“Look, some part of me is nervous about what the audience will think,” Power creator Courtney Kemp admits of the seemingly fatal shot Ghost takes in tonight’s midseason finale of the sixth season of the Starz series. “Some part of me is also really proud of this kind of storytelling, and what we’ve done and the kind of product we have given our audience and led them to expect,” the executive producer adds of the shift to next year’s final five episodes.
With a Mary J, Blige-starring spinoff already in production and more on the drawing board, tonight’s Kemp-penned and Shana Stein-directed episode “No One Can Stop Me” started with the Omari Hardwick’s drug kingpin on the verge of some serious Empire State political power. This being Power, this 10th episode of the supersized season ended with the man also known as James St. Patrick bleeding out from a gunshot to the chest and falling in shock to the floor of his well-appointed Manhattan nightclub.
In a sixth and final season that has seen major characters fall to their fatal end in quick succession, the last minutes of Sunday’s nearly 110-minute episode cut to seven vengeful foes of St. Patrick/Ghost individually moving in on the club with an apparently mutual aim — as this teaser for the last five episodes shows:
The answer to who shot Ghost will have to wait until the second part of the sixth season of the Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson EP’d Power returns January 5. However, Kemp chatted with me about the cliffhanger, the journey to get there for her and the show, and the theories of who did what.
Having come up big in a new deal with Lionsgate for more Power in new series and more, and having come up short in her bid to be elected to the WGA Board during these contentious times in the ever-changing industry, the showrunner also talked about the clues that she’s laid down, the streaming wars, Grease, Agatha Christie, and her biggest challenge for this final season.
DEADLINE: You finally shot and killed Ghost, pretty classic cliffhanger move?
KEMP: Shot, I didn’t say killed.
DEADLINE: A man falling with a heart full of blood coming out the front of his white shirt, how is this man not dead?
KEMP: (laughs) I’m not saying anything. I’m confirming nothing. I’m just…he was clearly shot. I’m not going to say anything else.
DEADLINE: When we last spoke you said that “the last season asks a specific question with the first 10 episodes, and answers it with the last five …
KEMP: Do you feel like you know what that question is? The question is who shot Ghost.
DEADLINE: Omari Hardwick went online today, after the episode debuted on the Starz app ahead of the linear airing, in what certainly reads like a goodbye to Ghost. So, my question is, how does that read to you?
KEMP: All I can say is that he’s in the last five episodes.
DEADLINE: So, like in famous Who Shot JR?-style of that classic Dallas cliffhanger, the last five episodes of the last season of Power is going to give us that answer to who shot Ghost and also reveal his fate?
KEMP: Yes. This is great. I don’t have to say much. But I will say we’ve filmed a lot of different things because things get leaked in the Power world all the time, you know. It turns out that very often content slips away from us, so we’ve got a lot of different endings and false ending, real endings and truthful endings, all in the can.
DEADLINE: OK, but not so fast, because whether or not fans saw this coming going into the end of Power and the launching of the Mary J. Blige-led Power Book II: Ghost series and likely more spinoffs, it’s a shocker for the audience to actually see the main man going down, literally and figuratively, and then lay it out on the road for five more episodes next year as the suspects are whittled down, not holding much back …
KEMP: Look, some part of me is nervous about what the audience will think. Some part of me is also really proud of this kind of storytelling, and what we’ve done and the kind of product we have given our audience and led them to expect. But we ran out of road.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
KEMP: I mean, to be honest with you, with love and all respect, I did not want to end the series in a non-definitive fashion, and then I did not want the audience to go “I don’t know what happened.” I’m going to honor the idea of a complete tale with Power. So, there’s a beginning to this story, there’s a middle to this story, and then there’s an end, and what you’re seeing is me writing the end now.
In terms of like holding back …I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. When we told the network we were going to shoot Raina (the daughter of Ghost and his wife Tasha, played by Naturi Naughton) in Season 4, I didn’t tell them I was going to kill her for a little while, but that was always my intention because why would you pull a punch? So, why would I throw a punch now because like that would be way out of character. What was I going to do, oh, and in the end Ghost gets a punch in the stomach. What? No.
I always knew that I wanted the episode to end like this.
KEMP: It’s inevitable that Ghost was going to run into a situation he can’t get his way out of. We’ve seen him slip out of every possible situation, every possible bind. I mean at some point it has to catch up with him, does it not?
DEADLINE: Listing off Angela, Proctor, LaKeisha and now falling to death’s floor Mr. St. Patrick, to name a few, it’s been quite the body count among major characters to get this far just this season, to get to where things are and towards the end. What’s the perspective, at this point, from where you sit as the creator of Power?
KEMP: Well, the last six years have really changed me fundamentally. I’m not sure that I even have a strand of DNA that’s the same as before.
DEADLINE: I bet…
KEMP: I think the great struggle of the human journey is the seesaw between innocence and experience. Discovery for the first time is really fascinating and really engaging and really wonderful, and then given a second opportunity to do it, or a third opportunity to do something, sometimes you can do it better because you have to learn so many things.
Will it ever be that fresh discovery of the first time? No, but maybe it’s something richer, maybe it’s something more complicated. I certainly have found at least in the next iteration of Power that I’m able to share more of my own personal journey through some things that are happening with the characters.
But I also think even watching this series of Power from the beginning, I think people can see that motherhood became such a very strong theme, as did fatherhood. Parenting became very strong, it became what the show is really about at its core — families, fathers and children, mothers and children, and families in crisis — even though Power was always a show that was about night clubs and sex and drugs.
DEADLINE: Do you feel, as the end of this series looms, that that forest was lost sometimes for the trees?
KEMP: I hope not because fundamentally at its core it was a show about humans and human emotion. It was always about the universal. What was so frustrating from the beginning frankly when people kept calling it a black show or a drug show, because it’s not. It’s a show about New York City and it’s a show about human beings and their interactions, and it’s a show about family which could not be more universal.
DEADLINE: You mentioned earlier about how you always wanted to have a definitive ending to Power. But series finales — as the Game of Thrones guys learned to some backlash, and David Chase got mixed results about the end of The Sopranos — can be so difficult and treacherous. You are a student of the medium, so to avoid those pitfalls what were some of the difficulties and choices you encountered as you went into the final episodes?
KEMP: Oh, I feel like that’s a question we should talk about that when Episode 15 of Season 6 airs because what I’m doing in the last five was the biggest challenge of my writing career, but I can’t tell you about it right now.
DEADLINE: You’re a pro with more road to tell in more versions of Power, so what made the challenge so great, building a bridge to the Mary J series?
KEMP: (laughs) What I’ll say is the biggest challenge for me was throwing off expectations. You know, it would’ve been very easy to write a happy ending for this show. It would’ve been very easy to write Ghost and Angela ride off into the sunset together, and it would’ve been so cheap — like so, so cheap. It would’ve been akin to like the two of them getting in like a Lambo and driving up into the sky with everyone on the ground waving at them. Do you know what I’m saying?
DEADLINE: Totally, very Danny and Sandy …
KEMP: Yes, and I love Grease so it’s not a slam on Grease, Grease ends appropriately, but that’s not an appropriate end to a show that is committed to vengeance and greed. It’s weird because I think it is a soap and there is a level of a crime show and all those things and we skate with reality sometimes, but in terms of like the decision to not tie everything up into like a happy bow, I mean, that’s not me and that’s also not the world, it’s not real, you know?
DEADLINE: Yes, but, with the construction of the first phase of this final season, there is a narrative that also says, I know this trick, that shooting will be no big thing when they come back next year…
KEMP: No. All the clues are there. Honestly, I feel as though I’ve just served you a delicious mystery, now time to figure out whodunnit.
DEADLINE: Perhaps, but you hold all the cards in this game of Clue, don’t you?
KEMP: Well, I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie, so it should feel like we just walked into the drawing room and Hercule Poirot is about to tell us which one of us did it and we’re on the edge of our seats like because we don’t know, we couldn’t figure it out. But we’ve put all the clues there for everyone. If you watched the season you should know what’s about to happen.
DEADLINE: What was getting there as a process like for you, going full Christie?
KEMP: You think I love to write myself into a corner? I super wrote myself into a corner with the end of Power in the last five episodes, but then the last five episodes will also give rise to something else.
DEADLINE: And that’s where you are, the spinoffs, because Power has long been wrapped …
KEMP: Kind of, it’s been a lot of work, and what’s been more work honestly is trying to remind everyone in the process where the audience is per where they are because we are so far ahead. One of the spinoffs takes place in the future a little bit, one of them takes place in the past a little bit. So, it’s like trying to make sure that everybody is cool in terms of what is revealed and what isn’t, what people talk about, what they don’t talk about, what they can reveal and what they cannot reveal. The audience is in what the story is right now. And so, I’m just again always trying to like focus people on where is the audience, let’s talk about what they’re feeling, let’s talk about what they’re doing.
DEADLINE: To switch gears, a bit, one of the things they are doing is watching Power on the Starz app. As Omari’s post made clear and Twitter was blowing up earlier today, once the episode drops at midnight, a big chunk of your audience is digitally engaged hours before the show shows up on cable. Has that changed the way you’ve put the show together the past couple of seasons?
KEMP: (laughs) When we first started airing the show I was so angry about the fact that the show went live on demand at midnight Sunday morning, and I battled with Starz about it …
KEMP: Oh yeah. I said please, don’t do this, this is a spoiler, because the show was living on Twitter at that point. The first three seasons of the show, the show lived on Twitter. I was like you are killing the show, the spoilers are coming out early and Starz was like we can’t change it, it’s just the way the deliveries are.
So then over time I stopped live-tweeting the show because there was no point because I didn’t need to live-tweet it when the audience was live-tweeting it. When the spoilers were out so early, so it didn’t change anything about how we plotted the show. We just grew to accept that people would spoil it. And it was just a big joke by the way.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
KEMP: It’s a big joke among Power fans that once it’s live on Sunday on the app, you have to stay off your social media until you watch it because people just spoil it immediately. It’s lovely to see people say I couldn’t turn on social media until then because it shows their devotion to the show. It doesn’t change how we plot it, but it just changes how we react to it.
DEADLINE: We are all having to change the way we react now, because all the rules of television, as a story, as a business, as a cultural commodity are morphing before our very eyes on our various devices. We are now on the precipice of what is going to be probably the all-consuming streaming wars Apple TV+ has debuted, we’re two weeks away from Disney+, and more will come next year with HBO Max and Peacock. For you as a content creator how do you look at these streaming wars, these new outlets, these platforms, these new technologies in this space in 2019?
KEMP: One of the things that I love actually about Starz getting an app was that I knew that it would be appealing to younger people. Young people being able to access Starz content for me has been really great because our show is skewing young anyway. But also, Starz is really actually committed to diversity in a lot of ways that some outlets have not been, so I’m encouraged by that in terms of streaming.
In terms of like the big streaming wars, so to speak, I don’t know, I think, good content is good content, and so people will gravitate towards that which is good no matter what, no matter if it is new or not.
DEADLINE: What do you mean? Like Power spinoffs?
KEMP: Kind of, but what I mean is when I have Netflix open I’m not always watching new content. Sometimes I’m just watching Frasier because that’s so good. In a weird way I don’t know how much it changes the battle to be a good TV show. You have to be good to be in the conversation. You have to do better to be in the conversation, you know. So, I think that’s the thing is always challenging ourselves to be like that Olympic motto, faster, stronger, higher.
DEADLINE: Not a bad way to run the race, to win it …
KEMP: I think it’s that, isn’t it? Isn’t it ultimately about being better? I don’t really think there’s a conversation to be had other than that. And then, you will poke out of the fray, people will find you, you know?
Years ago, people would say to me, oh, Starz, I don’t have that and then they would sort of shrug when I told them where they could see Power. Now that doesn’t happen because people are like, how do I get that and I say, oh, it’s on the Apple Store, it’s an app, go get it and then they do, and they watch the show. Or we were on Hulu and they were like, “OK, great, I can watch it on Hulu.” Because today, it takes so little effort to find content. All you’re moving is your thumbs and that’s actually great for content creators. It’s fabulous for us because there’s more options.
It’s worse for us in terms of green envelopes and residuals, but hey, I did my part to try to fix that. No can do (laughs).
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