Who doesn’t want to see women and teen girls shooting little lightning bolts from their hands? Since its publication in 2016, Naomi Alderman’s bestselling book about girls obtaining electrical powers has been begging for a visual adaptation, and now here it is: The Power, which premieres March 31 on Prime Video, boasting an all-women writers’ room and a cast as sparky as the fingertips of the women in the story.
The basic premise is that teen girls all over the world discover, in the span of a few weeks, that they’ve each grown a special new organ in their bodies that gives them the power to zap people and whatever else they deem worth zapping—the way that eels do. (They really talk about eels a lot in this show, and eels deserve it, guys!) Eventually, the girls discover they can “give” the power to women by activating certain “buds” that live along their collarbones. It’s compelling to envision a world in which tables are suddenly turned on awful men who would, and do, harm women: no car keys gripped tight, no fear of nighttime walks, just a built-in taser at the ready whenever the situation calls for a little jolt. But it’s not necessarily that simple, and that’s what makes this show most rewarding to watch. It has mined the ethical depths of the issues this big change would present as well as its potential geopolitical and interpersonal upsets. The book excelled at this, but the show takes it even further, resulting in some thought-provoking world-building and giving us some mighty fun special effects along the way.
We see this event, and its fallout, through the perspective of multiple characters based in different parts of the world (but mostly the U.S.). There’s Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a London crime boss (Eddie Marsan) trying to prove her worth to her shady family; Allie, a teen in foster care learning to use her voice; Tatiana Moskolev, a Moldovan former gymnast turned dictator’s trophy wife; and Tunde Ojo, the Nigerian journalist who is first to film the power in use and travels the world covering the story, played with charm and depth by Toheeb Jimoh (Ted Lasso). This show has been freaking thorough in its exploration of how the power would be viewed across cultural contexts. And there are more central characters to get into. (There are a lot of characters in this show.)
The family at the center of this story consists of Auli’i Cravalho (Moana herself) as Jos Cleary-Lopez, teen daughter to Toni Colette’s character Margot Cleary-Lopez and husband Rob, played by John Leguizamo. (See? Star-studded.) Leguizamo’s character, significantly expanded from the book version, is a doctor who provides insights into the new phenomenon through a medical lens, encountering ethical quandaries that lead him to spar with his wife, Margot, the mayor of Seattle, who makes the right to exercise the power into her defining political position. These are much more interesting grounds for a couple’s spat than the familiar tale of being too busy for each other, and these two actors really lean into their performances. The acting throughout this show is stellar; that cannot be overstated.
One of the challenges of adapting a book for the big or small screen is that the level of detail a book can accomplish is often hard to match, but the economy with which exposition is delivered in this show is impressive. And not just that: It’s resonant. There are scenes added to this version of the story, like the way in which it’s revealed that Roxy is not recognized by her father’s family, that break your goddamn heart while establishing backstory and character motivation. And some aspects of the world the book creates are updated to reflect the current political and social landscape, which makes the show feel more grounded in reality. For example, when gender conflict erupts in Saudi Arabia, the Moldovan president, watching the coverage, says, “I told them women driving was a bad idea.” At the time of the book’s publication, this ban had not yet been lifted. The show also reimagines an existing character, the sympathetic nun Sister Maria, as a transgender woman (Daniella Vega, star of the 2017 film A Fantastic Woman), loyal to the mean main nun for taking her in back when no one else would. But while we see her, we don’t know, early enough, how the narrative will treat her.
And here’s the thing: Apart from Vega’s character, this show doesn’t do much in its first few episodes to include intersex and transgender folks in the conversation about how the power is distributed. Addressing it later, as in the book, just does not make for a satisfying twist for any viewer with an awareness of these identities. It feels too late, like a glaring omission in a real-world climate where gender-nonconforming people are policed and intersex erasure is still hair-pullingly rampant. It makes you worry that you’ve punched a ticket to TERF town, and presents the central conflict of the show as so binary at first that it’s hard to accept the world The Power presents, however well-researched it is. If not for this, the show would get an easy A-. The performances and storytelling are really that good. As such, it’s a B, with a zap, and definitely worth the watch.
The Power premieres March 31 on Prime Video.