Pop Culture

In Defense of Cinemax’s Banshee.

I felt like apologizing profusely to the handsome, dear heart who treated me to a lovely birthday last weekend away from the world. I felt like it, but the selfish hussy in me didn’t allow me to apologize. See, I’d lamented the hotel room’s lack of Necessary Late Friday Night Channels. I know I need to get out more, read more, write more, research more, travel more, experience more, and so on and so on. I know I need to do all of it — like, live a little for pete’s sake — but while crappy reality television still dominates the ratings, fictional television series have grown GOOD. Jesus, it’s almost all good, and I eat it all up like bad brain candy.

Anyway, late Friday nights, for me, at the moment are dedicated to Cinemax’s Banshee.

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I shouldn’t like the show at all. It has a few questionable elements that probably ought to offend my own sensibilities. It holds too many unanswered questions. It refuses to allow me to willingly suspend my disbelief (I mean, there are moments that are just SO preposterous). It contains so much over-the-top sex and violence and WTF moments that, even for a horror fan such as myself, quite often, it just seems gratuitous, just an excuse to have it there for shock value and nothing more than that.

And yet, I love it. I think I love it BECAUSE it doesn’t give a shit. It’s unadulterated pulp fiction.

1. I love the show for its basic storyline: Having served a fifteen year sentence for a diamond heist gone awry, a master thief tracks down his ex-partner/lover, Anastasia, to Banshee, a small town in Amish territory of Pennsylvania, where she is hiding from her Ukrainian mobster father, Rabbit, and playing house as “Carrie Hopewell,” wife to DA Gordon Hopewell and mother of two. After an altercation he had no part in followed by an inevitable murder, the thief, with the help from the town’s beloved bartender Sugar Bates, assumes the identity of Banshee’s new sheriff, Lucas Hood.

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(Lucas Hood after Yet Another Fist Fight)

I realize there are logical errors and inconsistencies  in the show’s premise, but there are also so many distractions happening in the town that craftily shift the viewer’s focus away from the obvious, most pressing concern of the show: How come no one seems to have researched their own town’s sheriff BEFORE hiring him? There are several characters who have had their shackles up around Hood, getting the sense that something’s not quite right about him — the man fist fights as if he’s had AMPLE practice at it, for pete’s sake, and he’s gotten into a physical altercation with some baddie at least once in almost every episode. As Sugar sagely notes, the excitement level in Banshee has been ramped up since the thief’s arrival. Nothing is ever boring when Hood is around.

At any rate, throughout the past two seasons, no one has stepped up to the plate to find out who “Lucas Hood” really is. That is changing though for season three, thank goodness, because I think the secret-identity motif has been stretched to the point of snapping.

2. I love that Banshee seems to be home to more criminal syndicates and shady activity than Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles combined. Banshee, as rinky dink as it is, is residence to such villains as Kai Proctor, an outcast from his Amish roots turned virtual gangster (“businessman” as he claims). Proctor, his silent and methodical bodyguard Clay Burton, and Rebecca, his wayward niece/protégé-and-then-some, may or may not be behind much of the criminal activity that goes on in Banshee.

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(Kai and Rebecca, Game of Thrones style)

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(Clay Burton, creepy as ever)

Proctor’s main “business” competitor is Alex Longshadow, the newly elect Chief of the Kinaho tribe (not a real Native American tribe, incidentally), and the two of them find themselves violently at odds, battling the other for control and payback.

On the Kinaho reservation, there’s also  the rebellious Redbones gang, a group dedicated to taking back the Kinaho land,  led by tribal purist Chayton Littlestone.

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(Chayton Littlestone, he of the mellifluous voice that puts James Earl Jones’ to shame)

And those are just the heavy-hitters of Banshee’s criminal element.

In the past two and a half(ish) seasons alone, Banshee has seen its share of vicious biker gangs, hitmen, white supremacists, thieves (besides Hood and Carrie), mercenaries, MMA fighters, abusive exes, mob kingpins…and even a child-killing Amish schoolteacher.

3. I love that the women of Banshee take care of business…with or without whatever weaponry is at their disposal.

There’s Carrie, of course, complete with fists and guns…and the occasional splintery piece of wooden beam.

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(Carrie Hopewell, aka Ana. She’d do Jean-Luc Godard proud.)

Alex’s sister, Nola Longfellow, a cool one out for revenge with her tomahawk.

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(Nola ought to be the headliner for The Expendables 4…5…6, or whichever sequel is due next. I don’t know, and I don’t care.)

My favorite, Deputy Siobhan Kelly, with a motel room BIBLE.

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(Siobhan’s badarsed sacrilege)

I’d add in Rebecca’s newly adept ways with a gat and an icy stare, but frankly, I’m not all that keen on Rebecca and her icky relationship with her Uncle Kai.

4.  …and, of course, they all have sex with Hood. And why shouldn’t they? What I like about it though is that they do so on their own terms.

Speaking of sex, I realize Cinemax is a running softcore joke, and its series have been primarily geared towards fans of the hypermasculine actioner’s T & A. Banshee doesn’t disappoint, I’m sure, since there is not a single, unattractive (conventionally speaking), primary female character in the show, and all of them bare all. That said, the men in the series mostly do as well (one day, Hollywood will give up the censorship of the penis…one day). Unlike much of the rest of Cinemax, Banshee is actually attempting to garner a female fanbase, and well, the sex scenes make it work. In fact, I’d even venture to say that quite a number of the sex scenes in the show are female-centered, focusing primarily on the female character’s own pleasure. For example, one of the sex scenes that garnered MUCH attention and mixed feedback from its (too vanilla) audience was one where Carrie was enjoying a bit of oral attention from her husband…all the while fantasizing about being the getaway driver in a heist involving Hood, of course.

(Why is it that no one raises a stink over a blow job scene, but show everyone a woman on the receiving end, and it’s time for the damned outrage machine to go into overdrive?)

5. Speaking of the ladies, I love that Carrie, Siobhan, AND Nola have come to the rescue/aid of others.  I absolutely loathe the actioner trope of woman-as-victim, woman-who-needs-rescuing. Haven’t we grown from that yet? In Banshee, when the men are down, the women come to their rescue with guns blazing. Carrie stages and leads an armed team to save Hood from Rabbit. Siobhan does her job with the police and then some (she joins the rescue team of course). Nola…well…  Let me just get to that…

There is an unspoken sisterhood about them, even though they all play on opposing sides. Banshee’s online mini- episodic series Banshee: Origins covers some of that. On the TV show, there was a great wraparound scene recently  that had Carrie breaking the face and dignity of a redneck who’d been harassing her at the diner where she works. At the end of the episode, the dirtbag and his gang come in when she’s closing up for the night, aiming for a bit of bloody payback. Nola enters the place before anything happens, inquiring about the pie, and after the dirtbag gives her a once over and says something along the lines of “Take a hike, Pocahantas,” she takes them all down with everything’s she got…and it doesn’t take much. After the group of men manage to waver up on their feet and hustle out of the diner, tails tucked between their Levis, Carrie offers Nola a slice of pie and a most welcome jigger of scotch, and the two of them seem comfortably content in the other’s newfound company, chatting about guns and shitty fathers.

6. I love the direction and editing choices. Every so often, an episode offers dreamlike, non-linear images and scenes. For instance, one of the better second season episodes had Lucas picking up Carrie from the women’s prison after she’d served her time. He takes a detour on their way back to Banshee, and much to her surprise, he drives them to the rustic dream house in the middle of the country, the one he’d promised her long ago before their troubles hit. The moment he stops the car in front of the house, there’s a brief glimpse, a slow-motion shot of her running to the house, and then we’re drawn back to the two of them standing by the car, looking at the house. Then once again, we’re taken back to Carrie’s running towards the front door, her hair dappled in the sunlight. She steals a happy glance over her shoulder, beaming at Lucas. It’s a brief, gorgeous moment in a show that’s usually heavy with violence and darkness.

7. That soundtrack. Methodic Doubt is the group composer of Banshee, consisting of Kris Dirksen and Dane Short, and their music is something else. From the gritty, hard-edged opening credits track to the melancholic piano reprise of the “Carrie/Lucas Theme,” it’s all good, and I’m not particularly music-savvy, really.

8. That SOUNDTRACK. Again, not much of a music aficionado, but thanks to the show, I’ve been introduced to some great bands and singers — Dead Sara, Nico Vega, and Mt. Royal are on my playlist now while I write this.

9. THAT SOUNDTRACK. I am not normally a romantic, but I am learning how to be one. Carrie and Lucas’ love story, while somewhat overdone (the lovers-on-the-run, lovers-who-will-never-be-together themes are too familiar), makes me weep a little inside whenever I hear their theme play during a tender moment. Methodic Doubt did this to me. Maybe I can now sit through Titanic or The Notebook now without giggling like a kid.

(Well, okay, probably not.)

10. And finally, there’s Job…

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Job is the lethal computer hacker who teams up with Lucas and Carrie for various heists and rescues and whatnot.  For True Blood fans, he’s, essentially, the show’s Lafayette, a much needed dose of sharp-tongued, flamboyantly over-the-top Miss Priss (the Alan Ball creative link is evident). Job is also the voice of reason whenever Lucas forces them into dangerous territory. It’s not as if Lucas ever heeds Job’s advice though, and Job reluctantly finds himself on another madcap adventure complete with detonations and shoot-outs.

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But Job is at his snarky best with his new partner-in-crime and reluctant BFF, Sugar:

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(The irony of the matter is that it quite often IS.)

 

 

 

(Photo and GIF credits: primarily Gregory Shummon of Cinemax. Also, bansheeshow.tumblr.com, Screen Rant, TV Yahoo, Crave Online)

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7 thoughts on “In Defense of Cinemax’s Banshee.

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