Power Series Premiere Review: “Episode 1.01” (Season 1, Episode 1)

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What really comes through in this first episode is just how strong the characters are. Ghost is a complex individual, and Hardwick does a phenomenal job of communicating his inner turmoil while still ensuring that Ghost feels like he belongs in the high-powered, dangerous world Power depicts. The actor got into terrific shape for the role, and that extends to the confidence and charisma with which he carries himself. The writing deserves credit for showing a darker side to his character early on, with a scene in which he coldly executes a man who crossed him. Still, Ghost has redeeming qualities, and he’s a fine lead for this television series. He’s a classic antihero, in the spirit of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey or, perhaps as fittingly, Al Pacino’s Scarface. Whether Ghost will remain likable throughout the series is harder to say – but maybe that’s the point. Just because 50 Cent ended up on top, that doesn’t mean that Ghost is heading that way.

One of the characters who sends him under may just be Tasha, if a certain plot point introduced in the pilot continues to dominate the arc of the series. She’s the series’ most compelling character, if mostly for one bizarre scene she has late in the episode that reminded me of Cameron Diaz’s femme fatale in The Counselor (and I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing, but I’ll come back next week if only to see what she does next, and doesn’t that say something in of itself?). Tasha loves Ghost deeply and has for a long time; but it’s clear that his money has become a large part of how she connects to him. As he begins to grow uneasy in his own life, she struggles to find ways to stay relevant.

It looks like Naughton is set to provide a fair amount of the skin for this TV-MA-rated show (and that’s completely fine by me, don’t get me wrong), but the actress is also doing strong work as a character outside of the bedroom. If that sounds odd, I just mean to say that Starz doesn’t have the best reputation for developing strong female characters (the gangster’s paradise series before Power on Starz was Magic City, and that probably/definitely failed the Bechdel test every episode). Hopefully Power is different. After all, Tasha is definitely interesting enough as a character to warrant further exploration.

Sikora, as Tommy, also turns in a solid performance. His character is more committed to the illegal side of the empire than Ghost, and Sikora plays the intelligent gangster with dangerous charm and energy. It will be interesting to see how he progresses as a character, given that he’s no angel either and appears to be capable of terrible violence.

Finally, Loren makes a strong impression as Angela. Outside of being drop-dead gorgeous, the actress has immediate chemistry with Hardwick, which will serve the series well if it pursues a forbidden love subplot between them. She’s not as closely connected to Ghost as the rest of the characters, which makes me worry that she may be sidelined going forward, but Loren’s performance is certainly one I’ll be interested to see week after week.

So, where does that leave us? Power is extremely well-acted and looks terrific. It has all the bearings 0f a hit for Starz, though it does suffer from an overly serious tone at times. Ghost is serious about his empire, but he’s also weary of it too early on. Power depicts Ghost as having an extravagant lifestyle – and the series could benefit from showing the upsides of that instead of just the golden handcuffs it locks him into. I mentioned Kanye West’s song “Power” earlier; that song captured the jungle-like atmosphere of living at the height of power, with wild energy and a furious rhythm. Power has portrayed the characters and the setting with elegance, and now it needs to do more with those characters to really impart the sensation of living in Ghost’s skin. It needs a shot of adrenaline, a little more oomph, to keep me invested.

For now, though, Power is off to an strong-enough start. Slickly written and finely acted, it packs an intoxicating punch in some moments when it keeps the focus solely on Ghost. I’ll look forward to watching the character’s struggles and seeing how the writers build a world around him. It already has a leg up on Magic City, the show it’s filling a void for on Starz, by remaining interesting throughout its first episode. Now, the key will be for Power to keep plowing ahead with the force I sense it’s capable of packing.