Power Book IV: Force Is Gleeful Gangster Fun Doing Right By The Genre
The Power universe is an unstoppable franchise and extended universe that snobby pundits either ignore or turn their noses up at, Power Book IV: Force, the third spinoff series from the original featuring Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora), the white best friend of the late James "Ghost" St. Patrick, now the main character of his own show.
In Power Book IV: Force, Tommy has headed out of New York with just the clothes on his back and his Mustang. He's headed for California with a new boss waiting for him but decides to stop by Chicago to visit his grandmother, who's now in a home with Alzheimer's. He discovers he has a half-black, half-brother, rekindling his need for family. The stopover ends up getting extended when he muscles in on a drug deal about to go wrong and cowboys the whole scene, saving the lives of the young black gangster and the junior Irish mobster who were in over their heads. Tommy is hilariously unflappable in the face of violence. Amoral but with a strong code of ethics and loyalty, Tommy is "The Man with No Name" in Chicago, here not to clean up the town but to create his own patch. Back to his old tricks, Tommy sets out to make himself the new power player in Chicago. Crime hilarity ensues. Well, mostly murders and a bit of sex, but hey… who's complaining?
Is Power Book IV: Force just a fantasy of a white dude getting to play in the black gangster's playground? Maybe, but taking a look at the ratings that the premiere pulled & the diverse demo they show it's pretty clear there is a lot more going on that viewers are connecting with than just that. In just two episodes, Tommy manages to waltz in and pwn everyone, including the Irish mobsters who are on the verge of extinction. Tommy is different from the other characters we've been introduced to in the "Power" universe: he's cool, aloof, and truly doesn't seem to give a shit (at least on the outside). He expects he'll be killed sooner or later so he treats every situation with the nonchalance of a man who doesn't have anything to lose. The way he's ahead of everyone else in the room and is prepared to go hot in a heartbeat practically makes him the Jack Reacher of gangstas. In real life, there is an excellent chance he would be dead in seconds but this is a power fantasy after all, and there's a "glee" in the scripts that you don't quite find in the other shows. It's fun in the way the show just jumps into all the tropes of the gangster genre without worrying about deconstructing or subverting the genre. There's something to be said for just enjoying the genre for what it is and no more than that, and then doing well by it for the viewers.
The "Power" universe shows are the best TV versions of black crime fiction that are hugely popular but neglected by mainstream critics. Going all the way back to the Kenyatta books by Donald Goines, they're direct, brutal, and unapologetic in the joys of the genre while also tackling social themes like corruption, institutional racism, and police brutality as well as the fatalism of the gangster life. Power showrunner Courtney Kemp has become the Kevin Feige of the "Power" universe, a coherent continuity of characters spread across four shows now, all centered around the first show's protagonist Ghost. With his rise and fall over (?), the characters around his orbit have lives of their own to live now, and Tommy's fan-following eclipses even Ghost's son & killer, Tariq. Power Book IV: Force is the most "pure" gangster series running, doing exactly what the genre promises in all the ways that fans expect. It gets everything right without any fuss or attempts to be clever with the format. It's a gangster show done right, and that's everything we want. Power Book IV: Force is now on Starz.