“There will be casualties”
Alan Ball got my attention in 2001 with HBO’s black comedy Six Feet Under. It was one of the most original shows I had ever seen, and to this day I find it hard to characterize the series when asked to do so. It was there that he also introduced me to Michael C. Hall, who continues to amaze me in the role of Dexter over at Showtime. When Six Feet Under left the airwaves, Ball didn’t waste very much time in bringing his quirky style back, this time to the horror genre. True Blood would put a rather strange twist on the lovesick vampire craze, and while that show has not kept up the same kind of clever writing and wickedly brilliant stories, Ball has lent his name and talents to another cable show. This time it’s on Cinemax, and the series is Banshee. And while Ball is a producer and not the day-to-day runner of the series, it is nonetheless another pretty strange show that defies any particular genre or characterization.
Lucas Hood (Starr) is the sheriff of a complicated small town in Eastern Pennsylvania. OK, first of all, Lucas Hood isn’t even his real name. He’s an ex-con on his first day of freedom looking for his lover Ana (Milicevic) and partner in crime. He’s tracked her to Banshee with the help of another criminal associate Job (Lee). Job’s a transvestite who’s wickedly good behind a computer. Those skills are going to come in handy, because Lucas’s first stop in Banshee is a bar run by a former boxing champion Sugar (Bates). That’s where the real Lucas Hood was stopping by for a steak on his way to taking that sheriff job. He gets killed when the place gets held up. Sugar needs to hide the bodies, because they work for local mob kingpin Kai Proctor (Thomsen). And since it appears no one in town has ever actually met Lucas Hood, our ex-con decides to assume his identity.
Banshee itself is an interesting “small” town that isn’t really in Pennsylvania. The show is filmed mostly in North Carolina. In Banshee you have the aforementioned Kai who runs most of the town. The reason a new sheriff was being recruited outside of Banshee was that Kai is good at buying sheriffs wholesale. That means Lucas also has to watch out for Deputy Brock Lotus (Servitto), who thought the job should have been his. The town also borders an Indian reservation which has a casino that Kai has managed to muscle himself into, much to the irritation of young Alex Longshadow (Ruivivar) the new chief, son of the last chief. The town is also home to a thriving Amish community complete with their horse-and-buggy lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that Kai himself escaped from. Throw in your typical crooks and even a motorcycle gang and you begin to suspect that Banshee is not your typical small town after all. Just what you would expect from a series that Alan Ball is associated with.
If you like action, the series does not disappoint. Lucas has had to train himself while in prison, because Rabbit was always sending guys to hurt him. He’s learned to fight, and his punch (or shoot) first and ask-questions-later reactions are getting him noticed with suspicion by Brock. Let’s just say he isn’t going to be a by-the-book law enforcement officer. Expect a ton of fights and plenty of bloody action. He does get his behind kicked on several episodes. It’s amazing how much this guy can take and heal pretty quickly.
The second season picks up just after the events of the first. After the showdown with Rabbit, Carrie’s past has come to light, and her husband, now the mayor, has left her. She’s going to have to do some time. You’d think after such a close call that the team would lay low for a while. You would have thought wrong. The season begins with an exhilarating takedown of a casino armored car. The heist ends up causing a war between Kai and Alex, who is trying to hold on to his power as new chief.
Rebecca (Simmons) makes the most evolution this season. She has now fully abandoned her Amish identity and shows herself to be just as cold and ruthless as her Uncle Kai. Give some credit to actress Lili Simmons, who gets a chance to really let go in season 2. She takes full advantage of the opportunity.
Zeljko Ivanek has been a favorite of mine going all the way back to Homicide: Life On The Street. Here he plays an FBI agent on Rabbit’s trail. He also happens to know Hood’s secret. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he’s the best new face on the show to be sure. Ivanek has been on a lot of shows, and he continues to be one of the best television actors out there. The real Hood’s son also shows up, which causes trouble, but not in the way you’re going to expect it to.
Probably the best thing we learn from season 2 has to do with that original diamond heist that landed Hood in prison and Rabbit on his trail. We learn something huge about that heist that changes everything.
The season’s last episode is another huge showdown, and a few players won’t be back for season 3. There’s a little too much back-and-forth between the present and the time of the heist. Thank God Ana’s hair changed so much, or it would be very hard to keep track where in time we are throughout the episode. It’s a huge departure from the rest of the series, but don’t worry. There’s plenty of action in both times.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is quite cinematic. It’s very hard to judge the actual quality. The filmmakers do a lot of different styles and filming techniques that highly vary things like sharpness, texture and particularly color. You have to get used to the storytelling here and learn which styles mean what things. Within that framework, I’d say we’re getting exactly what is intended.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty aggressive. There’s a lot of shooting, and the audio presentation takes full advantage of the surrounds. Dialog is always pretty clear and well-placed. Even the subs get more action than you generally find in a television series. Here it’s not so much style but a wonderfully immersive experience that takes full advantage of the range of your system.
You get 10 episodes on four discs.
You also get five commentary tracks and a couple of deleted scenes.
Inside The Title Sequence: The titles for each episode are different. They use symbols and photos to tell a mini-story, which is in turn connected to the episode. These pieces allow you to access the symbol info during the sequences. Appropriate images will appear with a red ring. When you see the ring you hit enter on your remote and get the inside scoop.
Banshee Origins: (44:37) webisodes.
Zoomed In: Most episodes have this 3-5 minute behind-the-scenes feature.
The adrenaline ride is addictive. No matter how unbelievable the show got, I still couldn’t wait to see what happens next. The show attempts to take a comic-book approach to the storytelling, and while this is not based on any established graphic novel, it feels like it is. And, of course, the comics have already begun to follow. If you like stability in your story or characters, this one will not work at all for you, be warned now. If you can go the extra mile in suspension of belief and you don’t mind the relationship instabilities, the show certainly knows how to entertain. “I don’t know what’s coming next, but I do know it’s coming.”