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Sascha Penn and the Psychology of Power Book III: Raising Kanan Season 2

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The second season of Power Book III: Raising Kanan takes us back to early ‘90s South Jamaica, Queens – but not the same Queens viewers left in season one. Raquel is no longer vying for street corners in the war with Unique — she has won that battle and now controls the borough’s distribution. But as her power grows, so does her appetite to expand the business beyond Queens. She’s eager to expand the operation and sets her sights on New Jersey. But with new territory, comes new foes, and this time it’s the New Jersey Mafia.

Meanwhile, another battle brews at home: the fight for her son’s trust. Kanan Stark escaped Queens at the end of the first season after putting two bullets in the chest of Detective Malcolm Howard. But Kanan returns home to find that Howard and the dangerous secret he holds – that he is Kanan’s father – are both alive and well.

While Raquel isn’t about to let this secret upend Kanan’s life and alter her relationship with him forever, Kanan has plans of his own. With her relationship with Kanan profoundly strained, Raquel turns to her brothers, Marvin and Lou Lou, to help execute her expansion strategy. Lou proves unreliable as he starts to turn his back on the crime world in favor of his record label, placing all of his hope on a hot new artist since the light has faded on his previous star, Famous. Meanwhile, Marvin, who last season brutally attacked his daughter, Jukebox, searches for redemption and forgiveness. However, Juke is still mourning the loss of her first love, Nicole, and isn’t interested in granting her father the forgiveness he so desperately craves. Instead, she turns to someone from a past she barely knows to fill the holes in her heart.

In its most common form, this phrase refers to the notion that our shared values, interests and beliefs connect us in profound and immutable ways. They link us. Bond us. “The ties that bind” is a hopeful notion that suggests a universal affiliation, affinity and alliance amongst those with common experiences and principles.

In celebration of Raising Kanan season 2, The Koalition spoke to creator, writer, showrunner and executive producer Sascha Penn to learn more about season 2, the relationship between Kanan and Raquel, the concept of duality, recreating the 90s and more.

Every character in the second season is trying to figure out who they are as individuals. They’re looking into their hearts and their minds and, in some cases, their pasts, to construct and understand their own unique identities separate from their family. It is a perilous journey for all of them, and the discoveries that they make along the way will compel them to re-evaluate everything they know about themselves and each other.

“You know how the story ends, so how do you tell it from the beginning, which is the central challenge of any prequel or origin story. We know Kanan and Jukebox both die so to that extent, but that’s also what makes it fun. We get to explain how they got to become who they became as realized by 50 Cent and Anika Noni Rose and, as is the case with most people, it’s their family and friends and the environment in which you’re raised that’s the stuff that really sort of defines us and gives us our identity,” said Sascha.

“When I was first presented with this opportunity, I felt really strongly I wanted Kanan to have Kanan start off in a very different place than he ends up emotionally and that gives me a lot of runway in terms of story. It also allowed me to really flesh out this world with family members and his mother, who is obviously a central piece of who he is.”

There are so many technical and creative elements that go into recreating that specific time and place of 1990s Jamaica, Queens, but undoubtedly one of the most fun and nostalgic elements for fans is the music, fashion and culture that seep into the streets from every corner.

That level of detail is paramount when it comes to the production design. Creating the world of Raising Kanan involves a lot of research and a lot of people. I start my process by creating mood boards and picking colors for each set, then the set dec team sources furniture and all the other elements that are period appropriate. Even though the show is set in the 90s, a lot of the stuff used is from the 60s-80s because of the demographic.

Season 2 will explore the dynamics of project complexes; Cartier’s apartment, Crown’s apartment, and an art gallery. Crown’s apartment features 90s details, like a sampling keyboard and ceiling. The Jamaica Colosseum was recreated as a 90s nail salon, mixtape vendor, and jewelry vendor, among other stores. Lastly, there’s all the classic hip-hop gear in the recording studio that is still relevant today.

“I was alive in the 90s and pretty conscious. I was in New York, so I have a pretty distinct sense of the way things were at that time. What’s cool and what’s fun is that the 90s is sort of a character in the series. It really gives us this chance to explore the fashions and styles and music and cars of that period. It really brings you back. That period is challenging. Doing a period piece is always challenging from a production standpoint, but it’s also really cool. We show up on set one day and it’s like [you] step onto the block and it’s all cars from 1991 to 1978. All of a sudden, you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine. It’s cool.”

When viewers last saw the Stark family at the end of season one – Raquel, Kanan, her niece Jukebox, and brothers Marvin and Lou Lou – they were all in very different places, personally, emotionally and…criminally.

As the first season concluded, each member of the Stark family found themselves at their own respective crossroads, facing down monumental choices, conflicts, and decisions. But while the individual challenges confronting each of the Thomases may be unique to them, their responses in this second season will impact all of them collectively. Because that’s how family works. For better or worse.

As the threads of family and business get inextricably woven tighter and tangled over the course of events this season, there will be life-altering consequences far beyond the points of no return already faced. But is there an opportunity for some to break free and find their own happiness or are they forever tethered to each other? While viewers know the people Jukebox and Kanan become, viewers still don’t know all the contributing factors that shaped them. Do genetic or environmental factors have a greater influence on your behavior? Do inherited traits or life experiences play a greater role in shaping your personality?

For the Starks, their ‘ties’ as a family ‘bind’ them to each other in ways that are complicated, problematic, and dangerous. As much as each of these characters would like to chart their own course, they are inextricably bound to each other. And while sometimes family connections can feel empowering, emboldening, and affirming, they can also feel like a prison. It’s a past they can’t shake. A legacy they can’t elude. A biology they can’t change.

As season one concluded, Marvin found himself wrestling with his own sense of self as a father and as a man. While Jukebox was forced to confront everything from her own mortality to her sexuality to the integrity of the adults in her life, after the death of her first love. She had finally accepted that she was gay, and she was done hiding it. As our first season concluded, Marvin found himself wrestling with his own sense of self as a father and as a man.

With his burgeoning interest, both financially and creatively, in the music industry, Lou had started to imagine and build a life for himself that was distinct from his big sister’s plans. Lou had started to dream of a life of his own, outside of the family business.

“[Nature vs nurture] is fundamental to the story and the tension. I think that’s the question we all sort of ask ourselves as human beings but also as parents. I think that’s really part of Raquel’s journey. ‘These choices I’m making not just for myself but for my son, what are they going to do to him?’ We know the answer to that, we know that at least they’re going to contribute in some way to whom [Kanan] becomes.”

“The nature versus nurture thing is really a question the audience will uncertainly have to decide for themselves. ‘Did Kanan end up that way because of how he was raised or did Kanan end up that way because that’s just who Kanan is?’ If I’m being honest, I probably fall more into the nurture category than the nature category. In fact, I lean very heavily in that direction as a parent and as a person. It’s a great sort of tension to have in the series.”  

To learn more about Raising Kanan check out our full interview in the video above and our spoiler-free season 2 review. Raising Kanan season 2 premieres August 14th on Starz and the Starz Play app.

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