‘Empire’ Returns With A New CEO — Plus, Did Rhonda’s Baby Survive? (SPOILERS)

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you have not watched the midseason premiere of “Empire,” Season 2, Episode 11, titled “Death Will Have His Day.”

Following a three-month hiatus, the midseason premiere of “Empire” answered many key cliffhangers from December’s finale, while introducing a new set of problems in the Lyons’ den.

After being violently pushed down the stairs in the midseason ender, Rhonda ( Kaitlin Doubleday ) made it out alive. Unfortunately, her baby did not. Worse still, no clues were offered as to who may have knocked her down the stairs, and fresh-out-of-the-hospital Rhonda doesn’t even remember being pushed — she thinks she simply slipped.

Over at Empire Entertainment, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) got himself upped to CEO of the company, further shaming his father and taking Camilla’s ( Naomi Campbell ) side, but he did let Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) back into the fold. Throughout the episode, Cookie cozied up to Lucious ( Terrence Howard ), assuring him that she would fix Empire and get the company back in their hands. But that wasn’t enough for Lucious — in the end, he met up with Hakeem with a gun and gave his youngest son a warm, fatherly death threat, if he doesn’t fix his act up.

Below, “Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken talks to Variety about the midseason premiere, and teases what’s to come this season.

Hakeem is now CEO of Empire. Will he really be able to run the company?

Empire is in a precarious place. It’s not a good public look for the company for Lucious to be ousted in the way he has been. Hakeem as CEO is questionable at best. He’s bright and talented and someday, he may make a great CEO, but I don’t think he’s ready to be CEO of Empire. He comes from a world, though, in which young men are arrogant and think that they can do anything — and have often — so who knows, maybe he’s going to be a great CEO and he’ll be the one to turn the company around.

Hakeem is already inching back towards his family by letting Cookie back into the company. How will Camilla react to that?

Camilla went to great lengths to get this company back from Lucious and to get Hakeem back, and she’s going to stay on that path. She knows that she controls a lot. She let Hakeem make some deals in order to gain his trust, but she controls the company and she’s looking to control him — and she has a pretty reasonable expectation that she will.

So the drama between Camilla and the Lyons won’t cool down anytime soon?

No, it won’t.

In trying to get the company back, Lucious and Cookie are on the same page more than they’ve recently been. Any chance they will rekindle their romance?

Cookie and Lucious are definitely circling one another throughout the rest of the reason, as they fight to get the company back and are reminded of all the things that drew them back in the first place — not just their sons, but their company and their dreams, and they’re fighting to maintain that. That’s certainly going to offer them a lot of opportunities to rekindle their own romance.

Lucious seems pretty cooperative about Cookie taking the reins on saving Empire, but that seems atypical for him. Will he let her take the lead for long?

Cookie is trying to protect Lucious from himself and trying to protect the company from Lucious, knowing that he’s one to take action that ultimately isn’t going to do anybody any good since he’s been under scrutiny from the law for quite some time now. She’s going to do anything she can to keep him under control and take the company back in a way that’s not going to land anyone else in jail.

Speaking of Lucious taking action, what can you say about that last scene between him and Hakeem?

Lucious has made it very clear that he’ll stop at nothing to keep his company.

Would he really go so far to kill his own son, or was he just scaring off Hakeem?

I think that’s a question, and I’d like to leave that question to the audience to answer for yourselves: will Hakeem push him to the point of having to answer the question? Or will Hakeem take him seriously enough to do what he’s been told to do by everybody in his family, which is fix this situation? You created it, you better fix it.

Andre seems to be having a tougher time with losing the baby than Rhonda. Will this loss put a strain on their relationship?

Losing the baby puts a strain on their relationship and on Andre’s fate. He needs to figure out why this happened, what it means and why God would let this happen to him.

At this point, does Rhonda really not remember being pushed down the stairs?

That’s what Rhonda thinks and nobody has any reason to think otherwise. Rhonda was the only one there — other than whoever’s hands we might have seen on her back. As far as she knows, she fell.

When will we find out who pushed her?

I can’t tell you because I know the answer! But how I’ll frame it is, is something going to happen that will trigger Rhonda’s memory and when Rhonda’s memory gets triggered, what will be the upshot of that?

In the finale, it looked like Anika was the one who pushed her, but if that’s true, Anika is pretty dark — she went to check up on Rhonda in the hospital! That’s low…

It certainly could be someone other than Anika, and I would ask the audience to observe Anika’s behavior and see whether you really think she did it. To me, she’s pretty convincing. She seems to me to be a really good, caring friend and someone who is mortified by what happened to Rhonda and only wants for her to be okay, and wants to make things right between her and the family, now that she’s holding the next heir.

When will the Anika/Hakeem pregnancy storyline be brought back?

We know that Anika is pregnant, but Anika kindly and considerately doesn’t mention it for a little while because she knows that her dear friend is dealing with a terrible loss and the last thing that her friend needs is to realize that she’s carrying an unwanted heir.

“Empire” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Who do you think pushed Rhonda? Do you think Lucious would kill Hakeem? Weigh in below.

Elizabeth Wagmeister | © 2016 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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