As always, “Empire” remains an ensemble show, with the juiciest plots generally reserved for Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard.
Still, Jamal is a major character and has a significant storyline as these new episodes get underway. His relationship with Kai (Toby Onwumere) has placed him between the journalist and his family, in what amounts to a test of his loyalties.
A broader plot focuses on the discovery in the show’s fall cliffhanger that antagonist Jeff Kingsley (A.Z. Kelsey) is also Lucious’ son, presenting the latest challenge to the musical Lyons family dynasty.
Once a major hit, the audience for “Empire” has declined markedly from its heyday; nevertheless, it remains Fox’s second-most-watched drama in key demographics. Per Nielsen data, same-day ratings averaged about 5 million viewers through the first half of the season, which ended in December.
The coverage of Smollett’s case has unfolded during a scheduled hiatus. Fox splits the season into two parts so that the episodes can play without interruption through the spring.
As if the Smollett situation weren’t distraction enough, a screener for the latest episode also contains an off-hand reference to dancing like Michael Jackson during a musical number by Bryshere Y. Gray, who plays Hakeem — a fleeting moment that nevertheless might feel ill-timed in the wake of the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland.”
“Empire” returns March 13 at 8 p.m. on Fox.