Photo: Cara Howe / 2021 Starz Entertainment, LLC
the Power the universe has expanded, and if you’ve ever wondered what it was like growing up in South Jamaica, Queens in the early ’90s Episode 1 of the new prequel series Raising Kanan, “Back in the Day”, transports you back in time. I happen to come from the same neighborhood (just around the corner from McDonalds on Sutphin and Linden Blvd. to be exact) and grew up in the early ’90s, so the playground opening fight scene gave me felt like watching the childhood experiences of almost every New York kid who grew up in the neighborhood.
Young Kanan (Mekai Curtis) fights in the park and gets fucked in the ass. In his defense, the fight was unfair. Two neighborhood kids who appear to be a bit older than Kanan and much bigger in stature, basically jump him up while the other neighborhood kids enthusiastically clap. To make matters worse, Kanan’s favorite cousin, Jukebox (played by the talented Anika Noni Rose in Power seasons three and four) is held back and unable to help, forcing her to break NYC’s 90s Playground Rule # 1: When a family member fights, everyone fights.
Embarrassed by the beating, Kanan returns home crying where he is found by his young hood mom, who also happens to be a drug mainstay. Portrayed by award-winning Broadway actress Patina Miller, Kanan’s mother Raquel Thomas, also affectionately referred to as Raq, is exactly who I imagine Queens rapper LL Cool J was thinking of when he said he needed of a “lip service girl”. Like most moms, Raquel shows concern, but she does it in Jamaica’s most southerly way: she makes him fight again. Not only does Raquel casually bring Kanan back to the park to confront the boys who jumped him, but she makes sure he has a homemade gun, batteries stuffed into a sock. (No lie, I witnessed this exact scene in college, but with girls fighting!) With his mom watching from afar to make sure he doesn’t back down, Kanan takes revenge and redeems his reputation in the park.
Raquel’s complex approach to mothering is described throughout the first episode. It is obvious that she loves her son, and she also makes it clear that she wants a better life for him. She accompanies her son to school to meet with the principal and discuss Kanan’s bright future. Like the other male characters in the Power universe, James and Tariq St. Patrick, Kanan is smart – smart book. But also like the St. Patricks, he chooses the street.
Much of this premiere episode is devoted to introducing viewers to key people in Kanan’s life: his favorite cousin Jukebox; Davina, the girl he’s fallen for; Shawn “Famous” Figueroa, his Puerto Rican best friend; his uncles Lou Lou and Marvin; and Unique, the south’s biggest drug dealer / competition from his mother, to name a few. Character development is enhanced by the storytelling of 50 Cent, who plays an older Kanan. We all know how Kanan’s life ended, so 50 doesn’t make an on-screen appearance on the show. However, hearing his voice makes the prequel both authentic and familiar.
Showrunner and former Power writer Sascha Penn also makes room for some jaw-dropping, action-packed scenes. Raquel shows how mean she can be when she arranges for a rude publicist’s dog that she met to die in the microwave. There’s also a local restaurant drive-by shootout meant to warn Raquel and his brothers, and a murder at the end of the episode (more on this later). So far Raising Kanan has all the characteristics of the plot of Power and Power Book II – drugs, guns, shootings and romance – yet the storyline doesn’t seem repetitive.
It’s clear that the show’s romance will hinge on the “good girl wants a bad guy” trope. When it comes to Raq, however, the writers subvert viewers’ expectations. She flirts with Symphony Bosket, the handsome bartender in the name of hell, at Hugo Sanchez’s bar. Raq is the bad girl, that is to say the drug trafficker, while Symphony is a master’s student in town planning. Nice guy with his head on his shoulders – he’s probably never held a gun before. At this point, the remaining love interests – Davina and Kanan, Davina and Buck Twenty, and Lou Lou and Jessica (Famous’s sister) – maintain a much more familiar good girl / bad guy tale, so it will be interesting to see how these love stories evolve, or not, as the season progresses.
The first episode presents the Thomas family as more united and loving than the other families of the Power the universe, the St. Patricks and the Tejadas. At the local restaurant, before the shooting, they enjoy a meal together and exchange laughs. Energy is much less strained than others Power episodes. During dinner, the family praised Jukebox for their vocal performance during the choir rehearsal earlier in the day. Raquel also brags about the opportunity Kanan received to attend a brand new specials high school. Jukebox reveals that she too was approached by the manager, but her odd father, Uncle Marvin, put an end to the idea. At the table, he forgets the comment he made to Jukebox and replies jokingly. While it’s done very subtly here, the show’s writers compare Raquel and Marvin’s parenting styles and the desires they have for their children.
With no real intention to leave his friends and start all over at a new school, the divergent opinions about the million dollar (not to mention predominantly white) specialized high school, combined with the recent drive-by, make Kanan more adamant about his absence. Stuyvesant. He tries to convince his mother that he knows her business better than she thinks. Concerned about his mother’s safety and her future, he wonders what would happen to him if she was murdered. Miller and Curtis pull on viewers’ heartstrings as they describe a close, loving relationship between a single mother and her only son. Despite her vulnerability and her calls to protect her mother, Raquel continues to protect her son by not welcoming him into the family business. However, Kanan disregards his wishes by intentionally failing his entrance exam.
Raquel once established herself as one of the toughest women in the world. Power universe. (Monet Tejada is damn tough. I don’t know who would win in a fight.) During her conversation with her Unique contest, played by rapper / actor Joey Badda $$, Raquel holds on, proving that she is not intimidated by the male dominated drug game. At the end of the conversation, it was Raquel who negotiated the terms of who got which set of blocks: from 140th Street to 143rd Street for Unique, and for Raq, from 144th Street to Sutphin Blvd. However, she does not share this information with her brothers. or his son, so when Kanan learns from D Wiz, one of his brash friends, that Unique’s men were on “his mother’s corner … 140th street”, he decides to take matters into his own hands under the pretext of protecting Raquel.
Kanan and D Wiz mistakenly attack Unique’s corner and end up killing Buck Twenty, one of Unique’s men and Davina’s boyfriend. The scene slowly dramatizes Kanan’s first murder (although the two don’t know which bullet caused the damage). From the moment they turn the corner, he carries his emotions on his face, which change from aggression and anger to regret and remorse. The teens stand in front of Buck Twenty’s nearly lifeless body in shock, giving him more than enough time to grab Kanan by the neck. After realizing that it was Buck Twenty they murdered, it makes me wonder about the real motive: protection of his mother, or jealousy?
Kanan’s decision ultimately puts the family in danger and temporarily strains his relationship with his mother. She puts her identity as a mother before her identity as a drug lord and founds Kanan. However, these identities are forced to merge quickly when she must protect Kanan from the death of Unique’s crew and questioning by the police.
The episode comes full circle when Raq and Unique return to their designated meeting place to discuss business, but this time, due to Kanan’s actions, she has no power to negotiate or force Unique to make any deals. compromise – the ball is in his court. He takes all the blockages and even questions his ability to be a mother and a drug dealer. At the end of the episode, she makes a choice that suits both her and Kanan.
• I live for fashion in the episode. The stylist got the mission right, from the 40 below to Gazelle glasses, leather bomber jackets, door knocker earrings and nameplate necklaces. I can’t wait to see how fashion plays a role in the rest of the series.
• Ah also: hairstyles !!!!
• I bet Kanan is going to use Buck Twenty’s death to get closer to Davina – sucker kick. I wonder if she will ever find out that he killed her boyfriend.