'Power Book II: Ghost': Mary J. Blige on her role as a 'queenpin' survivor in sequel series

Anika Reed
USA TODAY

It's a game of survival on "Power," and Starz is proving that its drama series is not only surviving, but thriving, with its second installment in an expanding franchise.

"Power Book II: Ghost" (premiering Sunday, 9 EDT/PDT) marks the first sequel after the sixth and final season of "Power" wrapped in February, with Mary J. Blige starring as a dangerous new character. 

The story line continues after drug kingpin and nightclub owner-turned-aspiring politician James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) was shot to death by his son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.), and his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), was sent to prison and charged with the crime. 

"It’s all on Tariq now," Blige tells USA TODAY. "It’s his evolution, and it’s his continuation of the monster that Ghost built."

Series creator Courtney A. Kemp, also an an executive producer alongside Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, says "There were some people really hoping for (Ghost) to win and ride off into the sunset. We always promised the audience that Ghost either ends up dead or in jail,, and I don't think our audience would have been happy with either outcome."

Ghost haunts Tariq and Tasha from the afterlife, forcing Tariq to earn an Ivy League degree in order to gain his inheritance as Tasha broods behind bars, trying to clear her name while protecting her son.

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Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) and Tasha St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton) have an emotional exchange as the FBI gets involved in Tasha's criminal case in "Power Book II: Ghost."

Tariq lands in the sights of another family involved in the drug trade as he tries to hustle money for a lawyer for his incarcerated mother. Along with Blige as as matriarch Monet Tejada, new characters include Woody McClain ("Bobby Brown Story")  as her son Cane and Cliff "Method Man" Smith as high-powered attorney Davis MacLean. 

"Power Book II," like the first series, focuses (appropriately) on  power: who has it and who wants it, in the parallel battles between mother and son and the law vs. the streets. 

"We're talking about different kinds of power (this season)," Kemp says. "The power of a mother's love and the power of a son's devotion; the power of the state; the power of the federal government to regulate our behavior; the power of the ivory tower of academia; the power of sex and sexuality; the power of family."

Tariq formally steps into a leading role in the new series. Though some fans have expressed their intense dislike for Tariq, Kemp defends him as "a good kid who has been led astray by some very treacherous grownups. He wasn't raised to be a criminal, and yet he has become that out of necessity and some of his own terrible choices."

He enrolls in college and tutors his basketball star roommate, who serves as Tariq's introduction to his family: the Tejada drug clan.

In "Power Book II: Ghost," Mary J. Blige stars as matriarch Monet Tejada.

Monet is "a real boss," as Blige describes her, running the operation in Queens, New York, as "one of the biggest drug dealers" in her husband's stead while he's locked up.

"What made this role special to me is not just that she’s a queenpin and she’s a powerful woman … She is a survivor, a single mother trying to raise her children, a woman who survives and lives in a male-dominated world and male-dominated business," Blige says. "She has to do it alone now and she knows how, because she was the one showing (her husband) how to do it."

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Mary J. Blige says he character Monet "is a survivor, a single parent mother trying to raise her children," including son Cane (Woody McClain), in "Power Book II: Ghost."

Blige steps into the role of mom, teaching her three kids how to operate in the drug game.

"Women are always ahead because we have so much to deal with. We have children … that’s just how we’re built. We’re always strategizing for survival," she says.

As the oldest Tejada son, Cane "has always looked up to his father," McClain says of his volatile character who tries to be the new man of the house.

"Every decision that he was making, those choices came from his dad. Not having his dad there, things are just blurry," McClain says. "He’s just trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Cane is always thinking ‘what would dad do?’ "

Of her character's eldest child,  R&B hitmaker Blige says, "Cane is off the chain, he’s real savage," adding, "Monet’s not afraid of him, but everybody else is. She’s a savage, too."

Tariq's dealings with the Tejada family come as he copes with the death of his father and the murder charge against  his mother, who faces hard time for the crime. Enter the slick talking, flashy attorney who might help her out of the cuffs: Davis MacLean.

Cliff "Method Man" Smith stars as Davis MacLean, a high-powered lawyer defending Tasha St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton) in "Power Book II: Ghost."

MacLean, played by Method Man, functions less as a lawyer and more as a law dealer – mirroring the show's portrayal of his drug-dealing foils in the streets – as he shakes down Tariq for a $500,000 fee, all cash.

"I wanted to take some of that great swag and power that he has and put it in the courtroom," Kemp says.

Blige is wistful when she talks about "doing something historical again" with Method Man.

"The last historical thing we did together was (the 1995 song) 'I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By.' I won my first Grammy ever with that song," she says. "And to be on a show that’s culturally relevant and still so popular as 'Power' is to our culture, it’s like 'here we go again Meth, we’re doing it big again!' "

Davis MacLean (Cliff "Method Man" Smith) is a defense lawyer with questionable methods in "Power Book II: Ghost."

"Power Book II" won't be the last chapter in the series: "Power Book III: Raising Kanan," the prequel story that takes viewers back to the ‘90s with character Kanan Stark (Jackson), and "Power Book IV: Force," centering on Ghost's right-hand man Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora), are already in the works.

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