and what to expect with those adjustments.
But first, here’s what you need to know to catch up: Lucious (Terrence Howard) has officially lost control of his empire, and stepping into the big guy’s shoes Wednesday is . . . uh-huh. Can’t say. Sorry. That would come under the heading “spoiler.”
The character of Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) has been grappling with issues of faith this season. How much more will those be explored?
As everybody knows, in our midseason finale, something tragic happens to Andre’s wife, Rhonda [played by Kaitlin Doubleday, whose character was pushed down a flight of stairs by an unknown assailant]. I will certainly say it necessitates him to grapple with this issue of faith — what it means to his faith and how he will be able to continue down that path in light of what’s happened.
Does Rhonda’s predicament figure prominently in the second half?
The story arc plays a large role at times. Ultimately it plays a significant one and I would hope a very surprising role.
Is there an urgency to kill someone off [to goose ratings] or to have an explosive cliffhanger [ditto]?
There is certainly not an urge or urgency to kill someone off. Should that happen, it will happen organically. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but we didn’t set out to do it in terms of the need to top ourselves. Sometimes we try to just follow the stories and let the stories lead. We are trying to mix it up so that we don’t constantly try to top ourselves and become outlandish. Rather, we’d like to be true to the story, true to character.
There were a lot of guest stars in the first half of this season. What’s the guest star outlook?
Far fewer in the back half than in the beginning. The eight episodes that begin are much more about the family and the guest stars in those are to service stories, and they are there for those stories. There’s not an instance of ‘‘Oh, so and so has to be on the show, and the show has to write something for them.’’
To your mind, who gets the most interesting/outrageous storyline in the second half?
I would never say I have a favorite character, because it changes episode to episode, storyline to storyline. But the story I’m most interested in is Lucious. He goes through such an extraordinary thing in such an intense way, and his performance is remarkable. I’m really excited for people to watch where the character goes and where Terrence takes him.
[He’s] a very big part of the second season half — a lot will be revealed [about his past] and there will be huge repercussions for everyone in the family. His story — where he comes from and why he is who he is — is what the show is about in so many ways.