I seldom caught anything on television many years ago seeing as I had very little time for it. This didn’t stop me from trying when I could, and with shows like action crime drama, Banshee, running on Cinemax as part of its network line-up, I watched what I could and when. Sadly, I could never keep up with the series and not ever knowing the full breadth of the story, the big season three cliffhanger was all I knew of the show…at least until recent weeks.
In the months thereafter leading up to the announcement of Warrior, the period Chinatown crime saga shepherded by producer Jonathan Tropper (True Blood) in its rebirth next to Justin Lin under the auspices of Shannon Lee, the connection was already quite clear in seeing the kind of show that Tropper, joined by co-creator David Schickler, was able to realize. Apart from the fanfare, I was a little worried that we were left with an unfinished show with just eight episodes for its fourth and final season, to which reports later reaffirmed fans that the show’s final season was being steered creatively enough to assure a proper finale to the story. Having finally been able to watch the series from start to finish, I can attest to the fact in accordance with my own satisfaction.
Between shooting on location in North Carolina for the first three seasons with the fourth in Pennsylvania, we follow a nameless ex-convict (Antony Starr) who, when he’s not continuing his life of crime, is moonlighting as murdered sheriff Lucas Black (Griff Furst). Between dispensing his own brand of justice behind a badge and often coming to blows with the town’s local crime boss, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), his ruthless right-hand man, Burton (Matthew Rauch), and his nubile understudy niece, Amish exile Rebecca (Lili Simmons), par for the course in keeping up appearances is the constant effort of fending off assassins working for his former employer, Rabbit (Ben Cross), east coast Ukrainian crimelord and father to the one woman our rebranded protagonist has never forgotten in the fifteen years since he landed in prison, Ana (Ivana Miličević).
Season one dives deeper into the consequences of this aftermath, which largely surround Ana’s new identity as Carrie – pertinent to her secretive demeanor about her past as a means of protecting her husband, town D.A. Gordon (Rus Blackwell) and their two children. With Hood in town and wearing the badge if only stay within reach of the only woman he loves, Carrie is forced to tow the line, frequently teetering between reawoken feelings, and burying them, which more often than not equated to trying to bury Hood. Party to matters in this regard and then some is transvestite and master hacker Job (Hoon Lee), with whom Hood shares plenty of years of history dodging bullets and the authorities, and who despite Hood’s own stubbornness, remains practically his bestest friend next to Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison), an ex-boxer who runs the bar that eventually bore witness to the events that birthed Hood’s new identity.
Season one ends on something of a cliffhanger with things finally coming full circle in the next two seasons a little more, although not without spilling more blood in the process. The murder of a young Kinoha girl and the fight to vindicate a missing Amish boy are the early seeds planted for a coming war between the Banshee police, and menacing Kinaho tribalist, killer and leader of the Redbones gang, Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers) – this, in addtion to one of the show’s darkest moments of retribution when Banshee deputy Emmett Yawners (Demetrius Grosse) is forced to mitigate his own conscience and deal swift justice to a trio of skinheads who attack his wife. On the criminal/political front, newly appointed Kinaho chief Alex Longshadow (Anthony Ruvivar) gets cornered into choose between his dissent toward Proctor, and honoring his father’s wishes, even as tribal politics aren’t necessarily in his favor.
As for Hood, he eventually finds romantic reprieve in Banshee deputy Siohban Kelly (Trieste Kelly Dunn), while adhering to a maverick style of business that frequently gets under the skin of the department’s ever-sticktoitive and by-the-book, longest-serving deputy Brock Lotus (Matt Servitto), in addition to having galvanized a team of thieves of his own with Job, Sugar, and the beleagured Carrie whose days right then as a working waitress couldn’t end soon enough. Hood’s romance proves to be a little short-lived though, when trouble comes to town in the form of the real Hood’s son, loanshark he owes and the FBI agent with the goods on Hood’s real identity. Of course, none of this compares to what lies ahead for the Banshee police department. Details aside, it’s one bloody reprisal after another, between Chayton’s war with the police, and a heist that goes haywire when Hood and his team of thieves eye shuttering military base run by a courrpt U.S. Colonel (Warrior co-star Langley Kirkwood) who embraces his psychopathic side, and a Job is soon captured and taken to a black site where he’s tortured and imprisoned for nearly two years.
Season four was really well done for a package that allowed only eight episodes compared to its predecessors. Obviously there are dangers for telling too much story as opposed to not telling enough, and thankfully for fans who followed the show during its run, the fourth and final season invokes and involves as much as it needs to in its execution. In sum, there’s a gap in the timeline between seasons three and four that are hinted enough for the story to carry along. In part, it involves the death of a major series character, Job’s attempted rescue, and Hood coming to terms with Lotus and the long lost daughter he shares with Ana/Carrie who herself sets out on a quest of retribution against Proctor’s crime ring, while Hood aids the hunt for a satanic serial killer of young women and his cult, and an ex-white supremacist-cum-lawman Kurt Bunker (Tom Pelphrey) coming to a head with his estranged brother, Calvin (Chris Coy) who leads the local charter of the Aryan Brotherhood as it tries to wedge its way into Proctor’s illicit drug market, setting the stage for a violent and personal showdown on multiple fronts.
I could go on for paragraphs about the action, but the real driving force here is how the characters are written. With Starr’s portrayal of Hood, you get a character whose only vulnerability stands to happen only when the woman he loves is in the room despite how much she initially wants nothing to do with him. Their romance is almost unavoidable at each turn as the days pass with Hood donning the badge and often times performing feats that you think would win her over, none of which are superficial; Carrie tends to take the initiative in ways that are detrimental to her former fling in order to protect her new life, and of course she’s acting out of fear, however misplaced that fear is. It’s not until near the end of the first season when she finally sees her err in judgement, though that doesn’t mean our two ex-lovebirds will ride off into the sunset, with Carrie eventually forced to suffer the consequences of all her secrecy in the midst of fending off all of Rabbits assassins before hunting him down with Hood not once, but twice.
I loved the chemistry shared between the roles of Hood and Bates. The writing here is absolutely exquisite in its work toward setting the stage for an acquaintantship-turned-friendship among strangers who both share respective pasts. I suppose surviving shootouts, burying the bodies of scumbags and an incumbent sheriff-elect on his worst day, and carrying a fuckton of empathy would contribute greatly to that, especially for an aged ex-pugilist at the twilight of his working life and who for all intents and purposes, is a good man who deserves better than what he has at the place he is. His friendship with Job is not without its shared amusement either, from one ageist quip and insult to the next; Sugar’s tongue isn’t as sharp – he takes everything Job says with a grain of salt and a great deal of acceptance and understanding of who Job is as a person, and that’s where we get into one of the show’s best and most beloved characters. Lee’s portrayal of Job brings an air of delight with each scene, between the action, the riveting drama, and the utter black comedy.
Job isn’t very sentimental. Point in fact, he’s far from sentimental. A lover of the citylife and all things tech, and thing fabulous and full of glamour, he doesn’t take shit from anyone. Nor does he stand on ceremony much for any reason, and so by season four when he’s offered to do some damage to someone who wronged him, he doesn’t hesitate to shoot them in the fucking head without question. It speaks to his wisdom and survival skills, and willingness to see past the layers of bullshit in order to get to the heart of any matter – a trait that you could easily say matches energies with his reputation as the cyberworld’s most infamous hacker. Despite all this and the prospects of the occasional heist plan promising some monetary gain or value that could benefit Job, it’s suprising as it is admirable and understanable that no matter how disagreeable things get pertaining to Hood’s lovelorn over Carrie and his unwillingness to leave Banshee for greener pastures, Job sticks around and covers his six, whether its a broken heart to the burden of the badge, or a hail of bullets. By the end of the series, Job’s send-off is as hilarious and poignant as you could hope for.
Of course, you have to give it to Thomsen for bringing one of the most odd, discomforting villains to the forefront of TV in the palatable, albeit vindictive Proctor, whose meat plant acts as a front for his larger drug operations out of Banshee. He’s the most unassuming villian you’ll come across in this world and if you’re not careful, he’ll cut you down where you stand. He’s menacingly reserved in his ability to impose fear onto others with little effort. He wears a suit everyday and comes and goes to work like anyone else. On the flipside, he’s an Amish exile who bares the tattoo of a cross as a “fuck you” to anyone threatening that God will judge him. He practices murdering people in his head on his Wing Chun dummy, and so while his affable demeanor may be funny to some, his hands aren’t and they’re rated E for everybody within striking distance, including and especially Hood on at least two occasions.
That anyone sees Burton as the one who does that kind of work for Proctor instead has the picture wrong from every angle. They’re both terrible as they are ruthless in their ways, a fact that rubs off on Rebecca so much so that while her hands aren’t exactly weapons, the fact is she’s a woman who will use her sexuality as a weapon, which, you could say, makes her the most dangerous in Proctor’s corner. It’s also not as black and white as you might perceive it at first, and so therein lies the defining line we all must draw when it comes to villains we can like, versus villains with whom we should all relish in our hate. The complexity extends to pretty much nearly every major villain in the show, save for one, and it’s an interesting caveat to keep in mind between episodes.
From the top, one major characteristic of this show that initially drew me to it at first was the action. By then, I had decided to get a hold of this show midway in season three and eventually stumbled onto a fight scene involving Miličević and Blackwell as estranged couple Carrie and Gordon, the latter who also happens to be a Gulf War hero which promptly explains his ability to go pound for pound with the occasional scumbag in the series. The fight scene was one of several I caught at the time before ever seeing the show in full, including one of the most brutal of the bunch, the deadly battle performed by Rauch as Burton, and actress Odette Annable in the role of the aforementioned Alex’s sister, Nola, who initally arrives in time to stand aside her brother as he squares off against the tribal council for his inability to lead.
I would even go so far as to say that the Burton V. Nola fight is probably the best fight scene out of the whole show, and that isn’t to discredit the rest of the action sequences. Here though, you get a knock-down, drag-out brawl fest between two raw, hardcore killers in their element beginning Nola launching a fucking Tomahawk at Burton. The cinematography follows every moment of close-quarters chaos, and there’s a shot of Burton popping open a tool kit full of sharp objects before the scene reaches its gory peak. Each shot matches the mood of the fight at every turn, and it’s indeed one of the most celebrated fight scenes of the show among fans, including members of the stunt community familiar with the team and their work. The remainder of the action sequences in Banshee are little to do with what you most expect compared to the opposite. The fight scenes and epic gun battles are so fierce and violent that I would go so far as to say that compared to this show, a film like Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat was tame as hell (I gave that film an ample review supporting it, which does deserve revisiting at some point for reasons other than the action).
Further credit is due to the creative team behind Banshee for its concious efforts to build a world that’s defined much more by its segmented demographics, including the Amish locals, and the diaspora of Indigenous peoples. Indeed, location matters where logistics apply, and for a rural township at the root of a larger story, it was important for the dimensions to be there. It speaks to the creators’ inherent ability to build worlds as he’s so done, especially in the Bruce Lee-inspired Warrior where we get to explore 1870s San Francisco and the brewing divide between Chinese migrants and the local White Americans and Irish, and where occasional love stories unravel between several characters of different backgrounds and languges.
We look at Warrior and watch as the beauty takes shape, embedded in the grit, dirt, blood, sweat and brutality of the story, and the reverent drama that underscores it all, and part and parcel to the topic of inclusion and equity in television and film, it’s easy to see why people fought so hard (myself included) to have that show reinstated, now due for a return via HBO Max in the next few years after it was so shockingly canceled last January. Fans not only loved the action, but the story incorporated with it all, and to that end, that’s just it. The exemplary factor of this show’s predecessor, Banshee, to tell such a solid story with amazing action, from start to gratifying finish, thus inspiring me to finally sing its praises after all this time.
Banshee is currently available on different platforms, including Amazon and HBO Max and is available on Digital and Disc wherever sold.