Naturi Naughton, Joseph Sikora

Sometimes Power feels delightfully dense, but other times it feels unpleasantly chaotic, like the writers are trying to juggle an unmanageable number of balls. In season two, Courtney Kemp Agboh and her team have managed to more or less keep all of those balls in the air—an admirable feat given how many moving parts this show has—but as the season comes to a close, the narrative seems to be careening out of control. To be clear, I don’t think it’s a case of the writers actually losing their grasp on the story’s direction or their overarching plan, but the show can be too ambitious for its own good, almost as if the writers set the season in motion with the hopes of getting another two episodes tacked onto it. For an episode called “Three Moves Ahead,” it certainly doesn’t watch like a triumph of strategy. It feels the wrong kind of messy.

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In fairness, Ghost’s situation has always been the wrong kind of messy. Since Power began I’ve repeatedly groused about the degree to which Ghost doesn’t feel as boxed-in as he should given the hurricane of shit bearing down on him. That’s certainly not the case in “Three Moves Ahead,” the episode in which it most feels like Ghost’s empire is teetering on the edge of collapse. The arrival of Lobos, who breezed into Manhattan for his ahead-of-schedule collection, sets off a series of unseen consequences, and the only thing all of Ghost’s business associates seem to agree on is the fact that Ghost and Tommy need to be dethroned in a hurry. Kanan’s long-awaited return also turns up the heat on Ghost, with Kanan making up for his three-episode absence by swinging back in like a wrecking ball and destablizing Ghost’s entire network. There are so many loose threads dangling in Power, writer Randy Huggins is to be commended for braiding them together in an episode that could have easily ended up being baffling rather than merely busy.

But there’s something really inelegant about “Three Moves Ahead,” which seems to stem from the same issue that has plagued Power from the beginning. The writers simply don’t have the available real estate to do everything they’re trying to do without an uncomfortably compressed end result. Take for example the early scene between Ghost and Tasha, which starts out with promise as the estranged couple tries to establish the rhythm of their new normal. Tasha demands to know the details of Ghost’s plan, which he claimed to have worked out to recruit Tasha in stopping Tommy from killing Angela, and Ghost tells her the plan is to make Lobos disappear, thereby obviating the investigation. Tasha freaks out about the possibility of losing their supplier, only to suggest killing Lobos roughly nine seconds later. It all happens way too quickly, and the dialogue is blunt, which makes the scene feel like pure exposition rather than a conversation between two human beings.

Conversations like those have become a necessity for Power simply because it’s got too much on its plate. Structuring a season around not one, but two Big Bads would be a Herculean feat for a show with double the number of episodes, but with only 10, building a story around Stern and Kanan is lofty to a fault. Especially given Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s lengthy absence, which probably has to do with his intermittent availability, an unforeseen problem that shouldn’t reflect negatively on the show’s producers. But taking fault out of the equation doesn’t change the result. Kanan casually drifts back in, then becomes a malicious busybody as part of an obvious effort to make up for lost time by concentrating his power plays into one episode. It’s not ideal, and by the time “Three Moves Ahead” is over, too much of what happened feels like a blur.

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“Three Moves Ahead” has a bigger problem than its narrative logjam though, and that is this: Felipe Lobos is a terrible, terrible, terrible character. Granted, Lobos has always been a terrible character, but there normally isn’t this much of him. With Lobos—who might as well be actually animated given how cartoonish he is—in the center of the action, “Three Moves Ahead” is supremely irritating. Lobos only does one interesting thing to justify his prominence in the episode, which is to tell Ghost in no uncertain terms that his emotional bond with Tommy is holding him back. But any scene he was in, including that one, was beyond grating.

Specifically, to make Lobos gay is an wrongheaded choice, and a vaguely homophobic one. Whereas The Wire’s Omar Little was a three-dimensional person who just happened to be gay, Lobos is a pencil sketch of a character who is only gay because it amplifies his already over-the-top eccentricity. It’s similar to the way the show has treated Frankie. Frankie is such a minor character, there’s no reason for the audience to know anything at all about her sexual preference other than that the writers think it’s a defining trait, despite the fact that she’s only seen in a professional setting. Speaking of Frankie, I’d love to know her whereabouts, but whatever she’s doing there’s certainly vagina involved.

The episode is saved by its last third, the portion in which a tentative plan is hatched for Shawn to kill Ghost, and Angela, using information she got from her cell clone, leads the feds to Lobos and Tommy’s meeting. As was generally the case, the Kanan stuff was going entirely too fast out of necessity, but the scene between Kanan, Shawn, and Dre was strong. Jackson’s performance is usually blandly competent, but he has flashes of thespian instinct, and that was on display when Kanan is turning Shawn against Ghost by blaming Ghost for their separation. It’s a scene that frankly should have probably come much earlier in the season. Though Kanan has been demonized for his hair-trigger temper and sadistic streak, his anger towards Ghost is completely justified, and the writers have done surprisingly little to capitalize on the nuances of those relationships. This begins to make up for lost time.

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The conclusion is also strong, a soft cliffhanger that left me anxious to see what happens next. Anxious, at least, for an explanation as to what became of Ghost when the feds swooped down on the hotel room and he was nowhere to be found. Apparently Ghost wised up to Angela’s cell surveillance somehow, and while Angela is being celebrated by her colleagues, she’s never been more screwed than she is now. She only knew about the meet by illegally obtaining the information, which she claimed came from an informant’s tip. But more than that, she’s still emotionally torn about how to approach Ghost. Though she’s now nearly certain “Jamie” is the man she’s after, she’s not completely sure she wants him captured, and she certainly doesn’t want him killed. Angela is still focused on getting her man, but exactly what “getting her man” means has never been fuzzier.

Stray observations:

  • Jerry Ferrara joins the cast as attorney Joe Proctor, who Ghost has blackmailed into representing him. “Don’t be a douchebag your whole life,” says Proctor, a douchebag played by the same actor who also played Turtle on Entourage. I hope that was supposed to be a wink.
  • How is everybody magically concluding that Shawn and Tasha are having sex? Keisha figuring it out is one thing, but apparently the “business” Kanan was off taking care of involved being outfitted with psychic powers.
  • Speaking of Kanan, I hope there’s more explanation of the “shit he wasn’t down with” that led to Ghost deciding to set him up.
  • Ruiz’s buddy: “I think you shot a friend of my cousin’s.” Kanan: “Yeah, that sounds like me.”
  • The Serb now knows Ghost and Tommy, not the Albanians, were behind the hit. That’s not good.

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