Power Book II: Ghost creator on killer season finale: 'We definitely escalated the stakes'
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s Power Book II: Ghost season 1 finale.
"I always do what I gotta do. It always comes down to me, my family, and a gun.”
Upon taking the stand at his mother's trial, Tariq, a.k.a. "f---ing Jason Derulo," turned the tables on Saxe (Shane Johnson), leading to Tasha (Naturi Naughton) being released into witness protection in exchange for her testifying that Tommy (Joseph Sikora) was actually the one who killed Ghost (Omari Hardwick). But Tasha's plan is instead to run, first needing to get Tariq free of Monet (Mary J. Blige). While that conversation already wasn't going well, it only got worst when Monet's spot is shot up, with the culprit speeding away in a very familiar Mustang.
Yes, Tommy is back! And he "owes" Tasha a bullet. He's also none too happy to see Tariq, the real Ghost killer. But they strike a deal to fake Tommy's death and put an end to both Saxe's investigation and career as a prosecutor (Method Man's Davis Maclean makes sure he won't be out of work long). Still, Tommy wants more, following Tariq and Tasha to Ghost's grave. Unfortunately for him, Tasha is rescued by the feds and headed to parts unknown, while Tariq is saved by Monet. “We ain’t never gonna see each other again," declares Tommy as he walks off in the dark — and to his own spin-off.
Oh, and did I mention that Tariq killed his professor? With Jabari (Justin Marcel McManus) blackmailing Tariq into letting him write about his life, they meet up to exchange payment, only for Cane (Woody McClain) to jump the gun and shoot Jabari. As the professor bleeds out and pleads for his life, Tariq convinces Cane that he will finish the job. “You’re not a killer, Tariq, you’re just a good kid caught in a bad spot," says Jabari, to which Tariq responds, “You’re wrong. You don’t know me. You never did. You would have realized that I am the bad spot. I killed my own father to protect my mother. I killed my best friend to protect my family. And you think I won’t do whatever it takes to survive?"
Get all of that? To recap the killer (and busy) finale, EW chatted with creator Courtney Kemp about bringing back Tommy, pushing Tariq closer to becoming Ghost, and teasing season 2. For more Power, go read our interview with Tommy himself, Joseph Sikora.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: During all of our chats this season I've asked you about the possibility, so I need to personally thank you for bringing Tommy back. What a way to start 2021 after the hellscape of 2020!
COURTNEY KEMP: Yeah, you asked a couple times and I was like, “Should I just tell him off the record that it’s going to happen?” And it’s finally here.
I was a little nervous when at first you just showed his car driving away. I was like, “Please don’t do this, where we see his car and then it turns out to be some trick.” So I was briefly worried, but I knew you wouldn’t do that to me.
[Laughs] I am glad that you said to yourself, “No, I hate this, don’t do this to me.” We did shoot it in other ways where you could have revealed Tommy, but one of my writers made this very impassioned argument that we should only see Tommy for the first time through Tariq’s eyes, and I really could not find a way to argue that down. But that was a real argument in the writers' room about when you should see him.
Additionally, as I told Joseph, I love that the first time we do see Tommy he is checking in on Cash (Denim Roberson).
If we were going to actually bring the character back, one of the things that was so important was to really honor the Western, the cowboy of it. So to see his horse, literally his Mustang first... And then we’ve always thought of Tommy [as being] somewhat like [1953 Oscar-nominated Western] Shane, so you want to see him come back to the little boy, don’t you? And I think [that] was part of why we did that. Plus, he really did love LaKeisha (La La Anthony) and we want to honor that.
Talking to Joseph, he watched the Ghost pilot and thought, “Well, I bet I get a call.” Even if you didn’t initially tell him, was this always the plan and why did you want to bring him back in this way at this time?
It was always the plan to bring him back. The minute I made the decision to have Tasha say Tommy was the killer in the pilot, we had to bring him back because that now creates what we like to call in the writers' room “an original sin.” And we have a few of those original sins; Tariq’s original sin we haven’t really explored yet. For the audience, the original sin is the death of his sister, but for us in the writers' room, it’s actually an earlier crime that will be explored at some point in the future. But everyone’s original sin is part of why they die or why they come back or why they get hurt. In Tasha’s case, in trying to save her child, we thought the most important thing would be that it caused her to be separated from him.
That perfectly leads me into one of the most burning questions: Is Tasha gone from the show? It sure felt like it could be a goodbye to Naturi and Tasha.
The rules of our universe are such that any character that is not dead can always come back. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that part of what we want to address in the next season is Tariq’s total isolation. In the first season he has someone who absolutely has his back, but what does it look like when he doesn’t?
Part of that is because of the uncle he lost in Tommy, who says they will never see each other again. You are a person in control of such things, so in your mind, do you feel like Tommy's cutting himself off for good from Tasha and Tariq? Will that hold true for him moving forward? Joseph says he felt like it was a finality.
I don’t talk about future series, obviously. You know me better than that, but it was a really good question and I like your style! What I would say is Tommy’s relationship with Tariq does have a period on it because Ghost’s final action was “Don’t kill Tariq.” I’m not saying we couldn’t figure it out, but there is a weird difficulty in telling more story there, because Tommy is a man of action. It was one of the first things I told Joseph about the return as we were conceptualizing it, that he cannot break his word to Ghost — that is a completely different character. So that’s something that makes it harder to tell more story with them, until Tariq is in a different place emotionally. Right now, he’s a kid and he functions as a kid, so it’s also not a fair fight. If we’re on Power Book X and Tariq is 30 and Tommy is 50, different story. There might be a show there. [Laughs]
Earlier in the episode, Tariq declares himself a killer to Tasha, and then he shows that by taking it on himself to finish off Jabari. Do we think he is trying to prove it to himself, or maybe to others?
The idea was actually the opposite. Tasha is trying to protect her son and she’s been away from him for some time, and when he squares off on her he does so as a man. He’s saying, “Look at me. Look at who I really am in this moment, Mom.” And that knocks her back, and Naturi does an amazing performance with that, like, “Oh my God, he’s right.” But the kill at the end is not an assertion of any kind of identity in a sense. Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s not that he wants to be a killer — he doesn’t want that. But what he says is, "It always comes down to me, my family, and a gun,” and he has to do what he has to do. When he says that, he’s also including the Tejadas in that. Because he’s also silencing someone who knows about Dru (Lovell Adams-Gray). So it’s actually a profound statement of manhood, of masculinity, to protect her family. Halfway through the season he turned 18, legally he is a man. We joke about Tariq’s bar mitzvah a lot, “Today you are a man,” and we’re always striving for that moment because that’s the journey and that’s about his father’s ghost, literally, hanging over him. And when they had their final conflict, it was boy versus man.
For so long Tariq has insisted that he isn’t Ghost, but he says to Tommy, “If I ever see you again maybe I’ll be worthy of his name,” and the final line of episode is, “He might not be here no more but ghosts never die.” Is this him finally fully embracing that he is his father’s son, or is he still not quite there yet?
Like grief, Tariq’s acceptance of his similarities to his father is not on a straight trajectory. There are going to be moments and decisions he makes, especially in season 2, that are the opposite of what Ghost would do. And there are going to be moments and decisions where he does exactly what his father would have done. And there are going to be moments when he looks at himself in the mirror and he doesn’t like what he sees.
It feels like Power always has at least one wildcard character, and that role in season 1 of Ghost belonged to Cane. You never knew what he was going to do. And he’s obviously a big reason why Tariq pulls the trigger on Jabari, so where does Cane go from here after the events of the last few episodes, and should everyone be afraid of the damage he could do?
The significant thing here, and it actually came from an idea Woody McClain had, is that Cane knows what Tariq did. That is a very different situation from anything we've had before. Because it was always Cane messing up and Tariq knowing about it. What are these shows always about? Power. Cane has some power in knowing that Tariq has committed this murder. And I want to be really clear that this is the murder of a civilian. We definitely escalated the stakes here. A little preview: We have this moment in season 2 where Saxe is talking about Tariq to someone, and as Tariq leaves the room Saxe says, “Well, now more people are going to die.” And I think there is something very real about the fact that Tariq has gotten himself in this situation where he’s exposed the fact that his presence causes death wherever he goes.
You mention Saxe, and we talked at the midseason finale about how exciting the prospect of a Saxe/Davis partnership was. After that definitely paid off, you’re doubling down on the fun there with them being set up to work together on a full-time basis moving forward. Why was that a direction you wanted to go in? Just loving the chemistry between Shane and Method?
You’re absolutely right, I love the chemistry between them. Those two actors work really well together, they’re both family men, they’re both strong, comedically they both play good tennis. I really feel like great actors play great tennis with each other. I’m going to make an old person reference: It’s very Ivan Lendl/John McEnroe with the two of them. It’s different styles, but it comes out as a beautiful game. I also think there’s a kind of Blackness that Method Man represents and brings with him, and there’s a kind of swag that we haven’t seen on the show yet with an attorney. While Saxe on paper represents an old school, more establishment way of doing things, he’s also capable of bringing tricks. In a weird way, they kind of work together and they should be on the same side, because they both represent a different way of doing things than the norm.
Knowing you as well as I do, I doubt you will be able to give me much, but what can you say in terms of what fans can expect when Ghost returns for season 2?
Well, obviously Tariq has committed a huge murder and there’s going to be a big response to that on campus. Where we had begun an encroachment of his drug life into his school life with the incidents that took place in episode 8 with the attempt on his life and the body in the pool, now his whole drug life is crashed into his campus life in a real way. And Tariq definitely feels like he’s walking around as a ticking time bomb. His relationships are going to get more complicated, and while that’s all happening he’s still got a love life.
Oh, he’s got a lot going on there. He’s killing it in that department.
[Laughs] Men always say, “Oh man, Tariq is really killing the game,” and it’s so funny to me, because it’s like, “Is that what’s happening?” One thing we always joked about in the early years of Power is that Ghost didn’t have a ton of mistresses, even though he was rich and powerful, because mistresses take time. I don’t know if you’ve ever juggled more than one person, but it takes work.
That is part of the reason I’ve been surprised he has so many interested women. This man has no time.
We designed them very specifically. With Lauren (Paige Hurd), he got an old school meet-cute. With Effie (Alix Lapri), there is history, she knows him. And with Diana (LaToya Tonodeo), he represents a whole world that she doesn’t have access to. So he’s very intriguing for all three women because there’s an element of romance in all of those scenarios.
Power Book II: Ghost will return in 2021, while the next spin-off, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, premieres this summer.