Showrunner Courtney Kemp Has Got The “Power”
Power was commercial and ratings hit for Starz consistently maintaining around ten million viewers. It powered its way through six nail-biting seasons of crime, family, betrayal with showrunner Courtney A. Kemp (The Good Wife, My Own Worst Enemy) at the helm. Power tells the story of James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) who walks the tightrope of following his dream of being a successful New York City nightclub owner and being a ruthless drug lord. Ghost navigates avoiding capture, pursuing his dream, and his tumultuous family life.
Kemp was inspired by the 80s show Dallas – a show about family, rivalries, power, corruption, switching loyalties, and betrayal. “Like Dallas, I wanted to build the story [of Power] moment by moment so I didn’t know the answer until the very end.” Moreover, Kemp wanted to explore the nature of family dynamics in Power. Family in Power refers to immediate and extended family as well as shady business associates.
Similar to posing the central question of Dallas, “Who killed J.R. Ewing?” Kemp posed the question, “What will happen to Ghost St.Patrick?” in Power.
Every television series needs conflicted, layered, and contradictory characters to succeed
Every successful TV show knows that a finale episode will eventually arrive and the TV writers must consciously build toward that end. “The only way Power could reasonably end is with Ghost dead or in jail,” said Courtney Kemp. (For readers who haven’t viewed the show’s finale, there are spoilers ahead.)
Now that we know that Ghost ends up dead, Kemp stated that there was a version of the final episode where Ghost went to jail. It came to a binary decision. Courtney opted for the former because it was the most organic to the story. There was a sense of closure and justice to the Power story.
“Ghost was no longer the ambitious character we once knew, trying to transition out of a life of drugs to build his dream. He was too selfish and he wasn’t going to let his son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) stand in his way,” said Kemp. Since pursuing an admirable goal of running a star-studded celebrity night club was no longer Ghost’s priority, killing him was the most poetic way to address his hubris in this tragedy often of his own making.
Power suggests that Ghost St. Patrick should be the main character of the show. The default position would be to tell the story mainly through Ghost’s point of view and making his family and business associates minor characters with partially-developed arcs. This wouldn’t have served the show’s best interests.
In many ways, Ghost is the nucleus (and patriarch) of the show (as J.R. Ewing was in Dallas), but that would leave the intricacies and complexities of other character relationships unexplored. As the power shifted between the characters, either subtly or unsubtly, so too did their time in the spotlight. This appeared to be a winning formula to keep Power viewers invested in the story over six seasons.
As its name suggests, Power is mainly a story about grabbing, losing, and maintaining power by any means necessary. “Ghost loves power and controlling Tasha (Naturi Naughton) and Tariq,” said Kemp. “Anyone could die in any episode… Until we decided that Ghost must die in the final episode.”
Much of the intrigue of how Power might end, also relied on the use of flashbacks and telling the story through “spectator characters” in a Rashomon style narrative. Every possible outcome was viable.
“Tariq is the main character in some respects,” according to Kemp. “He grows the most as he becomes a man.” Tasha, Ghost’s wife, and Tariq’s mother, also wielded her own power during the course of the TV series, often violently snatching it away from Ghost.
It’s noteworthy that the showrunner also become a mother while season five of Power was being filmed, so she had many of her own personal experiences to infuse into Tasha’s character.
Tasha St. Patrick became an avatar of Courtney Kemp. “I, like Tasha, became vulnerable as a mother, a wife, and a woman.” Being a mother meant that Tasha became a lioness who teamed up with Tariq to take down Ghost and save the family in the show’s grand finale. “The final episode was the final betrayal and Tasha had to act decisively.”
Power was structured to have a bookend finale. The central question was set up in the first episode and answered in the finale.
Although the creators had some idea of possible endings throughout the seasons, it all came down to the evolution of the characters during the seasons before Courtney Kemp finally decided on the ending.
There were many Easter eggs scattered throughout the seasons to leave audiences guessing how the show might end. Although they were not privy to the discussions in the TV writers’ room, audiences were entitled to an earned and satisfying ending. And that is exactly what they received.
“Ghost made choices that led to his death, so he was always the master of his destiny,” said Courtney Kemp.
Since Dallas was the blueprint for Power, Kemp had to make a statement about Ghost and his relationship with his family. “Ghost did everything right by everyone except his family,” she said.
Audiences haven’t seen the last of Power despite its finale. Starz has created a “Power Universe” and commissioned a series of prequels.
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