WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: Power
For the uninitiated, Power is often described as “Empire, but on Starz.” This is reductive for various reasons, the primary one being that two shows about shady black businessmen doesn’t make them the same. The truth is, Power debuted a year before Empire (which led to some well-publicized shots from the show’s executive producer, 50 Cent), but living behind a pay wall at Starz has made awareness a challenge, especially when pitted against Fox’s Goliath-like reach and promotional budget.
There’s also the fact that the available GIFs are substantially more NSFW than Empire’s, but that’s neither here nor there
The premise of the show is simple. Well, simple-ish. By night, James St. Patrick–aka Ghost (Omari Hardwick)—runs a hot nightclub called Truth, and by day and night he’s “the biggest godddamn drug dealer in New York City.” He’s got three lovely kids, a beautiful wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) and a business partner in the form of his lifelong best friend Tommy (Joseph Sikora). As far as a life of crime goes, it all seems like wine and roses, except for a few things: the fact that Tommy is a sociopath; the fact that people want to murder him and take his business for themselves; and the fact that he’s having an affair with a United States attorney.
There’s family drama. There’s crime drama. There’s murder and intrigue and near-True Blood amounts of sex. There’s also an intro song by 50, who in addition to serving as EP also plays Kanan, the ex-con who taught Ghost everything he knows. But if you want a logline for the show, no one says it better (if not less originally) than Tasha: “You’re playing with fire, Ghost. You just better make sure we don’t all get burned.”
Number of Seasons: 2 (18 episodes)
Time Requirement: Two episodes each weeknight and four-peats on Saturday and Sunday and you’ll be done in a cool week.
Where To Get Your Fix: Xfinity TV, Amazon, Starz Play, Google Play
Best Character to Follow: The narrative revolves around Ghost, and the most entertaining character by far is Tommy, but the best person to actually invest in is Tasha. Despite the fact the fact that she’s the wife of a drug kingpin/nightclub owner living in a high-rise penthouse in Manhattan, she’s probably the most relatable main character in the show. Tasha is a devoted wife and caring mother trying to deal with a philandering husband, raise three kids (while looking like their older sister) in an increasingly broken home, and reconcile the luxury of her material life with the emotionally fulfilling life she desires. Tasha isn’t perfect, but she’s just trying to do right by her family—all while confronting the daily threats of a life lived in the thick of the drug business.
Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip: You’ve only got 18 episodes to get through, so just commit. Besides, Ghost is always getting ensnared in traps of his own devising. Maybe drug dealing and being an adulterer and raising three kids and running a nightclub and living under constant threat of assassination are all just more boring than we ever realized.
Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:
Season 1, Episode 1, “Not Exactly How We Planned” Get immersed in the world of truth and Power. Largely an establishing pilot, the episode introduces us to everyone—including Ghost’s long-lost high-school love, Angela Valdez, the United States Attorney who’s working with the FBI on an anti-drug task force. Clearly, this could never create a conflict of interest.
Season 1, Episode 3, “This Is Real” Multiple key characters are introduced in this episode, including Kanan (played by 50 Cent) and Holly (Lucy Walters). Holly loves being an independent woman and wearing crop tops, and both she and Kanan will be perpetual pains in the ass for Ghost throughout the show.
Season 1, Episode 5, “I Gotta Go” Back in episode 2 we got to see a tease of Victor Garber as night life mogul Simon Stern on the “cover” of New York Magazine, and he finally shows up for real now. His relationship with Ghost becomes an essential plot element, and Garber turns in a perfectly slimy performance. Tommy and Holly also have an important dinner at the St. James penthouse, and Tasha takes a fun turn as a bitchy stage mom when her oldest daughter auditions for the school play.
Season 1, Episode 6, “Who You With?” Angie learns that Ghost is a major player in the New York drug trade, but not necessarily the way you’d expect. Tasha also has a 30th birthday blowout at Truth, meaning that if her oldest kids are twins in the 5th grade they are 10 or 11 years old, which at least makes it mildly plausible that Tasha could have given birth to them.
Season 1, Episode 7, “Loyalty” The name of this episode really says it all. Tommy, Holly, Tasha, Ghost, and many of his associates all have their various allegiances tested in the run up to the season finale.
Season 1, Episode 8, “Best Laid Plans” Things go south with Angela’s informant. Holly opens her big mouth and ends up in the line of fire. Tommy is hunting a pedophile, and an elusive lady assassin is about to close Truth’s doors. So much for going legit, Ghost!
Season 2, Episode 1, “Consequences” The season 2 premiere might be the most satisfying episode of the entire show, as the first season’s biggest secrets finally boil up to the surface. Ghost, Tasha and Tommy have been lying to each other for a long time, and now they can finally start being real—well, at least a little more real than they were before.
Season 2, Episode 2, “No Friends On The Street” Ghost finally starts nosing around Angela’s business to figure out what exactly her mysterious job with the government entails. Tommy also continues to prove how much of an idiot he is through his relationship with crazy Holly, and Stern forces Ghost into a bad deal. (At this point, it becomes hard to ignore how adorably short Omari Hardwick is alongside 50 Cent, Sinqua Walls and most of the other men on the show.)
Season 2, Episode 3, “Like We’re Any Other Couple” Angela and Ghost’s relationship hits a major impasse when she finally tells him what she does for a living and what she thinks she knows about Tommy. Meanwhile, Ghost keeps tracking the assassin who’s been taking out people in his network; Kanan shows his true colors, and Tommy’s use of “cancel Christmas” becomes a full-on catchphrase.
Season 2, Episode 5, “Who You Are and Who You Want To Be” Angela finally learns the hard truth about Ghost, and Holly becomes a serious person of interest to the FBI. For his part, Ghost attends a weird sex party hosted by Stern the super-creep, and also gives his son some fatherly advice that he himself is completely incapable of following.
Season 2, Episode 6, “Why Her?” If you’ve been waiting for Tasha and Ghost to have it out about his extramarital affairs, wait no longer. Ghost also presents Holly with the ultimatum we all saw coming and learns about a surprising potential business partner.
Season 2, Episode 8, “Three Moves Ahead” Ghost and Angela are officially both playing each other, adding a fun twist to their tortured-lovers dynamic. Kanan works with Ghost’s people to engineer a mutiny while Tommy has a run-in with the law.
Season 2, Episode 9, “Time’s Up” Ghost demonstrates where his loyalty really lies when it comes to Tommy. Angela’s self-built house of cards is coming down around her, and Kanan proves what kind of monster he really is.
Season 2, Episode 10, “Ghost is Dead” Don’t let the episode title fool you. Everyone is dying around here.
Why You Should Binge: If primetime soaps like Grey’s Anatomy, Empire, or Scandal make you long for more R-rated fun, then Power has all the salacious goods you’ve been missing on basic cable. Starz sets itself apart by being a no-rules kind of house. If HBO is the older sibling at Harvard, Starz is the younger counterpart who’s just as a smart, but decided to go to University of Arizona because partying is as important as studying.
It’s also got a lot of what we need across every entertainment platform. Power‘s creator, Courtney Kemp Agboh, is a black woman, and in addition to featuring an almost entirely non-white principle cast, the writers and directors contributing to the show are similarly diverse. Women and people of color telling stories about—wait for it—women and people of color is essential to the continued improvement of film and television, as well as increasing visibility for stories about minorities in America. (Admittedly, the LGBT representation is a little shoddy, but with season 3 coming this winter, we’ll keep hope alive that sexual diversity on Power can become as strong as its cultural diversity.)
Best Scene: Pin It On Me
After hours of waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Ghost to be confronted with the truth he’s been denying for so many episodes, it’s Tommy who finally drops the truth hammer down. Power is essentially divided into two time periods: Before Ghost knows about Angela, and everything that happens after he finds out. And since Tommy and Ghost have had tension building between them at a steady clip leading up to this scene, it’s incredibly satisfying to see them finally have it out with each other instead of dancing around the damn problem.
The Takeaway: You can be a career criminal, or you can engage in a torrid affair with a federal law enforcement employee. Trying to have both, though, is a just a recipe for total disaster.
If You Liked Power You’ll Love: Empire’s strong musical influence and diverse cast is an obvious complement if you’ve enjoyed your time with Power, but if you like salacious stories about men of influence, try thinking outside the box with something like Showtime’s opulent King Henry VIII’s drama The Tudors. Or you could want a romance-novel-come-to life with a large man romancing the forbidden love of his life, which Starz can give you with Outlander. But if period pieces aren’t your thing, organized crime drama doesn’t get much better than The Sopranos—and if you’re in the mood for some evening soap material, then Scandal is a lot of fun.