Power (Starz) Review “Whoever He Is”/”This Is Real”

Power has steadily improved over the past two episodes, fleshing out its characters and displaying more of the macro storytelling I need in a drama centered on drug dealers. What Ghost, Jimmy and his crew do has a larger social impact and acknowledging that while also putting a larger focus on Angela and her work to take dealers off the street and continuing to explore the inner turmoil of Ghost, Power is slowly becoming a series with a focus. That is not to say it has grown into a series I enjoy, but I can almost appreciate what it is attempting to do, even as it fails to make me care about anyone in the story who is not Angela.

Tommy is still the most problematic character in the series on the grounds that he is a raging sociopath. He thrives on violence. He came from an impoverished background just like Ghost, but he has no desire to live a charmed life. His goal is not to escape the drug ring, but to revel in it. In the past two episodes we watched Tommy dismantle a man and leave his body parts around town to send a message and gleefully light another man on fire as a means of torture. These scenes are interspersed with cringe-inducing scenes of Tommy hitting on a waitress named Holly, who Ghost has repeatedly asked him to stay away from. Suffice it to say, Tommy is the worst man on a series full of terrible men, and I am sure Holly will be dead by the end of this season.

Ostensibly, this series is about Ghost and his desire to reclaim his identity as Jamie, a kid with a dream of opening a nightclub. The only problem with his identity crisis is that it does not make his behavior any less reprehensible. On a societal level, Ghost going into drug dealing is painfully real. Being disadvantaged, particularly in a place like New York City, can lead people to take desperate measures to survive. In “This Is Real,” Angela and Tommy discuss their distrust for cops, bred out of being racially profiled when they were younger. Ghost has had a hard life and he got into the business to pull himself out of poverty.

However, now he is at the top of New York City society with a hot nightclub (that looks like The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a swankier upstairs) and enough money to live comfortably on for the rest of his life. To his credit, Ghost realizes all of this and is trying to find a way out of the drug business even as Tommy and his wife continue to keep him in the thick of it. When a girl almost dies from bad cocaine in the restroom of his club, Ghost appears to momentarily think about the impact of putting drugs on the street. Not only is he killing people with his own hands and via people like Tommy, he is also guaranteeing that another generation of young men and women both sell and distribute drugs in the very neighborhood he grew up in.

Even as he continues to struggle with the realities of his actions, Ghost is living out a fantasy with Angela. She makes him feel like something he is not: a good man. By pursuing her so doggedly, he is adding cheating to his long list of misdeeds. Granted, Tasha is as devoted to the lifestyle as Tommy is, and takes no time whatsoever to think about the lives destroyed so she can wear Prada and her kids can go to the best schools. Making her out to be a villain is a lazy tactic and it makes Ghost’s unfaithfulness no less disturbing. Angela should not have to be someone’s salvation. She came from the same neighborhood, worked for everything she has and tries to make a difference in her community. She is not a saint, nor is she an angel Ghost can latch onto in order to regain whatever innocence he once had.

In the final moments of “This Is Real,” Ghost sends Angela an expensive (and hideous) necklace after she tells him that no one has ever taken care of her. He misses the point of her story entirely. She once bought a piece of knock-off jewelry because she could not afford the real thing, but she wore it until it fell apart. There is a satisfaction that comes with earning your own way and earning it honestly, even if it does not lead to a penthouse view. Ghost sees women as merchandise. He refers to them as merchandise. To him, they are beautiful things that can be bought and paid for. Note he also brings home jewelry to pacify Tasha.

If Power was about Tasha, Angela, Holly and the other women who put up with violence, sexism and misogyny on a daily basis, the series would act as a scathing indictment of both the gangster culture and modern culture as a whole. But this story is about Ghost, and so far, Ghost is just another stock TV antihero whose bad behavior we are being asked to excuse because he is conflicted.

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