Disclaimer: This review is for a Cinemax original TV show and contains some grittier elements than more mainstream reviews, like excessive violence, nudity, and language. It won’t be for everyone.
Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), the sheriff of a small town in Pennsylvania, who battles the local gangster, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), various episodic threats, and his own past. Because Hood is not actually the law-abiding sheriff candidate but a recently-released ex-con and thief who has taken on the identity of that lawman in hopes of gaining back his former partner-in-crime, Ana (Ivana Milicevic), who has taken on her own new persona, that of the local district attorney’s wife and dependable realtor. But everyone’s shaky security is threatened as Hood and Ana’s boss, Rabbit (Ben Cross), begins to track them down, culminating in the epic confrontation of the first season’s final episode.
I haven’t devoured a show in a weekend like this since I first got my hands on the first season of Lost, and later fell for J.J. Abrams’ “other” hit, Alias. But I burned through the ten-episode first season quickly. There’s something about Starr and his fellow actors that is enticing, but it has more to do with the plot from Jonathon Tropper and David Schickler, as it’s executed by producer Alan Ball. There’s a blend of western (think High Plains Drifter meets Justified), crime drama (The Sopranos meets The Wire), and action (Cinemax’s Strike Back) that allows for plenty of dynamic scenes with well-imagined plot development as well, revolving around striking characters.
Hood (the one we know) is a violent man, one who went to prison for theft and refusing to sell-out his lover, but who emerges with a code of honor that’s sets him apart. He’s bound to defend those who can’t help themselves (which is pretty Micah 6:8), like he does in the epic episode, “Meet the New Boss.” [This has by far one of the most violent, incredibly staged MMA fights, as Hood battles a violent rapist who also happens to be the casino’s money ticket.) He refuses to back down, in the flashback scenes to his time in prison, or as the sheriff, to a renegade biker gang, to Proctor, or to Rabbit.
But as much as Hood is driven to re-engage with Ana, he sleeps with every woman in sight. Cinemax’s desire to be “steamy” seems to force feed sex into the show (and cause me to fast forward profusely) and detracts from the folks I can recommend the show to! Which is certainly unfortunate, given that Hood’s redemptive arc shows a sort of “working out of salvation” that more shows could stand to explore. In fact, the show’s last few episodes, when Hood is engaged in making hard decisions on behalf of others in need that threaten his safety and the persona he’s created. One of those decisions involves making a deal with the resident devil, Proctor.
Proctor is bad news, as he uses his meat butchering plant as a cover for his shady business endeavors involving the local Indian casino, selling drugs, and other evil enterprises. But he’s also a shunned Amish man with family in the community, who has respect for the old ways but apparently little interest in any higher power than himself. He looks after his boundary-pushing niece and still seeks to be loved by his brother and father, but his thirst for power has driven him out of his own home.
But Proctor is nothing compared to Rabbit. It’s pretty alarming to consider that this is Ben Cross, the same man who played Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire! But he plays the Hungarian mobster faultlessly, with a less is more approach, using his various means of inflicting pain in prison and in Banshee, rather than actually getting his own hands dirty. It’s one of the greatest differences between Rabbit and Hood: the first uses fear as a motivator from afar, while the second hopes to inspire respect and deals with problems head on.
Too often, I’ll wade through a highly regarded show and fail to see the point of the time I invested or the graphic levels to which its depicted. I’ve loved Game of Thrones (but I was already a fan of the novels), Strike Back (again, with a heavy finger on the fast forward button at times), Homeland, Deadwood, and The Wire, but I fail to see the appeal of Dexter, Weeds, True Blood, or House of Lies. I’m NOT watching for the sex, for the graphic violence, or the language, but I find the plot intriguing. I’d be remiss in reviewing this here, without pointing out that there are certainly drawbacks to watching the show but… aren’t we looking for art in television and movies where we watch people work out their redemption through hard work and struggle?
Seriously, the payoff in the season finale was worth it to me. If you don’t like even the slightest spoiler, stop reading: to watch the retired, stay-out-of-the-way criminal/boxer Sugar (Frank Faison), the cowardly hacker Job (Hoon Lee), the former lover who wants him dead to protect her secrets, and the various, real policemen who have a vested interest in Banshee all band together to fight for Hood’s life BECAUSE HE WOULD FIGHT FOR THEIRS. There’s literally a conversation in the final episode that ends with Brock (Mark Servitto, Sopranos), the cop who should’ve been the sheriff, realizing that he has to do something against his nature because of the example Hood has set. “No greater love has a man than this, but that he lay his life for his friends,” Jesus said in John 15:13, setting up an opportunity for heroics and for disciple-making, follower-making replication. Hood has in fact made disciples in a new style of leadership, of justice, and of community.
Banshee may be explicit, graphic, etc. but it’s got some points to make about how a man can change, find himself, and lead others to do the same. Call it a guilty pleasure; I’ll call it redemption, the hard way.