Power, Ep. 1.01: “Not Exactly How We Planned” is a compelling series premiere

Power - 1.01

Power, Season 1: Episode 1 – “Not Exactly How We Planned”
Written by Courtney Kemp Agboh
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz

Not too long ago, Starz had an interesting and unsuccessful crime drama in Magic City. The series was smart and paced methodically slow, the latter of which probably sealed its fate for the cancellation list. Power is somewhat of a similar beast in terms of the kind of story it’s telling, but its pace and tone are much more attuned to the Starz identity. So, even though this isn’t Da Vinci’s Demons or Black Sails with massive action set pieces, there’s a thrilling sense of excitement underpinning a lot of the pilot. Power follows James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a New York drug dealer who has risen from nothing to become a respected and feared businessman with intention aimed at becoming a modern day cartel leader. The series is created by Courtney Kemp Agboh (who also writes the pilot) and produced by rapper 50 Cent. The common hip-hip tale of rising from rags to riches makes the whole production down to the soundtrack work wonderfully.

We’re introduced to Ghost on the opening night of his night club, during which he has to react a major hit his crew receives when an unknown traitor has a decent portion of his cash stolen on the street. There’s a fantastic visual sensibility when we get the repeated images of Ghost getting dressed. First, the episode opens with him donning his spectacular suit (Ghost is very particular about him and his wife, Tasha, looking the part). Later, after Ghost kills someone involved in the hit, he takes the elevator back up to the club while putting all his upper-body attire back on. Here is a real professional unfazed by these hiccups but called to action and willing to make a point when necessary or useful. If Power does nothing else in its pilot (which is not the case), it at least establishes Ghost as a fascinating lead character who is probably a bit familiar in many ways but who Hardiwck imbues with the quiet determination and ruthlessness of The Godfather Part II‘s Michael Corleone.

The story at work in Power won’t immediately wow anyone who has seen the cream of the television crime crop, like The Wire. But to hold pilots to any kind of standard other than creating a world you would want to come back to is a fool’s errand. So, no. This isn’t the most fully-formed pilot of the season, but it does enough world- and character-building to warrant just that. It’s hard to imagine someone making it through the whole thing and not being interested enough to see what happens, say, with an old flame of Ghost’s from back in high school who also happens to be working on a case to bring down Ghost’s boss, effectively drawing the two closer together romantically and as on opposite sides of the law.

Similarly, there’s a confidence in the infrastructure of all the crime syndicates, and anyone familiar with Sons of Anarchy can see how all these alliances are bound to be the most brittle or malleable of connections. Allegiances change at the drop of a hat in these kinds of stories, which makes the conflict more immediate. One person we shouldn’t be worrying about regarding that is Ghost’s right-hand man and lifelong buddy Tommy (Joseph Sikora, who got to be a Nazi punching bag in the most recent season of Banshee). The Tommy character, too, is familiar, but usually with these archetypes, the quick-to-draw one either gets chastised at every moment or doesn’t have much longevity in the story. Ghost, however, treats Tommy like an equal most of the time, their history perhaps clouding judgment ever so slightly (or else Ghost knows more about Tommy’s reliability than we do). To have that mutual respect there even though their goals are a little bit different makes the pair much more fresh than it would be otherwise, and that’s compounded by the fact that Ghost’s driver is being lured into Tasha’s orbit. Usually, it would be the Tommy character that who is tempted to turn on the boss to have a fling with his wife, so I’m especially glad that’s been avoided here.

Elsewhere, Power performs well, whether that’s the slick production values or director Anthony Hemingway’s total immersion in the action (especially in sequences where we see the rest of Ghost’s crew at work). This is a solid pilot all around–one that’s stronger than the flashier Black Sails pilot Starz aired earlier in the year. There always seems to be the temptation to front-load a series with thrills and appealing visuals (rest assured: as a Starz series, there is nudity, though of a classier variety), but character and story shouldn’t be things that come together later. The foundation needs to be there from minute one, and Kemp Agboh has an innate sense of how to create those things. Anyone with even a vague interest in crime drama ought to check out Power, which is a perfect addition to the early summer television schedule.

– Sean Colletti

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