Spotlight on … Banshee

So, to celebrate the launch of Banshee‘s third season (in the US. With luck it will come to Foxtel. Otherwise I’ll have to wait for the dvd release. Sigh.) this blog post is about the show so far … just in case you’ve missed it, or passed on it. Hopefully after my burblings you’ll give it a go, because even though on the surface it might look like mindless high-violence tits-and-arse action, in fact the show is an interesting meditation on a whole lot of things.

But to be fair there is also sex and violence. Interest piqued? Then do read on …

The premise of Banshee is simple: a recently released armed robbery convict finds himself in the wrong place at the right time. As a result, he’s faced with the unique opportunity to reinvent himself in the guise of an extremely law-abiding citizen named Lucas Hood. Because he’s looking for the love of his life while being on the run from the man who caused him to be imprisoned in the first place, he grabs opportunity by the throat … and thereby embarks on a truly complicated and challenging journey of self-discovery and personal resurrection.

The world of Banshee is painted in many, many different shades of grey. Given a different past, Lucas might well be an uncomplicatedly good man. Unfortunately circumstances and some bad choices mean he’s a good man who’s done a lot of very bad things – and no matter how hard he tries to be the Lucas Hood everyone’s expecting, he keeps straying from the straight path into the dark and tangled undergrowth. It doesn’t help that he stumbles across some seriously warped criminal activity in his new home town, which requires extreme countermeasures to contain. He can’t ignore what’s happening because he does have a strong (if a little warped) code of honour and justice. He can’t bear to see innocents made to suffer. Neither does it help that he’s being actively pursued by his former crime boss, who happens to be a psychopath who really, really, really holds a grudge.

Even though Lucas is the central catalyst for the events of the show, he’s surrounded by a fascinating ensemble of players. Rabbit, his former boss, is truly horrifying. Anastasia, the love of his life, is in as much of a mess as he is, for reasons that complicate his life even further. Local crime boss Kai Proctor is almost as appalling as Rabbit. Proctor’s rival, Alex Longshadow,  adds more layers of trouble. Lucas has one friend who knows the truth about him, Job: and Job has his own agenda.

Banshee is another cable drama, which means it can – and does – push the envelope when it comes to depicting sex and violence. But while the show can be graphic and brutal it’s never (to my mind) gratuitous. The sexual encounters depicted are either a window into intimacy or exploitation and they always serve a narrative purpose. As for the violence, it most definitely illustrates both the external lives and the interior landscapes of the people involved. At their most basic the violence and action of Banshee show character in action.

What sets the show apart, though, is how it really does explore philosophical conundrums. Are we born, or are we made, good or bad? How much free will do we really have? Can we truly live an independent life? For how long must we be punished for our sins? Is redemption possible? Can we ever escape our past? Is regret enough? Who, in the end, decides our fate?

Banshee‘s writing, acting and directing across the board is excellent. Partly this is because (I think) it’s another show with a short season format. No padding, all narrative urgency. Probably the only instantly recognisable face belongs to Ben Cross, who plays Rabbit so well it’s creepy. He was last seen as Spock’s father Sarek in the Star Trek reboot movies. Lucas is played by little-known Kiwi actor Antony Starr. He’s wonderful. And possibly my favourite character, Job, is played by Hoon Lee. I’ve seen him guesting in various roles, usually as the Asian heavy, which is a sad indictment of Hollywood. He is beyond tremendous in Banshee. Anastasia, played by Ivana Milicevic, is fabulous. Such a wonderfully complex and gutsy female character with her own authenticity and journey.

Honestly, I could name check everyone in this show. Like I said, wonderful acting everywhere you look. Strong writing. Strong direction. This isn’t a show for the faint-hearted or very conservative – there are themes and events that some folk would undoubtedly find confronting, even offensive. For myself, I think those aspects of the show are handled with admirable objectivity. Like I said, there are myriad shades of grey on display.

Banshee is a crime show, it’s an action show, it’s a story about damaged people making choices, the consequences of which ripple out and out and out, touching and changing everyone in their path. There’s no black and white simplicity of good versus evil here. If you get sucked into this drama you’ll find yourself constantly challenged, often shocked, sometimes heartbroken … but never bored.

Seasons 1 and 2 are now available on dvd.





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