'It was a nice way to honor the character,' says Courtney A. Kemp
“Let’s kill this motherf—er.”
That declaration from the leader of Julio’s (J.R. Ramirez) former gang perfectly summarizes “New Man.” The sixth episode of Power‘s gripping fourth season doesn’t feature just one or two significant deaths, but three. While in most episodes the offing of Petar (Aleksandar Popovic) and Jukebox (Anika Noni Rose) would be a headline, they take a backseat to the “heroic” last stand of Julio, Tommy’s (Joseph Sikora) right-hand man and a central character since day one of the series.
If the high death toll wasn’t enough, the episode also featured the long-awaited reunion of Kanan (50 Cent) and Ghost (Omari Hardwick) as the duo joined forces to save Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.). Meanwhile, Tommy was escaping his own fatal outcome in Chicago and then beating Holly’s (Lucy Walters) pedophile uncle to a bloody pulp in Cleveland (quite an eventful road trip).
To recap all the craziness, EW chatted with creator Courtney A. Kemp about Julio being the casualty of Dre’s (Rotimi Akinosho) ambitions, the redemption of Kanan, and the “intense” final episodes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This was a jam-packed episode that felt like it had what most shows would have in three or four episodes. Was there ever any thought about spreading out these deaths and stories? Or did this just seem like a natural climax for all of them?
COURTNEY A. KEMP: We only have 10 episodes, so we’re often in a situation where we have to pack in a lot of story because we want to get certain places by the end of the season. In the case of episode six, it was originally conceived of as a Tommy only episode. We were going to do two separate episodes: One was going to be Ghost, Kanan, Tariq, Jukebox, and the kidnapping; and one was going to be just Tommy on his journey to Chicago and what happens there. Unfortunately, Starz would not give us the extra episode. I asked them for 12 episodes for season 4 and they would not do it. So because they would not do it, we had to make it one episode. That’s the real answer. The upshot was that we had to lose some story lines and some story.
The Dre and Julio rivalry has been building to this all season. What was it about these two characters where you felt there would be this kind of animosity? And did you always think this is the way it had to end between them?
No, we didn’t actually realize in the planning of the series that Julio would be the first real casualty of Dre’s ambition. But what we liked was when Tommy became the connect, he was going to have to pick a [distributor] and we liked the idea that he went with Julio. That made a lot of sense because Julio has been around since the first episode. And it also made a lot of sense that Dre would not take to that since he’s an ambitious kid. So it was a natural thing, when you have someone who is okay to play their position and someone who is super ambitious, eventually the super ambitious person will win because what they care about is winning. We just thought that was the best way to do it. I also think that the part of Julio was never going to grow much more than what it was, and J.R. Ramirez is a really talented guy who is also ambitious in real life, so there wasn’t going to be a way to make that part bigger — we only have a limited amount of screen time. It was a nice way to honor the character, show how important he is and how time changes things and how proximity to Ghost poisons people. When we first met Dre, he’s definitely a murderer, but he was kind of a simpler person. Then, Ghost got his hands on him and he became much more diabolical.
Does Dre have some grand scheme or was this his end game? Between this and his situation with Kanan it seems like he’s winging it at times and just doing what he needs to in order to survive.
His grand plan was always to be a better version of Ghost. To be legitimate and be a drug dealer. See Ghost just wanted to be legit; he wanted to leave drug dealing behind. Dre doesn’t want that. He says to Ghost in episode 301, “I want to look clean, I don’t want to be clean.” So his grand plan was always to have a foot in both worlds and to get to be like Ghost. So he really wanted to be distro. There are a whole lot of problems that happen after Julio’s death that are things he never anticipated having to face because all he wanted was Julio’s job. So he thinks, Julio is dead, I’m going to get his job. But it gets more complicated than that.
What went into how you played out Julio’s death scene? Not only does it surprisingly come halfway through the episode, but you really let it play out. Instead of ending it when he gets stabbed for the final time, the action is prolonged and we watch him slowly die as he attempts to crawl away. It really made that much more effective.
I have to give a lot of credit to Dennie Gordon, who directed the episode. Female director, that’s something we should point out because a lot of times I think people still don’t think women do action. They still think we don’t do hardcore violence. And Dennie doesn’t shy away from anything. The decision really was to make Julio heroic, to see the old version of Julio. Because Julio as a character was someone who got out of a gang, didn’t want a gang life or violent life but also wanted to make the amount of money you make as a drug dealer. He did not want to live a violent life and you finally get to see that he was a violent cat and capable of all that s—, but just not into it. He was a perfect match for Ghost in a lot of ways.
You mention the original idea of a Kanan and Ghost episode. Those were probably my favorite scenes of the episode — I loved them having to work together since we’ve heard about it, but never really seen it. Did you look at this as your chance to give Kanan some redemption? And what’s next for him? He walks away, and while I assume he’s going to return, it’s a fitting place to leave him if you did.
And that was by design. This is a season about redemption. So I think it’s important for the audience to know that Ghost and Kanan at one point loved each other. One thing you will learn is why Ghost sent Kanan to jail. There’s a real brotherhood between these two men. Hopefully, people will see when they go into rob the stash house that they work really well in concert, these two know each other, and they know how to do things together. 50 and I talked about this extensively; Kanan is very attached to Tariq. And at the end of the day, he makes a choice against his own best interests and whenever you do that, you will pay for that. So the best version of this was to kill Tariq and kill Ghost like Jukebox wanted. He gets his revenge on Ghost and Tariq is out of the picture… it evens it up. As far as Kanan is concerned, Ghost killed Shawn (Sinqua Walls), he didn’t. That must sound crazy, but in his mind, Ghost corrupted Shawn. So Shawn’s death is really a result of making the kid soft. Whereas, he has taken possession of Tariq and really stolen Ghost’s son out from under him. The fitting end of that story was to kill Tariq right in front of Ghost to make Ghost feel what Kanan feels. Unfortunately, though, Kanan loves Tariq. In a lot of ways, Tariq is the criminal son he never had. So it’s a really nice moment, it’s a good choice that he makes, but it’s against his own best interests. The only person in that room who has Kanan’s interests in mind is Jukebox. When he comes in the room, she says, “This is for his 10 years that you stole.” She’s the only one. Kanan has dropped that all together because he just wants to save Tariq’s life.
This is the first ever Angela-free episode, but she’s mentioned early on with Ghost insisting he’s done with her. Even Tasha (Naturi Naughton) doesn’t believe that after seeing what Angela (Lela Loren) did to her career for him. But does Ghost really believe it’s over for good?
I think that’s exactly what Ghost would say in that moment. “She arrested me, she ruined my entire f—ing life. F— her.” So Ghost does believe it in that moment; he’s not lying to Tasha. But Tasha’s point stands. It’s so important to me when characters have conflict on our series that both characters are right in the scene — that’s what makes it compelling. If one of the characters is wrong, then it’s not an interesting scene anymore.
Teresi (William Sadler) is putting the full court on Ghost about connecting him to Tommy. What can you say about what he wants?
Oh, I don’t know that I can say anything. I will say that he really, really wants to have a connection with Tommy.
I love how when Jason (Mike Dopud) presents Tommy with the order of getting away from Ghost, he quickly acknowledges he’s been down the road of having to kill Ghost and it’s not going to happen. Will Tommy at least be able to fully cut ties with Ghost? Joseph previously said “that unbreakable bond will be tested in a new way.”
The business of selling drugs is not Ghost’s business anymore, really. And so, in that way, those ties are not going to be as difficult to cut. But personal will be almost impossible. What Jason really requires of Tommy is to not have that relationship… I don’t know that Tommy can pull that off. He loves this family. Again, Tommy is a very emotional character; he’s the most love-based character. I know he sets people on fire, but he loves people in a really true and genuine way.
That leads right into my question about someone he did love. Joseph also previously said in regards to Tommy’s feelings over what happened to Holly that “it’s out of sight, out of mind in some ways.” Well, she’s definitely in his mind here. Was this moving past her or will he continue to be struggling with what he did to her?
I always say that it’s deceptive on our show how fast things are happening. Because every episode of our show is about three or four days, in the real world, he killed Holly last month. [Laughs] He’s not going to be over it for a good long time. The audience’s experience of it is that he killed Holly last year. But that’s not what happened, not really. So it’s an interesting thing because Joe is being very smart when he says that to you. We wanted to exercise certain demons around Holly, but we also wanted the audience to understand how deeply this affected him. We could not tell a story about domestic violence and have it be a walkaway. It couldn’t be, “Oh, I killed her and it’s no big deal.” It’s a big f—ing deal. It’s going to affect him for the rest of his life. Every relationship that he has with a woman is going to be in some way flavored with that.
What can you tease for the last few episodes?
The show takes some very unexpected turns. There are some stories and certain deaths that we have laid in that people have been asking for and anticipating, but the way that everything happens is going to be not exactly what you expected. We really believe in fearless storytelling and so there’s going to be a lot of people with big reactions. The final two episodes are probably the best penultimate and finale we’ve done. We really ratcheted up the storytelling to a 15. At the end of The Italian Job, Seth Green’s character says he wants speakers so big they’ll blow a girl’s clothes off. It’s like that. [Laughs] It’s going to be that intense of an ending. I really like people to feel it.
Power airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.