When Power began, its biggest flaw was its insistence on making Ghost a weary kingpin with dreams of abandoning his criminal empire and becoming a legitimate entrepreneur. Save for a fleeting reference to Ghost’s father, the show never laid a foundation for why getting out of the drug business was so important to him, or why the audience should want that for him. Still, season one forged ahead with the idea that Ghost was trying to position himself to transition out of the game, then ended with that dream destroyed by the attempt on his life. Season two has an energy season one lacked, mostly because Power has been stripped of Ghost’s bid for legitimacy. But it’s starting to become more clear as the season progresses why that idea was folded into the show to begin with. Without some sort of noble pursuit, however vague, Ghost has become much, much harder to root for.
He spends the entirety of “You’re The Only Person I Can Trust” talking out of both sides of his mouth and generally being a lowdown sneak. He lies to Tasha and Tommy, and he squirrels dirty money out of the wash-and-folds, and he bribes Holly to go away and never come back, which y’know, even a broken watch is right twice a day. But that’s all child’s play for Ghost who is mendacious at a much deeper level than they at first appears. He’s been maintaining lies for years at this point. One of the episode’s major bombshells is Ghost admitting he and Tasha have been keeping secret their involvement in Kanan’s incarceration. (Don’t quote me on the word “bombshell.” I don’t recall whether that aspect of the story was mentioned in season one, but it sounded like new information to me.)
But even with that much of his lying capacity spoken for, Ghost can still spin new tales. Obviously Ghost has been lying to Tasha about Angela, but it turns out he’s been lying to Angela about Tasha too. Ghost’s house of cards collapses in “Trust,” when Tasha finds out he was lying about ending his relationship with Angela, and this time she really has had enough. Tasha boots him from the St. Patrick penthouse, and when Angela confronts him about what happened, he’s forced to admit to Angela that the situation with Tasha isn’t quite how he presented it. He comes clean to Angela about his marriage only after he stares her dead in the eye and tells her Tommy is clean and she has nothing to worry about with her investigation. Lying might be the thing Ghost does most tirelessly.
I’m starting become concerned Power might be one of those shows that is primarily fueled by protagonist bias. To the extent the audience wants to see Ghost win, it’s not because he’s demonstrated that he deserves to win or has laid out a compelling case for why winning is important to him and how it would represent a satisfying outcome. The audience wants to see Ghost win because he’s the main character and the story is being told from his perspective. The other possibility is that the writers are trying to portray Ghost as a man of depth and contradictions such that the audience wants to see what he does and doesn’t much care about why he does what he does. But that isn’t quite working either. It’s almost like Ghost needs a few more monologues or something.
The general concern I’m feeling has to do with how little fun it is to be around Ghost these days. It pains me to have to keep mentioning Breaking Bad because that’s a tonally different show from this one so it’s not quite apples-to-apples. But I have to discuss it in relationship to Power, because it’s a master class on how to construct an anti-hero. A show that started out with Heisenberg as the main character would have been horrifying to watch. There was a progression, one during which the audience sees Walter White rise from a lowly, impotent underdog with cancer to a ruthless, powerful drug lord. Then the audience has its enthusiasm for Walter’s evolution turned against it slowly as Walter commits more and more unforgivable acts. Ghost has been at the top of his game since we met him. There’s no urgency in the story if what we’re supposed to be pulling for is Ghost to retain the wealth and power he’s always had, and also have full access to his wife and children while maintaining a mistress on the side and mentally plotting to leave said wife for said mistress. Ghost isn’t a great guy.
In many shows, a character like Ghost could be the villain, but because Ghost is the protagonist in Power, the way to build the concept of good and evil in this universe is to send in adversaries for Ghost who are far worse than he is. Season two’s intriguing double Big Bad structure has two of these characters, Kanan and Simon Stern, one to create havoc in both divisions of Ghost’s business empire. Stern doesn’t share Kanan’s penchant for unnecessarily extreme violence, but what both characters have in common is that they are incredibly smug. In the world of Power, smugness is a mortal sin. You can wrongfully kill a kid you regard like a surrogate son based on faulty information, but don’t be a total prick about it, okay?
Kanan continues his reign of terror in “Trust,” with the latest random act of violence being an attack on one of the guys in the crew Dre is going to use when Kanan takes over the former RSK territory. Dre’s minion Rock is certainly mouthy, cracking jokes about Tommy while the crew eats ribs, but he seems totally benign. Kanan fixates on him and randomly decides he needs to be brutally beaten and have his tongue removed. After showing Dre Rock’s defiled body in the trunk, Kanan orders him to finish the job, then strolls away grinning like a mischievous toddler, as he tends to do thanks to 50 Cent’s on-the-nose performance. Clearly, Kanan’s villain type is the pure sadist, the person who is aroused and fulfilled by inflicting pain on others. There’s no other way to explain having loud sex with Shawn’s mother as he overhears downstairs, then saying to Shawn: “Your mama got the best ass in New York City, always did.” Honestly sir, who even talks like that?
It’s not always a bad thing that the characters span the spectrum of malignant selfishness. “Like We’re Any Other Couple” works well because it’s focused on action and has a clear episodic story. “Trust” is more about moving pieces into place. Those episodes are a necessary component of any drama, but for Power, because all of its characters are just kind of terrible, an episode just hanging out isn’t much fun because these aren’t people to hang out with. I’m never the television viewer crying out for more plot, but I have to make an exception here because there’s nobody in this show I just want to sit around talking to.
- I was becoming begrudgingly impressed by how Holly manages to become a more irritating, more worthless character with each passing episode. But she’s at least getting incorporated back into the story, having grown tired of being isolated in Tommy’s apartment and wanting to get her old job back at Truth.
- Holly’s also ensnared in Angela’s investigation, with Angela hoping to lean on Holly to get her to admit that Tommy is the infamous Ghost she’s been after. This could be interesting. Oh, and Angela has now weaseled her way back onto the Lobos Task Force.
- Tasha, upon hearing Pink Sneakers is dead: “I love it when you take care of business.”
- Ghost to Angela: “As long as we’re honest with each other from now on, no matter what.” Dude, honestly?
- Shawn is now officially embroiled in a love triangle with Tasha and Keisha. I’m slightly exhausted by the Shawn and Tasha angle and I wish to move on.
- Ghost throws a successful part with almost no budget to do it with, but Ghost makes a way out of no way, though it’s clearly going to come back to bite him soon.