Being a writer changes the way you watch television shows and movies. I enjoyed the first two seasons of the STARZ drama, Power. The drama, produced by 50 Cent, worked for me on many levels. I know some people had problems with the show because it they thought it glorified the drug dealer lifestyle. I didn’t feel that way. The drug dealing was merely the setting for the story. For me, it wasn’t the setting that made the show, it was the characters. Since the characters drove the storytelling, you could switch drug dealing with another big business (one like Enron comes to mind) and you would still have a show. In this post, I’m going to talk about Power from the perspective of a writer who’s also a fan.
The writer in me thought the characters on Power were great. If I didn’t love a character, I had fun hating them. As a writer who pays attention to storytelling, I thought the Power storytelling was pretty darn good until the season finale. Let’s talk about the four main characters first.
James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), the main character, reminds me of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) from the Wire. James excels at being a drug king pen but he wants to get out of the business because he knows it’s a dead end job. As he told his wife, Tasha, “How many old drug dealers do you know?” Smart man, that James.
Tasha (Naturi Naughton) is the perfect ride-or-die chick. She has no problems with her life as the rich wife of a drug kingpen. She lives in an exclusive highrise, her kids attend an exclusive private school and as her best friend, Keisha (LaLa Anthony) said, “Girl, you spend more than 100K on clothes each week.” Yes, Tasha, has money to burn, but she’s not too bright. When she learned of James’ infidelity and was planning to leave him, her mother had to remind her that she’d end up with nothing because money from drug dealing could not be counted in a divorce settlement. That was a great scene!
Tommy (Joseph Sikora) is another not so bright character that I enjoy. I’m not sure who’s dumber, him or Tasha. Tommy is so dumb that I refer to him as Tommy “Too Stupid to Live” Egan. The writers of the show missed a great opportunity when they paired Tasha with James, instead of Tommy. Tasha and Tommy would be a real gangster couple. They could call it, “Dumb and Dumber.” There would be no sequel though since both of them would be dead by the end of the movie, probably after killing each other.
The fourth character, and another character that I love to hate, is Angela Valdes (Lela Loren). My problem with Angela is that she’s a hypocrite. Yes, I know we all can be hypocritical at times, but Angela takes hypocrisy to a whole new level. Ghost, Tommy and Tasha all know they’re bad guys; they may think of themselves as better than other bad guys but they know they’re on the side of wrong. Angela, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue. She’s sleeping with a married man (James) but that’s okay because they’re in love. She uses her sexuality to get her ex-lover and colleague (poor Greg) to do things at work that push the bounds of legal but that’s okay, too, since she’s trying to bring down the bad guys. Ugh, Angela just makes me sick!
Now that we’ve covered the main characters, let’s get to the storytelling. Overall, I think the show has had some high quality storytelling. Ghost wanting to get out of the business, while his wife and best friend want them to stay in makes for a great over-arching conflict. “Will he be able to get out and how?” is a story question strong enough to drive a series. Drug dealer Ghost reuniting with ex high school girlfriend and present-day prosecutor, Angela, while married to ride-or-die Tasha adds smaller questions: “When will Angela find out Ghost is a drug dealer and what will she do?” “When will Tasha find out that Ghost is sleeping with Angela and what will she do?” “When will Ghost, Tommy and Tasha find out Angela is a prosecutor and what will they do?” Those questions drove Season 2.
So what were my problems with the Season 2 finale? Well, I had three major ones. (Note: If you haven’t seen the finale yet, you may want to skip this section since it contains spoilers.)
1. Kanan (50 Cent) is not dead. Come on, now. Ghost has meticulously killed five or six people in this episode but he’s too inept to make sure Kanan is dead before leaving him in the warehouse? That’s just not realistic. Actually, the entire fight scene between Ghost and Kanan was unrealistic. The writers needed to come up with a better way to keep Kanan alive for Season 3.
2. Angela is still living. In the finale, Angela frames her ex-boyfriend and colleague, Greg, for something he did not do. Not only did she choose the bad guy, she set up one of the true good guys to do it. And she did it to save her own behind! That said, my problem is not with what Angela did, it’s that the writers didn’t make her pay for it. I thought Greg was going to do it when he confronted her in the garage, but it didn’t happen. I thought Tommy was going to do it, but Tasha stopped him. Next season Angela needs to get hers.
3. Tommy’s girlfriend, Holly, returns. Boring! There are enough dumb people on this show already, so it does not need another one. Holly should have stayed gone.
I think writers can learn a lot about the writing craft from watching Power and other television shows and movies. Power highlighted two key truths that writers must always remember:
1. Strong characters make strong stories. Ghost is a strong character because he’s torn between the life he wants and the life he has. Tasha is a strong character because she’s living two lives: one as the loving and doting upper-class mother and housewife and another as the street wise partner of a major drug dealer. Angela is a strong character because she has to choose between her life’s work as a prosecutor and the man she loves. All three of these characters live conflicted lives. They can’t be pigeon-holed as all good or all bad. They’re people with major faults mixed in with some good traits. Because of this, they are characters readers are interested in following.
2. Good storytelling takes risks. Choosing drug dealing as the backdrop was one that paid off big for Power. How do I know the setting was a risk? Because the show is on Starz and not one of the networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox) The networks were watching the show’s success with viewers though. I think Power laid the ground for Fox’s Empire. Though the shows are a lot different, they share the attributes of great characters and strong storytelling. A risk in the season finale that paid off was having Kanan kill his own son. A father killing his son — now that is what I call bold storytelling. I didn’t see it coming at all. I’m challenged to be that bold in my storytelling.
So what about you? What did you think of the Power and the season finale in particular? If you’re a writer, how would you characterize Power? What do you think of my assessment?
Angela Benson is the author of 14 novels. Check out her most recent, Delilah’s Daughters.