Omari Hardwick and Lela Loren (Photo: Starz)

Power is in an especially precarious position as it begins its third season. After an impressive sophomore year, the show is the best it’s ever been, not to mention the most consumed, as it holds the title of Starz’ most-watched original series. But in the second season, Power had nowhere to go but up between its low profile and how little of its inherently limiting premise it had burned through. Now, hopes are high for the next batch of 10 episodes, and the show’s most potent narrative weapon—Ghost and Angela’s mutual ignorance of the raging conflict between them—has now been exhausted. It’s way too early to say that Power’s best days are behind it, but it’s not premature to say the show has never had to work harder to prove its viability.

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“Call Me James” isn’t the kind of episode that gets the audience amped for an exciting season ahead, and that was to be expected. “Ghost Is Dead” blew up Power’s status quo so completely, the season three premiere was bound to be weighed down by all the events of last season. Sure enough, most of “James” consists of cleaning up the complicated mess made by the end of last season and resetting the chess board before beginning the season in earnest. It’s not a bad episode, just the type of piece-moving installment that has to be viewed within the context of the broader role it plays in the season. To that end, “James” is a solid opener that reestablishes the central theme of Power, which is Ghost’s struggle to figure out how to go straight, or if he even wants to do so.

Based on the title alone, Power is back to its season-one starting point, with Ghost formally out of the game and with a renewed desire to become the legitimate businessman his father always knew he could be. He’s now the proud owner of three glamorous split-level pleasure dens, having outfoxed Simon Stern last season, and he’s under the impression he’s left Lobos and Kanan in his rearview. With Angela’s threat effectively neutralized, there’s nothing to hold Ghost back from the life and the relationship that he’s always wanted, or so he believes. Of course, there’s still the matter of the bloody tarot card left on his desk and his fractured relationship with Tommy, once his greatest ally, but compared to the pinches he’s been in before, Ghost is sitting pretty. (Naturally, the waitress responsible for leaving the card in Ghost’s office is good and dead already.)

Hence the main focus of “James” is not the man himself, but rather the characters who are still reeling from all of Ghost’s decisions. Tommy is standing on the unsteadiest ground between having to shore up all of his business relationships and figuring out how he’s going to kill Ghost to satisfy Lobos’ ultimatum. Of all the dangling threads from last season, Tommy’s assignment to assassinate Ghost is probably my least favorite. The issue is not only that it’s obvious that neither Ghost nor Tommy will die as a result of this arrangement, but that I’m still not especially clear on why Tommy has to be the person to take Ghost out. Tommy having to choose between his relationship with Ghost and his own survival is an interesting conundrum to put in front of Tommy, but I’m not confident the situation resolves itself without a huge contrivance. And again, why does Tommy have to be the shooter? Obviously Ghost is harder to take out than a dog, but it would require the same amount of effort to order a hit on a person than it takes to order a hit on a domestic animal.

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The Ghost and Tommy plot doesn’t totally wash, but that might be the case with much of Power while it figures out its new normal. Angela, for example, must have built up a hell of a lot of good will within her department, because following the debacle with Isabel Ruiz’s disappearing sketch, it’s pretty amazing that she still has her job. Not only does she still have her gig, she’s still somehow attached to the Lobos and Tommy prosecutions despite being in a romantic relationship with someone who has already actively sabotaged the case. The advantage Power’s second season had over its third is that Ghost and Angela’s relationship seemed remotely like a good idea then whereas now… Listen, their sexual relationship is easily the envy of every other television character, but it seems like such a transparently terrible idea, the central relationship of the show is the most difficult thing about it to believe.

That said, I appreciate Courtney A. Kemp’s willingness to explore the uncomfortable realities of Ghost and Angela’s newly public relationship. Crazy Greg is still lurking around, since being suspended for stalking Angela wasn’t enough to knock him off his quest to expose her for the duplicitous barracuda she is. But the real threat stalking Ghost and Angela is the dynamic of the relationship, which is fundamentally different now that Angela has gone from being the other woman to the main woman. The happy couple is uncomfortably sharing Angela’s small apartment, which makes for a tidy metaphor about how much less space they now have to operate in. Coming clean about a secret relationship should theoretically make things easier, but when it’s this relationship, being transparent only makes the situation murkier.

Stray observations

  • Tasha needs a new role in this story now that Ghost has formally moved on.
  • I’m glad Dre, or Andre as he’s now being called, is still around after last season.
  • Kantos, on the other hand, will not be around. That was a brutal firing, but he wasn’t a very loyal employee so the termination was deserved, if perhaps not the way it was executed.
  • Business meetings make Tommy really, really hungry.
  • Welcome back to Power reviews. I can’t promise they’ll last through the end of the season, but I’ll make the most of the time we have together.

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