“You’ve taken this sheriff thing about as far as it should have gone,” says Sugar Bates to Lucas Hood, in the upcoming second season of Banshee. Frankie Faison plays Bates, and he’s acting opposite Antony Starr who plays the hero of the show.
In the first season of Banshee, Starr, a career criminal just released from prison after 15 years, drifts into the bar Faison runs in the titular Pennsylvania Amish town. He then casually assumes the identity of the new sheriff—a man who was murdered by thugs, just minutes after arriving in town himself. This left Starr’s Lucas well situated to keep an eye on his former lover and partner-in-crime, Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic). Carrie had gone on the lam and made a new life for herself as the wife of the local district attorney and mother of two kids—the oldest was actually fathered by Lucas. In the meantime, he has to remain wary of Mr. Rabbit, the ruthless Ukrainian mobster who he’d betrayed and who happens to be Carrie’s father.
It sounds ludicrous, but in the show’s first season, that was part of the fun. Like Strike Back, Cinemax’s other late-night action series, Banshee was pure pulp. Set in a hothouse world, it had generous helpings of gratuitous nudity, sex, and comic-book violence, but enough real human feeling in some of the performances (Milicevic’s especially) to ground it and give viewers a stake in the proceedings. There was also a good joke at its center: Lucas Hood, professional psycho, is the last person in the world who should have been equipped with a badge and a gun. For instance, he “resolved” a hostage situation at the local high school by marching in and blasting the bad guys with his “peacemaker.” Some cops outside wanted to see him charged for a crime, or in a straitjacket, but others shrugged. Sure, he may not do everything by the book—but he gets results!
If Banshee’s first season, at its best, was a gleeful binge on pop storytelling at its most disreputable, the second season feels like the hangover. Right from the start, things are slower and more turgid. Then, in a plotline about how the cultural and sexual repression of the Amish leads to violence, it turns pseudo-serious in a way that’s all too familiar in shows with Alan Ball’s name prominent in the credits. (He’s one of the executive producers.)
Perhaps in deference to some of the mockery they inspired, the infamous sex scenes have been scaled back, which makes the violent scenes, which have most definitely not been scaled back, stand out all the more. But the slapstick, black-comedy edge has mostly been lost, so now they’re just brutal. One of the most unpleasant is a drawn-out torturing-the-bad-guy scene. (“Just tap your foot when you’re ready to talk.”)
The season premiere is obliged to devote its first half to explaining why—given the firefight that concluded the first season—Banshee hasn’t been placed under martial law and there hasn’t been a bright enough spotlight thrown on the town to blow Hood’s cover wide open. The best it can come up with as an explanation is because Zeljko Ivanek’s character Racine wills it. Ivanek plays the big noise from the justice department who sweeps into town to clear things up, and he decides to keep Lucas and his deputies in place, and to throw Carrie in jail, as part of his master plan to flush out Mr. Rabbit.
There’s also a new character in town: the son of the real-dead sheriff, who introduces himself to Lucas and asks for his help in creating a new identity. The situation is a lot like that involving a former prison buddy who showed up in town in the first season asking for help. The difference is that, after giving that guy a chance to clear out, Lucas dumped his body in the river by the end of the episode. Here, the kid is allowed to keep hanging around, even though he doesn’t follow orders any better than the prison buddy did.
“When you live like we live,” Sugar tells Lucas, “it goes without saying, we’re gonna find ourselves in places we never imagined we’d be, looking back wondering how the hell we got there, and why the hell we don’t leave.” Nice try, Faison, but all the fake philosophical claptrap in the world can’t dress up the fact that Starr can’t leave Banshee simply because the show got renewed. The problem is, Banshee is turning into just another show about a lawman with a colorful past that may not do everything by the book, but—he gets results!
Created by: Jonathan Trooper and David Schickler
Debuts: Friday, 10 pm EST
Format: Hour-long dramatic series
Five episodes watched for review