Sascha Penn On Getting Viewers To Care About The ‘Raising Kanan’ Characters And What To Expect In Season Three

Since its inception in 2014, STARZ’s Power has done a great job of controlling our emotions. The series has made us despise characters one minute, all to make us love and root for them the next. It’s something we see with Tariq, who was deemed a nuisance in the original Power before becoming a favorite in the Power Book II: Ghost spin-off. We also see it with Marvin’s character in the first two seasons of Power Book III: Raising Kanan.

In order to swing the emotions and feelings of viewers from one side of the spectrum to the other, you have to make them overly invested in the overall storyline and their individual plots. That’s what Raising Kanan showrunner and creator Sascha Penn says is most important as the South Jamaica, Queens-based show gets built out episode by episode.

After an explosive finale to conclude season two, Penn sat down with Uproxx to discuss season two, keeping to the show’s pace, and what we should expect in season three.

With season two of Raising Kanan now in the books, what can you say that you’re most proud of in terms of the show’s growth and development?

I’m proud of the character development that we’ve been able to explore. I think all these characters have evolved in different ways. I think there are the obvious versions; Marvin has taken a real journey from season one to the end of season two. All the characters have evolved, maybe at different paces and in different ways, but they’ve all sort of changed. As a writer, especially a television writer, that’s really our stock and trade: character. That’s why people tune into TV, frankly.

I’ll be honest man, I’m just really proud of the work that we’ve all done. I think this spin-off is the toughest one in a way because we don’t have any of the original cast in it. It was a real big and courageous fling by the network to be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do a Power spin-off that doesn’t have Tommy, Tariq, [or] any of the original characters. It’s going to be a period piece and it’s going to be entirely new actors that no one’s ever seen before in an entirely new world.’ I think at the end of season two, we can definitively say, ‘You know what? It works, [and] people care.’ That, to me, is really gratifying.

I feel like season one of the show established the world that surrounds Kanan, and in season two, we see it crumble in different ways — even growth comes at a price. Why was this the direction for season two?

It’s a short stop at the top. I think it was 50 Cent’s voiceover [that] says that about Cartier, but it is. This is not a business where people get to sort of kick up their feet for too long. It’s up and down, it’s up and down, it’s up and down. Empires rise and fall very, very quickly and I think that’s definitely part of what’s happened in season two. I think with Lou specifically, he has a very complicated relationship, not just with his family, but with business in general. He has a real sort of ambivalence about who he’s been and what he’s done. That’s a big part of who that character is. He’s sort of wrestling with himself and, by the way, so much of this is grounded in real life. At that particular time, in the early ’90s, so much of the guys who were hustling did try to push their money into the music game. That’s what Lou was doing and we’ll see more of that as we go forward, him trying to figure [it] out. All these characters are really trying to figure out who they are, and understand how they exist in this world, including Kanan and Jukebox. I think you can expect that there will be more of what you just sort of described: the lumpiness of their journey. They hit great highs, but they also hit real low lows.

You mentioned earlier that the Raising Kanan spin-off is the hardest to conduct out of all the Power spin-offs. I agree with the reason mentioned, but also because it’s a prequel so viewers know what you’re working towards. You obviously don’t want to rush things, but how have you decided on the show’s pace knowing that there is an endpoint that people are anticipating?

That’s a great, great point. That is, frankly, the fundamental challenge of this thing, to be honest. People know how the story ends and they know that guy, they know who he becomes, right? When Courtney [Kemp] and 50 came to me originally, the challenge has always been, ‘How do we make that interesting?’ Well, one way is the character can’t start out in the same place he ends, [because] obviously he becomes that person, so you have to tell that story.

I pay attention to stuff that people say online, like everybody else, and one of the things we’ve heard fairly consistently is, ‘Oh, the pacing, the pacing, the pacing,’ but listen, we have to acclimate you to these characters. You don’t know them, you don’t know this world. This is 1992 South Jamaica, Queens. This isn’t Truth, this isn’t Ghost, this isn’t Tommy. We gotta get you invested in these characters and this world because if you’re not invested in them, you won’t give a sh*t what we do to them, you won’t care — and by the way, as a writer, neither would I. We’re taking the time to develop these characters and get our audience, not just invested, but also sort of seeing themselves in the characters. The thing that was so cool about Power was that it existed in this really rarefied space. Ghost was at the tippity-top of the food chain, [and] that’s not necessarily where Raq and Unique are. They’re at the tippity-top of the food chain maybe in South Jamaica, but not they’re not where Ghost was at all. It’s just it’s a very, very different story.

I think Marvin has by far exhibited the best character development of anyone in the series. What made his character prime for this specific development as opposed to others in the show?

He ended the first season in such a f*cked up place, but you saw how he wrestled with it. Let me just back up and say, first off, it all starts with London Brown’s performance, and maybe I said this earlier, but you have to have an actor who can pull this off because it’s a pretty high ladder that you’re climbing to do this — to take him from where he ended in season one, to get him to the place where you just said he’s your favorite character. Again, I sadly pay attention to too much of this sh*t, and people were so angry, and some people really hated Marvin, at the end of season one. Now, all of a sudden, Marvin is probably one of the most beloved characters in the series.

I always felt like with that character, the way I had originally even imagined him, is that there was something really sensitive about him. There was this innate sensitivity, and that he was sort of injured and damaged, but then he had this big heart. I think that’s kind of what we see here in season two: that he is capable of being self-aware. He goes reluctantly into this anger management thing in season two, that’s not something he necessarily wants to do at first, but then he gets in there and it starts to resonate.

For me, part of my own journey, part of everyone’s f*cking journey, is we can get better. You don’t have to stay stuck in that spot. It ain’t easy, and it’s definitely not fun to really do the hard work and heavy lifting of figuring out how to be a better version of yourself. It’s f*cking hard work, but it is worthwhile. It can change your life, man. I am no self-help guru, I don’t know sh*t, I’m still figuring it out all the time. But I am kind of amazed, even at this point in my life, at my own capacity to be better.

Of all the characters, who do you think has the most influence on raising and molding Kanan?

I think Raq is Kanan’s bedrock — no pun intended. She is the sun around which he orbits, which is really problematic and complicated. I do think that she is everything to him in all the best and worst ways. Now, keep in mind, he does have this extended family, certainly Jukebox, and his uncles are critically important to him, as well as his newfound father. But I do think at the end of the day, it always comes back to Raq. That relationship will go a long way towards explaining how Kanan becomes the Kanan that you now are in Power.

What can we expect in season three of Raising Kanan?

I mean look, if you liked the finale, then I think you’ll feel very satisfied with where things go in season three. That doesn’t mean that there’s a shootout and bodies are dropping in every episode. I do think that in season three, there’s a lot that happens, and there are some new characters that emerge. We’ve done, I think, a very decent job pacing this thing out so we can get to where we are now. Like I said to you earlier, if you don’t care about these characters, you’re not going to care about the show. We’ve spent a good amount of time over the past two seasons developing these characters, making them feel human, and exploring their humanity. I think we’ve done a good enough job that people are responding well, right? So I think if you liked the finale, you’re going to really, really like season three because season three continues on with the groundwork that the finale laid out.

Season 2 of ‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’ is out now on STARZ.