By Derek Lawrence
October 04, 2020 at 09:00 PM EDT
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Credit: Myles Aronowitz/Starz
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"Tariq St. Patrick's going to jail."

With that declaration from Saxe (Shane Johnson), the first half of Power Book II: Ghost has concluded. Following the six-season run of Power, creator Courtney Kemp mapped out an ambitious plan to expand the universe via four spin-offs, and it's only five episodes into the step one, but the results are a resounding success. Ghost has provided record-breaking ratings for Starz and already earned a second season renewal.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ghost was forced to shutdown production before filming wrapped, leading to a split season and Sunday's "The Gift of the Magi" serving as the midseason finale. The remaining five episodes will premiere later this year, but fans were left with much to think about until then. Among the notable events were Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) turning 18, Raina (Donshea Hopkins) appearing to Tasha (Naturi Naughton) in a dream, Tariq bringing his Robin, a.k.a. Brayden (Gianni Paolo), further into the fold, Tasha attempting to make a deal, Saxe recording Tariq confessing to murdering his father at Ghost's (Omari Hardwick) grave, and Davis (Method Man) and Saxe teaming up to take Tariq down.

Got all that? Well, to get insight into the eventful episode and what's to come, EW called up Kemp to discuss fans warming up to Tariq, how close he is to going full Ghost, and whether or not we can expect to see Tommy return to New York.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, I just have to say congrats on the huge ratings and season 2 renewal. You had this big, ambitious plan to expand the Power universe — how does it feel to see your confidence pay off and validated?

COURTNEY KEMP: I'm so grateful for it. It's been hugely exciting. There were people who doubted that we could do it, so it's kind of great to be in that place of people really supporting the show. That's been really huge, and I'm so grateful to our fans. Our fans are the best fans ever.

When we talked before the season, you admitted that you weren’t taking the easiest road by making Tariq, perhaps Power's most controversial character, the focus of the first spin-off. But you expressed optimism that fans would come around: “I do think that if people get to know this version of Tariq, who is confused and alone and has so much pressure on his shoulders, they will see that all he’s trying to do is survive, which couldn’t be more relatable.” Five episodes in, have you noticed a softening on Tariq from what you’ve seen from the reaction to the show?

Yeah, I think there has been, which is great. People going, "Man, are they really making me root for this kid?!" [Laughs] And that's been really gratifying, that people are seeing him in a little bit of the light that I told you before, which is how I see him. He has had a pretty rough go and he's made a lot of terrible mistakes, but I think there's also parts of him that really do try and take care of the people he loves.

I'm sure it helps people's perception of the character as well when Michael is turning in a performance like he did at Raina and Ghost's graves. I think that's the best work he's done in his career. And it's not an easy transition going from being the child of the lead character to being the lead character.

Absolutely, I agree 100 percent. He's stepped up on every level and I'm really thrilled with him. 50 has done such a great job supporting him. They worked together extensively during Power, so 50 really knows him well and has done such a great job of supporting him and preparing him for this.

This ended up serving as a de facto midseason finale since you weren’t able to complete filming before the pandemic hit. When deciding how to rollout the show, why did this feel like a natural split point? Was it just because it was halfway, or did something about the episode feel like the perfect place to leave fans for a couple months?

Well, it wasn't intended to be a split season and that sort of just happened, but I will tell you that episode 5 of any 10-episode season I do is always a pivot point. It's always where the show will be different from that point forward in the season. So if you think you about season 4 of Power, episode 5 is where Ghost got out of jail. We always do a big shift, and this season I thought it was very interesting to have that pivot be around when Tariq turned 18, because now he's a man in the eyes of the law and that changes things.

And the episode kicks off with the 18th birthday-theme and Tasha's dream sequence. Why did this feel like the right time and place to bring Raina back again?

I feel like for a parent the death of a child is such a life-altering event — it never leaves you. And so it's not like Tasha has lost that feeling for her child, but also I think her desperation to save Tariq is rooted in that she already lost one child. So it's important to underscore that for the audience.

I mentioned earlier how great Michael was in that scene at Raina and Ghost’s grave. The things he says to both of them say so much about where he is right now. Tariq keeps insisting that he isn’t Ghost, but I couldn’t help but be taken by him saying to his dead father, “You were in the way. I had to do it. You’re the only one who understands. I did what you would have done.” Deep down do you think he knows that he is just like Ghost, or is he just hoping he isn’t?

I think he doesn't want it to admit it fully. He's hoping there's a part of him that's not. I think that where Ghost and Tariq really differ is that Tariq makes his mistakes in defense of others. Whereas Ghost was very strategic about his choices and therefore had a coldness, Tariq commits a lot of manslaughter in his defense of others, right? It's not as clean and as adult and as cold as some of Ghost's choices. Ghost's choices are about himself a lot of time and Tariq makes choices about others. But are they the same choice? Is it taking a life? Yeah. So does he know that he's the same as his father? I still think he would say, "But no, I did it for a different reason!" I think he'd try to make an excuse or try to look at it differently.

Yeah, I can't imagine Tariq at this point pulling the classic Ghost move of putting on the gloves, pulling the mask over his face, and sneaking into someone's house at night to assassinate them.

Correct. Will he get there? Who knows.

That leads me perfectly into my next question: Was Tariq ready to kill Tameika (Quincy Tyler Bernstine)? Because he had the gun, he put it in his pocket when she went to get him the glass of water. I think that would have been him crossing that cold-blooded Ghost line and there's no turning back from there.

If you think about why he was there, his mom told him to go. And I think that's part of the issue, that Tasha has a lot of control over that kid. So I don't know what he would have done. I think he probably would have pulled the trigger, to be honest with you. Because she was getting real close.

On Power, Saxe essentially often acted as comic relief and a thorn in the side of Angela (Lela Loren). But it feels like through five episodes of Ghost we've learned more about him than in the entire run of Power. So what have you liked about diving deeper into Saxe?

Shane is an incredible actor, so part of it has just been the fun of exploring more of his range. But I also think there's a lot to be said about what his motivations are and where that character is going to go. And he's one of the few characters left on the show who really knew Ghost and knew what Ghost was about, so it's interesting to have that specter of the real James St. Patrick around for us. Saxe holds that, Tate holds that to some extent, Blanca holds it. So having these people around who are part of that history is really fun.

Credit: Myles Aronowitz/Starz

This episode ends with Saxe and Davis agreeing to team up to take down Tariq. What was appealing about pairing them up, and why did that make sense for both of those characters?

Oh my god, well, as a fan of the show, how did that make you feel?

I was into it. As much as it's bad news for Tariq, I felt like I'm going to enjoy watching these two together.

Yeah, I think they both realize that they have a common enemy, and so the enemy of my enemy is my friend, which is a principle that I use a lot in the telling of this series. So I wanted to team them up — and also those two actors are great together. Davis Maclean is super fun, we're going to have way more fun with him.

I know what you would have even more fun with: Casting Redman.

[Laughs] Don't we need Redman?

That would be magic. I think any show could use Redman, but definitely this one specifically. So hopefully that will come to fruition soon.

I hope so.

Now that you've been able to go back into production and finish making season 1, what can you tease about the remaining five episodes?

Oh, it gets so much more intense. All of the relationships get much more complicated. Tariq has make some decisions, some familiar faces from Power show back up. It's intense.

I know you're not going to be able to answer this question, but I have to ask. Last time we talked, we discussed Tasha throwing Tommy (Joseph Sikora) under the bus at the end of episode 1 and you coyly hinted at what that might mean. So will we see Tommy this season?

As I've said before and I'll say again: If someone said my name in court about something I didn't do, I would want to talk to them about it.

Especially when I know who did do it!

Yeah! I feel like there would be a whole bunch 0f conversations I'd want to have.

The Tommy-centric series Force recently got moved up a little bit from Book V to Book IV. You know that I can't wait for that, so can you give me a little hint at what to expect there?

It's interesting because I spent my morning reading some of the outlines for it. In Force, Tommy is coming out of having lost almost all the relationships that define him. So he has to become a new man, but that's a slow process. And I think the audience will have a lot of fun seeing him in a new environment and interacting with new people.

Related content:

Power Book II: Ghost

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