‘The Power’ Review: Sci-Fi Thriller Upsets Gender Dynamics — But Then What?

Ria Zmitrowicz in “The Power.” Credit: Ludovic Robert/Prime Video

There are two things The Power wants you to know: Power frees, but it also corrupts.

That push and pull between freedom and corruption makes for the central drive of Prime Video’s latest science fiction series, which sees women develop the ability to generate electricity. They use their newfound power to change modern-day gender dynamics. But what starts as a tool for liberation slowly becomes something murkier — perhaps even a means of oppression.

Throughout the first eight episodes (of nine) sent to critics for review, The Power walks this line, swinging from pulpy fun to downright horrifying almost at the drop of a hat. It’s a tonal balance the show doesn’t quite pull off, especially when coupled with a baffling treatment of its central conceit.

The Power presents a world on the brink of major change.

Halle Bush in “The Power.” Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman — who also serves as an executive producer — The Power’s many storylines paint a global picture of how the world is reacting to women’s electrical powers, also known as EOD.

Alabama foster child Allie (Halle Bush) hears a voice in her head (voiced by Adina Porter) telling her how to develop her gift. In Seattle, Mayor Margot (Toni Collette) fights discriminatory legislation, while her daughter Jos (Auli’I Cravalho) struggles with her own erratic EOD. Over in England, Roxy (Ria Zmitrowicz), the daughter of a crime boss, channels years of pent-up anger and aggression into any use of her power. Nigerian journalist Tunde (Toheeb Jimoh) travels around the globe documenting women’s stories. And in the fictional Eastern European country of Carpathia, first lady Tatiana (Zrinka Cvitesic) witnesses her husband’s violent attempts to put down any potential uprising from women.

These stories rarely overlap, really only coming together when characters watch each other in news reports or on social media. The lack of intersection leads to a disconnect that becomes especially apparent when characters go missing for one or two episodes at a time. Perhaps that’s why I felt most drawn to Jos and Margot’s scenes, as they are the only two leads with significant amounts of interaction, while still having meaningful arcs of their own. Tunde, too, occasionally bridges the gap between The Power’s leading ladies with a well-timed interview or two.

The disconnect extends to the tone of each plot, which range from Jos’s coming-of-age to Tunde’s journalism thriller to Roxy’s crime drama. Definitely the most jarring is Allie’s journey to find a new home. The mysterious voice, whom she comes to view as God, guides her, telling Allie that a better future is in her hands — and that she is the spark of a whole new revolution. The Power leans too hard on the voice, whose repetitive dialogue and constant descriptions of Allie’s actions dilute Allie’s scenes and her agency.

However, based on Allie’s extraordinary capabilities, it seems like this voice truly exists and is right about Allie. Unfortunately, that realization drastically changes how we view the rest of the show. It’s hard to think about Margot’s political career or Jos’s relationship woes when God is apparently training the new Messiah just across the country. And with the rest of The Power mainly grounded in reality — aside from the electrical powers, of course — the voice of God can be a tough pill to swallow.

The Power has trouble delivering its message.

Toni Collette, John Leguizamo, Auli’i Cravalho, Pietra Castro, and Gerrison Machado in “The Power.” Credit: Katie Yu/Prime Video

The Power seems to pride itself on presenting, then subverting, a feminist fairytale. Its first episodes are full of classic sexist tropes. Women get told what clothes to wear, that they’re too emotional, and that they should know their place. So, when young women develop a game-changing power in a world stacked against them, it’s like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. They feel safer, more protected, more able to express the feelings they’ve repressed for so long.

Of course, men feel threatened by EOD, leading to discriminatory testing in the United States, capital punishment in Carpathia, and the growing popularity of Andrew Tate-like influencer UrbanDox. The Power also draws explicit comparisons between the treatment of EOD and other regulations of women’s bodies, such as a lack of sex education or restricting access to abortion.

It’s not long before women around the world rise up and take action against those who have oppressed them. But once that begins, women use their powers in increasingly violent ways. The arrival of EOD is less a balancing of the scales than the start of major retaliation. Is this retaliation justified? I would argue that in a lot of situations The Power presents, including survivors of sex trafficking freeing themselves, the answer is yes.

However, The Power also shows many women abusing EOD, with some scenes that range towards cartoonish clichés. It doesn’t help that they’re accompanied by an egregious amount of needle drops that scream “girlboss.” Look, a woman with electricity sparking from her fingers just told a man to smile, the tables have turned! It’s scenes like that where The Power truly falters because it simply presents women with newfound powers as mirrors of men in power today.

Notably, the series also fails to consider the impact of EOD on transgender people. Yes, The Power features characters who are trans and intersex, but we never get their in-depth outlook on EOD, which manifests itself solely in people with higher estrogen levels. Alderman’s novel falters similarly here. But as Hulu’s Y: The Last Man adaptation showed, it is possible to update source material in order to examine transness in a world divided along the sex binary(Opens in a new tab).

Despite its best efforts to shoot for nuance, The Power finds itself rooted in the simplicity of “power is a double-edged sword.” Yes, it’s clear that power corrupts, but does it always corrupt in the same way? The Power is maddeningly steadfast in its belief that it does, and that is its biggest failure. The show lacks the imagination to conjure the rise of a matriarchal world that isn’t just a gender-swapped copy of our own — at least in Season 1.

The first three episodes of The Power hit Prime Video March 31, with new episodes streaming weekly.(Opens in a new tab)

Entertainment Reporter

Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter at Mashable. She covers movies and TV with a focus on fantasy and science fiction, adaptations, animation, and more nerdy goodness.

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