March 15, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Banshee”


Was this the season that Cinemax’s comparatively low-rent BANSHEE surpassed Justified?  In the subgenre of cop show pulp, the FX series has been the unquestioned class entry, with its distinguished Elmore Leonard auspices and elegantly violent plotting and dialogue.  But with a few episodes to go this season, Justified has felt a bit desultory, a tad uninspired.

Banshee, on the other hand, only improved in its second season, adding heart and moral complexity to its admirably batshit crazy intensity and wildly expert action sequences.  Rather than create a new season-long arc, the way Justified does, Banshee‘s second season followed hard on the heels of the events depicted in Season 1, giving the show a novelistic sweep.  (Not coincidentally, both creators of Banshee, Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler, are in fact novelists.)  The characters and plot all built on what had already been established for them, and gained in gravity.

Season 1 climaxed with a giant shootout led by the unnamed former convict who took on the identity of Banshee, Pennsylvania sheriff Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), along with his one-time (and sometimes current) lover who lives as housewife Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), their electronics and false identities genius friend Job (Hoon Lee), bartender Sugar (Frankie Faison), and Hood’s deputies Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn), Brock (Matt Servitto) and Emmett (Demetrius Grosse).  They waged war against the forces of Rabbit (Ben Cross), the Ukranian mobster who was Carrie’s father and the man whose betrayal put “Lucas” into prison.  Carrie shot Rabbit, but didn’t kill him.

Carrie ended up briefly going to prison in Season 2, as her true identity (but not Lucas’s) became public, and one show vs. show gauge this season has been how much more convincing and wrenching Carrie’s experiences in jail were compared to the sub-Oz adventures of Ava Crowder on Justified.  Rabbit’s continuing pursuit of Lucas and Carrie was one of the season’s plot strands, most effectively and horrifyingly in the midpoint episode of Season 2, an hour called “The Truth About Unicorns,” in which the two lovers tried to find refuge in a rural house Lucas had bought in the hope that they could be a real couple there, only to be tracked down by an assassin hired by Rabbit.

The other continuing story was the saga of Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomson), the onetime-Amish kingpin of Banshee, who heads an unholy trinity with his near-silent henchman Burton (Matthew Rauch) and Proctor’s alluring niece Rebecca (Lili Simmons).  At the end of Season 1, Lucas and Proctor had reached an uneasy mutual accommodation, but the truce ended when Proctor murdered the son of the real Lucas Hood (for sleeping with Rebecca), and Lucas spent the rest of the season taking Proctor on.  We also learned much more about Lucas’s deputies, especially Emmett and Siobhan (with whom Lucas started what looks increasingly like a serious relationship), and about Carrie’s somewhat pathetic husband Gordon (Rus Blackwell), the town DA, and Deva (Ryann Shane), who’s been raised as Carrie and Gordon’s daughter, but is actually Lucas’s biological child.

The season 2 finale, written by Tropper and directed by Greg Yaitanes, took on all of this full-bore (which is the way Banshee does everything)–and more.  The first half intercut between Lucas and Carrie’s final assault on Rabbit’s fortress (a New York church where his brother was the priest), and the fullest account we’ve had of the robbery and betrayal that put Lucas in jail.  Not every show can pull off the action-movie cliche of the heroes walking in grim slow-motion toward their final confrontation with destiny, but Banshee stages action sequences as well as movies that cost 20 times as much to produce, and the script managed both another mass shootout (complete with a last-second surprise rescue) and a quiet, emotional ultimate scene between Lucas, Carrie and Rabbit.  (This time, it seems safe to say, he’s truly dead.)

Meanwhile, back in Banshee, there was enough plot smashed into the last 20 minutes of the finale for half a season of other shows, as Emmett and his wife were murdered by skinheads, Rebecca rid her uncle of his American Indian foe Alex Longshadow (Anthony Ruivivar) in a sequence that was such a gleefully over-the-top softcore porno bloodbath that Scandal could only dream of being on paycable so it could compete.  (And the postscript, which had Kai and his niece seemingly giving in finally to the incestuous overtones that have slithered between them from the start, is one even Scandal hasn’t touched.)   Longshadow’s absence meant that giant Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers) will be returning as a villain next season.  And in case that wasn’t enough, the final scene revealed that Deva now knows Lucas is her real father.

It’s easy to underestimate Banshee because its sex and violence are pitched at such a basic level, but it’s a much smarter show than it lets on.  A show in which a gonzo fight scene ends when one character is decapitated by the cargo container of a 24-wheeler shouldn’t also be effectively subtle, and yet this one is.  Starr, Thomson, Milicevic, and this season Dunn and Simmons give deeply felt, emotionally detailed performances that carry real pain, and that makes all the B-movie, neo-western fireworks that surround them that much more powerful.

Banshee has already been renewed for Season 3, despite ratings that aren’t particularly impressive even by paycable standards, because it’s created buzz in a way other Cinemax action shows like Strike Back never have.  (The network will attempt to build on that with its first real prestige series, the Steven Soderbergh/Clive Owen historical drama The Knick that’s coming this summer.)  It may never earn the widespread respect that it actually deserves, but its fans know that something oddly special is going on in the wilds of Friday Cinemax.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."