Power, Starz’s latest foray into original programming, seems to swipe its title from the Kanye West song off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – the slick style and decadence of that hypnotic track almost audibly echoes throughout the series premiere. But another famed rapper is actually responsible for the show – Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, serves as an executive-producer, his song “Big Rich Town” plays over the opening credits, and aspects of the show were inspired by his rise to prominence.
Given 50 Cent’s involvement, perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that Power feels reminiscient of another Cent project, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Both feature the same sort of quietly intelligent, morally compromised protagonist and a brooding, heated tone. The difference between the two is that, while Get Rich offered a redemption arc for its troubled lead, Power seems primed to send its protagonist into much darker territory. Maybe that readiness will allow Power to serve as a more accurate account of Cent’s early struggles, or maybe it will choke all the believability from it. It’s too early to tell.
Of course, the series isn’t entirely autobiographical – or at least we’d hope so, for Cent’s sake. Power centers on James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), the owner of a successful NYC club called Truth. When we first meet him, Ghost is living large, wearing expensive suits and bringing all manner of spoils home to his family. However, Ghost leads a double life (a fact neatly foreshadowed by an opening sequence heavy on mirror imagery). He’s also a drug kingpin, organizing a vast network of criminals which smuggles drugs in and out of the city. Ghost runs a smooth operation, concealing his illegal activities beneath a winning smile and reputation as a straight-arrow businessman.
Only those on his inner circle are aware that Ghost isn’t as clean as initial appearances would suggest. That inner circle includes his comely wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton), business partner Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and a few other high-ranking gangsters. For the most part, Ghost keeps his hands clean. But, crucially, he’s not afraid to get them dirty. Early on in the premiere, he’s called upon to interrogate a snivelling thug who helped a mysterious enemy make off with a full day of Ghost’s earnings. Carefully removing his expensive shirt, Ghost reveals a muscle-bound, tattooed body underneath. Despite all his luxuries, he bears the marks of a life of crime.
There are a lot of moments like that in the premiere, where Ghost’s duality comes into play, and we get a portrait of a man struggling to balance two different and incompatible existences. He wants to go straight, using Truth as a way to maintain his high-rolling lifestyle without having to deal with the dangers of the drug trade. Those around him, even Tasha, aren’t sold on the notion and encourage him to keep doing what he does best. It’s clear, though, that Ghost and his friends have two very different ideas about what that is. He’s not immune to the whispered promises of the criminal life either, and so it’s a struggle for him to accept that he wants to go legit.
Ghost’s life continues to move forward, with him questioning whether he’s happy in it, when he encounters an old flame, Angela Valdes (Lela Loren), at the club. Struck by memories of a simpler time and thoughts of the one who got away, he begins to reach out to her – risking the wrath of Tasha, who is naturally concerned about whether she can keep Ghost happy given that she doesn’t feel she understands him anymore. There’s one more problem with him connecting with Angela: she’s an assistant United States attorney working on a task force to prosecute a drug trafficker by the name of Lobos (Enrique Murciano), a man to whom Ghost has inseverable ties.
It’s a tribute to episode director Anthony Hemingway and the writing staff that this premiere, as busy as it is, never grates. The editing is smooth, the camera moves gracefully and the dialogue flows with ease. Perhaps as a result of all the set-up, Power isn’t as immediately gripping as I thought it would be, and it certainly isn’t as fun as it should be. However, with seven episodes left in its first season, the show has a little time to find its voice.