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Power Season 4: Ghost Is Now the Stereotype Black America Loathes

He's a kingpin turned cautionary tale

Malcolm Venable

Power's anti-hero James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) has done many bad things in the three seasons we've known him: dealt drugs, committed adultery and, oh yeah, killed people. Though his devious deeds have weighed on his conscience, he's managed to evade punishment and kept his image as a standup businessman and doting dad pristine... Until now. As Season 4 opens, Jamie is in the worst predicament of his life -- prison -- and his situation will get progressively worse as the season unfolds. Karma is a bitch, and it's turned Jamie into what he feared becoming most: another black man in jail.

The painful irony of Jamie's confinement is that he's locked up for the murder of FBI agent Greg Knox (Andy Bean), a crime he didn't commit -- arrested by his scorned ex-lover Angela (Lela Loren). But that's just vinegar on the wound. Now that he's in an orange jumpsuit, Jamie has to reckon with the fact that he's little more than the age-old stereotype he's always avoided.

Jamie has always been the man who favors expertly tailored suits over baggy jeans. He's made sure his children get dropped off every day at their elite Manhattan private school. He's taken care to manage his image as a nightclub owner, meticulously presenting himself as upscale, not "urban." He is not a thug, and enacts swift punishment to those who address or treat him like one. Up until now, his life has been a total rebuttal of his actual, hard scrapple street roots -- which is, not for nothing, part of the reason his nemesis Kanan (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) loathes him so thoroughly. In Jamie's mind, he is a black embodiment of the American Dream, upwardly mobile and destined for greatness. Jail represents a new low for him... And a way for the slick and sexy Power to offer up a meta twist on a cultural pain point.

Season 4 shows Jamie as the exact statistic black parents tell their sons over and over not to become. And on paper, "drug-dealing black man in jail" is the type of portrayal black Americans theoretically wouldn't be thrilled about seeing on TV. Jamie is no saint, mind you; but he didn't do what he's accused of and represents the lost hope, squandered talent and flawed criminal justice system that's a chilling, primal reminder of racial inequality in the U.S.

Jamie is now one of the African Americans who are five times more likely to be in prison than whites, frequently as a result of harsher sentencing for the same crime. Forcibly removed from his kids, his shattered family life is now uncomfortably reminiscent: some 25 percent of black children have seen a parent -- usually a father -- go to prison, as this report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals.

The results are devastating. Children of imprisoned parents are more likely to perform worse in school, misbehave, suffer physical ailments including migraines and PTSD or turn to drugs -- risk factors we see immediately play out for Jamie's children on Power in the coming weeks. The situation is tragic and, given the context, hard to watch. Yet there's hardly a more captivating, multi-layered criminal or crime drama on TV: last season's record 8 million multi-platform viewers per episode, and this summer's position against Game of Thrones in the time slot are proof that the character and his drama have the uh, power, to captivate -- grim circumstances notwithstanding.

Power: Ghost and Tommy's bromance is over, and other Season 4 spoilers

For Hardwick's part, he sees Jamie not as a hollow caricature but an idealistic, flawed man in a very bad situation. "People aren't coming to [watch] a man who's so, so bad," Omari Hardwick told in an interview last year. "They're coming together to cry over and be mad at and scream at and forgive a guy that's trying to be better than what he comes from."

"Better" is going to prove a very big hurdle for Jamie to climb in the first episodes of the season. His life starts to unravel thread by thread as his businesses are taken over by not-exactly-trustworthy associates Dre (Rotimi Akinosho) and Tommy (Joseph Sikora); his home life is in shambles as wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) questions her loyalty; and son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) steadily sinks into a dark path.

Brandon Victor Dixon, Omari Hardwick and Jerry Ferrara, Power

Brandon Victor Dixon, Omari Hardwick and Jerry Ferrara, Power


In what might be his best turn on the show yet, Hardwick wears Jamie's despair in a haunting, chilling fashion. He looks gaunt and sullen; at times, he's trembling. He endures beatings, gets blackmailed by new enemies, watches his legal defense collapse and sees his children lose faith in him and drift away. As a powerless, nameless number in the criminal justice system, he has failed his family, his clients and his own view of himself. The shame is visceral. Power's onetime king is now a cautionary tale. He's in a nadir, but it's a high note for the gripping series.

"No matter who you think you are, this is who you really are," Jamie's new defense attorney Terry Silver (Brandon Victor Dixon) tells him, as Jamie quivers behind bars. That's that real prison he's in; and the primal fear many men -- and women -- like him in the real world feel, every single day. Jamie may (or may not) be able to escape his prison on TV; but when this season of Power ends, the stereotype, the nightmare of becoming just another statistic will linger for a long, long time.

Power returns for Season 4 on Sunday, June 25 at 9/8c on Starz. The premiere episode will be available at 12:01 a.m. on the Starz app and On Demand.