Banshee – The Screaming It Will Not Stop
“Hey, man, have you seen Banshee?” a friend of mine asked me.
“No, never heard of it,” I answered, but I already knew I was going to. He had that look in his eye, that one that only shines when he’s found something unspeakably cool. “What is it?”
“It’s like a really drawn out heist movie,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “Only, you know, it works.”
“I might not be explaining it properly. You have Cinemax, right?”
We watched it. We watched all of it, mainlining it like the narrative junkies we are. The whole of the first season as it came out, and then all in one go. When the second season came out, we devoured that, too. Same deal. It’s one of those shows that gets better with a second viewing but is excellent the first time around, so that worked out well for us.
Banshee is produced by Cinemax and is the best of their in-house original programming. It takes a look at crime and crime stories and spits right in their eyes while laughing, daring them to step up and do something about it.
There is nothing any other series can do.
Make no mistake, there are very good crime dramas on the air – the Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, all their ilk. Banshee is utterly unlike them or anything else on television.
An unnamed man, once one of the best thieves in New York, gets caught stealing ten million dollars worth of diamonds from the Ukranian Mob – with the help of the mob boss’ daughter, who happens to be his secret lover. She gets away with the diamonds and vanishes. He goes to prison for fifteen years, is released, and heads out to track her down.
He finds her. She’s set up shop in a small town named Banshee, left her old life behind her – because the diamonds? They got lost. She’s gotten married, changed her name, and lives in absolute terror of her dad. She can’t help our main character. No one can and he’s got nowhere to go, so he rents a room above a bar run by an old ex-con prize fighter for the night.
We learn a little about the town. There’s a young mayor who works with the former girlfriend’s husband. The husband is the district attorney for Banshee, and they’re dealing with an exiled Amish meat baron who happens to run a smuggling and distribution ring out of Banshee that’s worth millions, who also wants to build a casino with the local Native Americans so he can make millions more.
There’s a new sheriff coming to town. The old one, well, he kind of vanished. Maybe he got eaten. It’s hard to say.
What isn’t hard to say is what happens next – it’s hard to believe, but not hard to say. See, no one’s met the new sheriff – he’s a loner who being transferred to town from the mid-west and is looking for a fresh start. Everyone knows it. So when he stops in the same bar our main character is staying and ends up being killed during a robbery, there’s only one thing our main character can do.
Become the new sheriff.
The problem, it is solved. He has a new identity, and he manages to use his criminal connections to make it look like he’s gone legit. He’s in over his head, running the biggest possible con as the town of Banshee continues on, wailing for the dead like it’s namesake.
Like Hemlock Grove, it’s a show where you sit unblinking, staring at the screen for the full hour, and at the end of the hour you feel like nothing had happened and yet you want to know more. It’s driven by strong characters that are well explored and fleshed out and perfectly acted, the plot carried by their motivations.
Nothing feels out of place. Nothing feels forced. The show is hypnotic, spectacular, setting up an incredible sense of what’s at stake and never losing that sense of tension – the knowledge that the truth could come to light at any moment, and that Banshee would be a worse place without their new Sheriff, than with him.
We get to see and feel the harsh darkness that lies underneath the pastoral veneer of this quiet little town. We see the crimes being committed and the slow destruction of decent men who never understood what they were getting into, the salvation of lost souls who find the power to take control based on what they see in those closest to them, and we see the redemption of common criminals trying to do right.
As mentioned, there’s been two seasons already. You should go and watch them – aside from being some of the most complex and multi-tiered character studies you’ll see in any genre or medium, Banshee also boasts some of the best fight choreography ever set to screen. This is a narrative that sets up its conflicts, so that when they happen, the payoff feels momentous, breath-taking.
None of this would work without direction that is willing to linger on actors and play with light and shadow, to make certain that we see the subtext of every word and deed. The actors, of course, inhabiting their characters so that you forget they’re acting and believe that these are people placed in terribly difficult situations and doing whatever they have to do to get by.
One of the things Banshee gets right is that no one gets off easy. The taint of the lie the main character and his former lover live infects everyone around them, so even if their efforts do make the town and the people they care about better, any revelation of truth will shatter what’s been made better and probably drive the town into a darkness from which it will never recover. Seriously, those are the stakes – the soul of a town, hanging from damnation on a thread of falsehood. It’s intoxicating.
The new season of Banshee starts this Friday on Cinemax, which means all of it will be online for our viewing pleasure. We highly recommend watching the first and second seasons before that happens – they’re ten episodes apiece, with each episode being an hour long.
You can do that, can’t you? And then you can tune in and watch it with us – Aaron will be live-tweeting his take on things, as he’s wont to do, and maybe we’ll get his friend doing the same. Join their conversation and check out something thrilling, heart-rending, and brilliant.
See you Friday.