Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Catching up on... BANSHEE, season two

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

After last weekend's binge of Banshee's first season, it seems only fair to report on the following weekend's binge of the second. Most TV shows have better sophomore years, because the writers know what worked and the best showrunners fix things based on constructive criticism. You also have something tangible that you've made, so it's simply easier to develop an existing world and write material that plays to various actor's strengths. However, some shows struggle in year two because they've exhausted their core concept and it can be difficult to retool things for a longer haul now it's successful. Banshee season 2 was, on the whole, an improvement on the first year—although I wasn't in favour of some of its key storytelling choices, and it often lacked the addictive viciousness of season 1.

My biggest gripe boils down to the premiere's unwelcome reveal that Ukrainian gangster 'Rabbit' (Ben Cross) didn't die after taking two bullets to the chest from his estranged daughter Anastasia (Ivana Miličević) in last season's finale. That felt both ludicrous and a mistake that bled into the rest of the season, because large swathes of the story became a weird repeat of the previous year's narrative—with the existence of Rabbit hanging over the heads of Anastasia and Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), although perhaps not weighing quite so heavily.

Considering so much of these two seasons have been spent on Hood and Anastasia's shared history as part of Rabbit's inner circle, it also became increasingly notable how little I care. It may be a crucial part of the show's mythology, but this season drove it into the ground. Why on earth a third of the finale was spent doing a flashback to Hood's life before his notorious failed diamond heist for Rabbit is anyone's guess, because it didn't elucidate anything. The only relevant new piece of information was when one episode revealed that the diamonds Hood stole were just worthless pieces of glass, but that didn't really lead to anything in particular.

Thankfully, it wasn't all about the convalescing Rabbit this year, so Banshee used the extra time to tackle a handful of other subplots—with varying degrees of success. I enjoyed the escalating feud between ex-Amish kingpin Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) and new Indian tribal chief Alex Longshadow (Anthony Ruivivar), which eventually evolved into a resentful partnership; and the situation with deputy Emmett Yawners (Demetrius Grosse) seeking retribution for a racist attack on his pregnant wife also got the blood pumping on a few occasions.

In contrast, I didn't like the half-season arc with Anastasia going to jail because of her role in the gung-ho attack on her own father, because there wasn't any reason to be worried about her being banged up. She's a highly-skilled fighter who's been living around criminals most of her life, not the sweet mother-of-two she's pretending to be in Banshee. I just didn't understand why the show was writing about her penal experience as if it was some kind of nightmarish scenario that could cause her to crack. Her sentence was only for a month and she's more than capable of looking after herself (which she did before the first day was over by beating up the Alpha Female). It was all very odd—as was Hood hyperventilating after being around a prison again, as a man who's spent over a decade doing time and just months as a free man.

One of the stronger aspects of season 2 was seeing how the writers developed the supporting cast into more dimensional human beings—even if their modest development resulted in Hood getting less chances to 'do his thing' in quite the same brutal fashion. We actually got to know the names of his three deputies this year, which I found a struggle to even remember before, and they weren't being written quite as stupidly this time—occasionally even questioning Hood's ignorance of the law, police protocol, and the coincidence of so much shit landing on their doorstep since the day he walked into town. This suspicion hasn't gone anywhere meaningful yet... but the seeds were sown for Brock (Matt Servitto) to investigate Hood's background and perhaps suss out that their Sheriff's an ex-con.

Am I now onboard with the love some people have for Cinemax's Banshee, as a great underrated drama few people talk about online? Sort of, although I still understand why it's been overlooked by most. It's not truly great yet, it's just diverting pulp. However, it's definitely getting better and season 2 offered a more substantial ten-weeks of story that serviced more of the cast better, although the scripts still have a tendency to feel like The Shield meets Justified... but written by the Prison Break staff.

This season was more imaginatively directed than the first and also had a few strong moments of artistry that was good to see, although I personally hate its visual tic of filming scenes that flash-forward seconds ahead of the present (sometimes for no good reason). It tends to just confuses matters and occasionally undercuts the drama of what's happening 'in the moment' with a redundant "preview" of the scene's resolution moments before it actually happens. I don't really understand why they bother with it; it can be maddening to watch.

I hear the third season's the best of them, which already makes a lot of sense before I've even seen it, as we're finally free of the stupid Rabbit situation. Onwards...