Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Review — Season 1 of The Power

The television adaption of this speculative fiction novel raises questions about the nature of the power, imagining a world where women and girls develop the ability to produce electricity in their bodies. 

Content warning: spoiler free, but mentions of sexual assault. 

I first read Naomi Alderman's novel The Power in 2016 for a book club, and it sparked (pun 100% intended) an incredible discussion that lasted well beyond our scheduled time. 

The premise: Seemingly overnight, girls and women across the world develop an organ on their collarbone that enables them to shoot electricity from their bodies. How people react to this sea change in human relationship dynamics is at the crux of the show, with episodes centering around a handful of characters for a micro-approach. 

  • Margot —the mayor of Seattle whose daughter develops the power
  • Eve — a foster kid who talks to God and leads a movement after attacking her abuser
  • Tatiana — the wife of a misogynist and domineering foreign prime minister
  • Roxie — the daughter of a British crime boss who can finally act as muscle for her dad's business
  • Tunde — a male journalist who travels to tell the stories of women with the power

This Show Takes a Few Episodes

I don't remember many of the details of the book, unfortunately, but I do remember the feeling it left in me — impressed, fascinated, and thinking about just how incredibly different things would be if women didn't have to worry about physical violence, sexual assault, and other daily fears. Tuning in to the TV show, I was super excited. But the first episodes throw a TON of characters at you (across multiple continents), and I actually had a bit of struggle to keep up. It's worth it, though. 

The book's author worked with the show runners and they added new characters to make it more diverse, and it definitely works — the addition of trans and intersex characters make it more well-rounded and reflective of our society as a whole. 

From Trauma to Revenge, and the Thin Line Between Them

The Power doesn't shy away from graphic depictions of the physical violence that women across the world endure — including sexual assault, sex trafficking, homicide, and more. When characters with their newfound power are finally able to escape their captors or fight back, you can't help but cheer. But as the show goes on, however, you witness examples of the power used to attack. I kept thinking of the phrase "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Would the power imbalance between men and women just be reversed? After a while, you're not sure who to root for. 

Women's Bodies and Today's Analogy

As women develop this power, the reaction from governments around the world is to contain, to fear, to suspect. Characters talk of requiring girls to register their bodies as weapons. There are debates about segregating them from the helpless boys. This part of the show is all too plausible, especially given the political climate in the U.S. surrounding women's rights the past year or so. There's also a men's rights demagogue that becomes popular among disaffected and scared men watching women all over gain this mysterious physical ability. Watching The Power is like watching a never-ending thought experiment, and it's so, so interesting.

The Math

Baseline score: 7.5/10

Bonuses: Incredible performances, especially by Toni Collette and John Leguizamo

Penalties: First three episodes can be a slog, but I promise it's worth sticking around for.

Nerd coefficient: Not nerdy in a pop culture or fandom way, but for feminist nerds it's an A+. There's also a scene featuring an electricity battle that's not unlike the final scene in Return of the Jedi with Luke and Palapatine.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, new NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo-nominated podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, vidalia onions, and growing corn and giving them pun names like Anacorn Skywalker.