The Power Review: Toni Collette and John Leguizamo Star In an Overstuffed But Fiercely Feminist Thriller

The post The Power Review: Toni Collette and John Leguizamo Star In an Overstuffed But Fiercely Feminist Thriller appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: The phenomenon begins quietly at first, just amongst teenage girls — electricity shooting out from their fingertips, seemingly without warning. As more and more young women begin to accumulate this unexpected ability (and more importantly, discover that they’re able to activate it in other women, old and young), the ripples are extensive…

In the center of the storm is Seattle Mayor Margot Cleary-Lopez (Toni Collette), who becomes acquainted with the anomaly firsthand when her daughter Jos (Auliʻi Cravalho) develops the power early on. This complicates not just her family life, but her political career — especially as Margot steps forward as an advocate for those with the ability, making her a potential threat to Governor Daniel Dandon (Josh Charles), who has political aspirations of his own. The scope is much bigger than the Cleary-Lopez family, though: An abused foster girl (Halle Bush), the daughter (Ria Zmitrowicz) of a London gangster (Eddie Marsan), the women of Saudi Arabia…

There’s also a Nigerian journalist (Ted Lasso‘s Toheeb Jimoh), who sees his opportunity to chronicle an earth-shaking event from the beginning, after capturing and sharing some early footage of girls exploring this new power. Because everywhere in the world, women are waking up to their new potential, while forces rise up to try to return things to the previous status quo. The girls might have electricity shooting out of their fingers — but the fear they inspire in others, particularly men, is just as scary.

Fade In on Some Girls, With Sparks in Their Veins: The core of intrigue found in the premise of the new Prime Video series is this — what if adolescent women suddenly had an ability that completely shifted the balance of power within our world? The key aspect is them being adolescent women, a group often marginalized by society — their interests considered trivial, their bodily autonomy under constant attack by authorities aiming to police their wardrobe and behavior.

And that’s just in first-world countries where women have something resembling equal rights to men. In countries where women’s rights are far more constricted, what kind of shifts would occur, if the girls were no longer afraid?

It’s a wild idea that opens up a lot of fascinating angles, and in adapting Naomi Alderman’s best-selling novel as an ongoing series, showrunner Raelle Tucker and the writers show great enthusiasm for exploring as many of them as possible… Arguably too many.

The Power Review Prime Video
The Power Review Prime Video

The Power (Prime Video)

Efforts are made to interconnect the show’s many, many storylines, but the first eight episodes of Season 1 provided for review reveal a show where there are too many ideas, and too little cohesion as a result. In fact, there are so many storylines that a single episode can’t contain them all, with characters drifting in and out of the narrative every other installment — as just one example, Margot isn’t properly introduced until the second episode of the series (which also introduces John Leguizamo as Margot’s husband and Jos’s father) while characters who anchored the first episode drift to the background.

Working to the show’s advantage/disadvantage is that nearly all of these storylines are pretty interesting (leading to disappointment that they all can’t have more screen time to develop further). In fact, the Cleary-Lopez scenes might be the least engaging, simply because they lean a little too hard into nuclear family cliches, especially in the early episodes: Teen daughter enraged at workaholic mother, whose husband is also feeling neglected, while their younger son feels neglected.

That said, the Cleary-Lopez scenes give us two stellar performances, as Collette and Leguizamo do the hard work of making a 20-year marriage feel real on the screen, with Cravalho proving that her acting chops go well beyond her breakout role as the voice of Moana. Not all of the acting is as solid across the ensemble, but Zrinka Cvitešić makes a striking impression as the trophy wife of an Eastern European dictator, and Zmitrowicz is more than capable of holding her own opposite Marsan, a veteran player of tough gangster types. Featured frequently in the trailers is a short sequence in which Marsan yells at Zmitrowicz and Zmitrowicz yells right back — for good reason, as it’s (pardon me) electric.

What Is Gender, Even? One of the bigger hurdles faced by The Power, as a series very much set in the year 2023, is how the basic facts of its premise are rooted in a concept of gender as a biologically determined binary, rather than the more nuanced conversation that’s become much more common over the last decade.

Another series that faced a similar issue was the FX adaptation of Y the Last Man, based on the award-winning comics about an apocalypse brought about by the death of all living organisms with a Y chromosome — however, within the series, showrunner Eliza Clark made a point of discussing gender and biological sex as separate concepts.

Meanwhile, there’s a strain of rah-rah “you go girl!” energy running throughout The Power that would have been thrilling and inspiring in the 1990s, but feels a little out of place today. The existence of trans and intersex people is acknowledged by the show, and handled with sensitivity in those specific cases. Yet the series still predominantly correlates biology with gender, in ways that frankly feel a little antiquated now. It could be a lot worse, though, and there is apparent openness to exploring this aspect of the series more deeply — should the series continue.

The Verdict: The Power might feature a fantastical premise, but it proves frighteningly believable when it explores how society might react to such an extraordinary situation. (Which is to say, cruelly.) There are some dark corners of humanity explored over the course of the first season, anchored by strong characters in fascinating situations. But by trying to do a little too much at once, the impact is lessened.

The season finale was not made available for critics in advance, so it’s difficult to assess just how well The Power‘s first season succeeds in not just bringing Alderman’s book to the screen, but setting the stage for future seasons (precedent for which was set by Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which followed a similar track). But there’s real reason to be excited for a second season, one unburdened by the need to set up the premise, and instead can focus on all these flying sparks, ready to set the world on fire.

Where to Watch: The first three episodes of The Power premiere Friday, March 31st on Prime Video, with subsequent episodes released weekly.


The Power Review: Toni Collette and John Leguizamo Star In an Overstuffed But Fiercely Feminist Thriller
Liz Shannon Miller

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