“Welcome to Truth,” says Ghost to Dre as he creeps up behind Dre at the club, locked, loaded, and armed for bear. In that moment, the name of Ghost’s club makes it a more potently ironic symbol than it ever has been. Initially, the implicit joke was that a club called Truth was being run by a guy who lies constantly. (Which is funny just like it’s funny for that same guy to now own a club called Syrup, when he clearly likes his women spicy not sweet, and another club called Verbatim despite having never accurately quoted anyone in his entire life.) But now the joke is deeper than that in light of the season’s power struggle between Ghost and the terminally smug Simon Stern. Ghost owns Truth, which as the innocent face of a major drug operation is a lie in itself, and he can’t even keep his arms around that. He quite literally loses control of Truth—and the truth—and must struggle to regain both.
In “Ghost Is Dead,” the deft second season finale of Power, not every character is welcomed to Truth, but almost all of them are welcomed to the truth, frequently at gunpoint. Tommy, who has a general tendency to see the best in his brothers-in-arms, gets the blinders ripped away from him with regard to Ghost and Kanan. Greg finds out Angela burned him at work, having leveraged her knowledge of his unauthorized surveillance to smear him as a spurned colleague-with-benefits turned stalker. Tasha gets the news of Shawn’s death and is all too eager to hold Ghost responsible for it, if only to assuage her own guilt for using Shawn as a human shield in her war with Ghost. Angela learns what it means to be with Ghost, and agrees to stay with him so long as he emphatically claims to have put that part of his life in the past. Considering the scores of lies Ghost tells multiple people, it’s pretty admirable that he’s holding it together to this extent. It’s arguably too impressive a feat for the character. When I watch Power, I can’t help but imagine an elaborate whiteboard diagram with Omari Hardwick’s photo in the center. This is a machine with a lot of moving parts.
But even if I’m not 100 percent sure Ghost could do this much math in his head, I’m just glad someone’s doing it in the writers’ room. This is a lot of plot to keep track of, and just 18 episodes into its run, Power’s show bible has to be about as long as the actual Bible. At times, Power is chaotic in a way that makes it seem scatterbrained, but “Ghost Is Dead” makes for not only a satisfying end to the season, but a broader argument for Courtney Kemp Agboh’s storytelling strategy. Scandal often comes to mind while watching Power, mostly because it’s about a couple of terrible people in a folie a deux who think the entire universe is subordinate to their love. But in terms of structure and pace, Power is the anti-Scandal.
Scandal (and Empire, for that matter) grew out of the school of storytelling that says the audience will always guess what the storytellers are up to, so the only way to be truly surprising is to do what the audience expects to happen way before they expect it to happen. As a result, that show burns through story at a crazy rate, and with considerable repetition. Power is doing the exact opposite. Imagine two guys at an all-you-can-eat buffet. One gets a single plate of meatloaf and potatoes, scarfs it down in two minutes, then immediately goes back for more meatloaf and potatoes. The other guy piles five plates high with a dozen different items, then grazes at them all like a dainty bird. Power is the second guy.
Telling the story this way has its own consequences, even when it’s being done well, and “Ghost Is Dead” exposes some of those issues. The extreme density makes for an exciting finale, but one that isn’t always easy to parse. By the end of the episode, there have been so many strategic realignments and double/triple/quadruple crosses, you feel like you’re still watching it two hours after you’re done watching it. Power may be fundamentally different from the manically paced Scandal or Empire, but it can leave you with the same hangover, and at times, “Ghost Is Dead” feels like too much of a good thing.
The essence of “Ghost Is Dead” is the tying up of loose ends as news of Tommy’s speedy release from prison circulates and Lobos remains in prison. A shadowy figure stalks and kills Drifty and the Serb, then leaves Lobos clinging to his life following a failed prison hit. That appears to be either terribly convenient for Ghost or terribly inconvenient, and more likely the latter, considering each body is adorned with the Jimenez syndicate’s calling card. The increasing heat is also a fortunate break for Angela, who is spared the guillotine when Ghost convinces Ruiz to go into hiding with his family, leaving Isabel unable to testify at Angela’s disciplinary hearing. While it’s not a huge surprise to find out Ghost is behind everything—especially since Proctor explicitly told him to cut his ties to the Lobos network—it does shed new light on the character, who I’d argue is an antihero strategist on par with the legendary Walter White. The near-surgical executions of the men with the most power to hurt Ghost was reminiscent (though not as good) as the infamous prison killings sequence in “Gliding Over All.”
Ghost is arguably a more brilliant strategist than Heisenberg, though he has a key advantage in that his most dogged antagonist is madly in love with him. Despite knowing he exploited his proximity to her to get Tommy sprung at the potential cost of her entire career, and knowing he’s probably killed several people within the past few days, Angela is willing to overlook it all if it means she and “Jamie” can take their relationship back to the point before everything became so hopelessly complicated. It’s an uneasy detente, but still a better place than they’ve been in weeks. Even without morbidly curious love on his side, Ghost outmaneuvers Stern and wins back not only his club, but two of Stern’s others. There’s something a bit too mechanical about the way that story works, in part because so little time was devoted to it throughout the season, and also because I still don’t care that much about Stern as a character. But if the object was to take Ghost from being a cornered animal back to the top of the heap, “Ghost Is Dead” certainly accomplishes that. If anything, we can all agree Ghost is killing the time management game.
He even has time to end Kanan, or so he believes. Their confrontation, which mostly consists of one trying to come up with the quippiest parting words while holding the gun way too close to the other one’s face, was definitely hoary. But there’s a point at which wanting plausibility becomes wanting a television show to act like something other than a television show, which is goofy. Plus it’s hoary for a reason. As silly and shopworn as it looks for Ghost and Kanan to exchange “Now wassup?!” speeches, I can’t honestly say I could resist the urge to say something super corny before killing my nemesis. Beyond that, I thought the scene worked well. In a dark, abandoned building, with the gun kicked out of reach, it’s reasonable for Ghost to settle for setting the building on fire with Kanan in it rather than going further to ensure his death. And I’m glad it went that way because it allowed Kanan to escape. While Kanan doesn’t completely work for me as a villain—any more than Ghost completely works for me as a protagonist—Kanan is an important foil for Ghost and I wasn’t quite ready to see him go.
Even beyond Kanan, Ghost winds up at the end of the episode with just as many looming threats as he went into it with, despite devoting considerable time, energy, and bullets to eliminating his inconvenient relationships. Tasha is a woman scorned with her side piece dead and Angela around to live another day in bed next to her husband. Stern is subdued but certainly not for long. Tommy, armed with the truth about Holly’s sudden disappearance, is ready to strike out on his own, and he’s considering consummating his new business partnership with Lobos by killing Ghost. And which one of those people (if not someone else entirely) left the loteria card stained with Lobos’ blood on Ghost’s desk? All this, and he still hasn’t seen any real consequences from killing Rolla. Ghost might be dead for now, but as many people as he’s burned, the ghost of Ghost will be getting invited to plenty of awkward seances in season four.
- 50 Cent killed pretty much all of his scenes. His performance isn’t working until it suddenly is, and when it’s working, it’s really working. I’m glad Kanan will be around a while longer.
- Speaking of Kanan, I’d love for him to look like a black Harvey Dent when he returns.
- Tasha basically confirmed that her interest wasn’t in Shawn, it was in security, whatever form that might take. As soon as Tommy tells her Ghost and Angela are possibly through, she grabs the nearest freakum dress and pops up at Truth, while the question of Shawn’s whereabouts remains open.
- Tasha to Ghost: “Ain’t no winners here. It’s just you and me, baby. Both of us. Alone.” Ghost, basically: “Yeah I hear you. Anyway, I need to dash off and see my girlfriend. I’ll holla.”
- Poor, pathetic Greg. He showed up to Angela’s apartment building looking so much like somebody’s sad, drunk uncle, I half-expected him to say, “You sure you wanna hang with old Eddie Kane?” But that’s a different movie.
- Unless I somehow misinterpreted that scene, though I can’t imagine how I did, Sandoval is on Lobos’ payroll. That’s kind of exhausting, but it’s also the kind of twist you can’t judge until you see how it’s deployed. So I’ll wait, but I’m already kind of exhausted considering how much this show keeps in the air as it is.
- I’m shocked that Tommy didn’t tell Tasha that Proctor pulled out the sketch and “canceled Christmas” on Angela’s ass. Y’know, considering getting someone fired from their job is a pretty sure-fire way to literally cancel the person’s Christmas.
- I’m still not crazy about Lobos, but making him a Wharton Business graduate is a stroke of genius.
- Thanks for reading! I’ll hopefully return next season.