It is often said there are only two ways to get out of the drug business — prison or death. But what if becoming a legitimate businessman were a viable option?
That is the question driving the thrilling third season of “Power,” which premieres Sunday on Starz. When the gritty urban drama kicks off this time around, fans will get to see what the life of Ghost (star Omari Hardwick) looks like now that he has invested all of his time, energy and money into his burgeoning nightclub enterprise.
As he attempts to fully transition from Ghost, the cocaine kingpin, into James St. Patrick, the upstanding entrepreneur, the weight and reality of his choices become increasingly harder to bear. For instance, his marriage to Tasha (Naturi Naughton) is all but over, and he’s finally pursuing his relationship with his former high school sweetheart Angela (Lela Loren).
But loving Angela is far from easy because she’s a prosecutor and he’s a recovering criminal and they really don’t trust each other professionally. Plus, Ghost has to share custody of his three kids with Tasha and figure out ways to continue being a good father. Making matters worse, his two oldest kids aren’t his biggest fans because he left their mom, and Angela is struggling to shake off her sidepiece moves as she settles into stepmom mode.
That’s just his personal life. In business, Tommy (Joseph Sikora) is the new kingpin and he won’t return Ghost’s calls — he’s mad at him, too — and Lobos (Enrique Murciano) is lurking in the shadows from prison, threatening to ruin Ghost and Angela’s lives and possibly even have them killed. There are also new competitors and enemies in the nightclub world and fresh allies and employees to groom.
Meanwhile, Tommy has a dangerous new partnership with a racist and menacing Korean gangster (C.S. Lee, “Dexter”) and Tommy’s girlfriend Holly (Lucy Walters) has criminal ambitions that far outmatch her talents. Oh, and Ghost thinks Kanan (50 Cent) is dead, but he’s not and when he reemerges, there will be hell to pay.
What makes season three of “Power” worth watching is that executive producers Courtney Kemp Agboh (“The Good Wife”) and 50 Cent and their writers have stripped down the action and the glamour to reveal what really drives these characters. The melodramatic elements feel too soapy and heightened at times, but thankfully simmer down as the story progresses.
When this happens, the show’s best and strongest moments emerge with memorable and believable performances. For example, viewers will discover by the third episode Tasha’s true intelligence, vulnerabilities and strengths.
Angela’s status as a mistress-turned-girlfriend also belies her conflicted nature and viewers will feel a lot more sympathetic about her situation this season. Factor in Holly’s increased screen time and the necessary addition of Anika Noni Rose’s character Jukebox, who joins the show in episode three, and what you get is a “Power” that finally puts the power in its strong female actors’ capable hands.
Rose even has the ability to make 50 Cent a better actor. Seriously, when you see the scenes the two share, scenes where the man actually stifles his Cheshire Cat smile, the same belief-shattering smile that almost ruined season two, you will hail Rose for the Tony Award-winning miracle worker that she is.
Don’t worry, “Power” is as sexy, flashy and addictive as it has always been. The only difference is the women in Ghost’s world have a lot more to do and say — and the series is better for it.
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and entertainment reporter.
9 p.m. Sunday