Power, Season 1: Episode 2 – “Whoever He Is”
Written by Courtney Kemp Agboh
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
In a show of loyalty and leeway on Starz’s part, the network has opted for another early renewal, this time nodding to the confidence Courtney Kemp Agboh has already established with Power. Just two episodes in, it’s hard not to be lured into the series’ flashing lights kind of a world with a deeply dark undercurrent. When it comes to building shows from the ground up, successful world-building absolutely has to be there in place of a story that has yet to come together enough. Enigmatic characters certainly help, and Ghost remains that. But what will carry viewers through these early episodes of Power is its ability to create its own identity and architecture. Already, you can get a feel for what Truth–Ghost’s night club–looks like from top to bottom. It feels like a place you’ve been to before. And even if the patrons and owners and employees aren’t people you’d normally associate with, they still seem familiar in a way that makes watching Power somewhat comfortable.
That is, until severed body parts start showing up. The story here–especially the inner-turmoil of Ghost’s operation and his potential relationship with Angie–still isn’t totally creative or thought-provoking, but that’s hardly the responsibility of a first season, in my opinion. Series have the capacity to get deeper the longer they run, and front-loading one with a dense first season is probably counter-intuitive at the end of the day. So, the simplicity and predictability here don’t stick out like sore thumbs, and as long as the actors believe in what they’re doing and sell it, the whole production works. Luckily, that’s the case with most of the people involved. Sinqua Walls and Adam Huss haven’t really had a chance to do anything as Shawn and Kantos (mostly just react to other characters), but they bring those characters to life by making them so believable. It’s good, for example, to have someone like Kantos be skeptical of Tommy to the point of barely being able to contain not wanting to put up with his shit. Ghost and his family can’t be those characters, so having a stand-in there works well in building the supporting cast with limited time.
And because I didn’t get around to it in the last review, it should be stated and emphasized how much heavy-lifting Naturi Naughton is doing as Tasha. The first smart decision regarding her character is not making her ignorant. The pilot played with the idea of how much information she actually possessed until it flat-out told us that she knows almost all of what Ghost is up to behind closed doors. Not only is that part of her character established, though, “Whoever He Is” does her one better by being the inspiration for Ghost and his decision to let everyone on the streets know that his crew is not messing around. People will pay the death toll or worse. Tasha also helps persuade him to show his worker bees security to earn their loyalty. So, rather than offing the girl who is now too recognizable to keep working the street–which is what Tommy wants and expects of Ghost–she is bought by a promotion, which is simply good business on Ghost’s part. As much visual attention is paid to Ghost by director Anthony Hemingway (notice all the power positions he’s in with the framing and blocking every scene; and, of course, close-ups of his suits only accentuate his entire personality), it’s interesting and effective to see people like Tommy and Tasha be able to stand as equals with the man and give him ideas and opinions that he actually takes into consideration, even if they’re sometimes conflicting.
Less effective at this point is Ghost and Angie’s relationship, especially considering “Whoever He Is” ends on what is apparently meant to be a big cliffhanger of a Chekhov’s whale key chain that Tasha will undoubtedly find. The simultaneous sex scenes work fine here, but it’s a fairly common visual storytelling device these days. And we already know how much those two are on each other’s minds. It winds up sucking up a lot of the time with steps we know are heading to. Angie’s phone interrupting the almost-kiss is so familiar than the charm of its wears off pretty quickly and skirts being annoying, because Power is much better than that in other areas. It is what it is, though, and the season really looks to be treating that story as one of its main concerns, cemented by the fact that Ghost is actually the person Angie is after.
Still, Omari Hardwick is just way too naturally good in this role for any of his scenes to fall completely flat, Angie-focused or otherwise. Just seeing him dance around at the turn tables or buttoning his shirt is fun. There are a couple moments where there’s a little bit of strain in the performance, mostly when Ghost has to express frustration verbally, but Power has at its center a fantastic lead. It also benefits by comparison to other Starz series with eight-episode orders, since Power isn’t a genre story that has to do a thousand things all at once before those eight hours wrap up. There’s a clear path this first season is taking and no indication that it should have any trouble reaching its end. It could afford to take more risks, but that’s hardly the most egregious of flaws, especially for summer programming.
– Sean Colletti