'Banshee': Using Violence to Define its Characters

Olafur Olafsson and Antony Starr in Banshee Season 2 Episode 4

[This is a review of Banshee season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]


The brutality on Banshee is in some ways a direct by-product of the peculiar surrealism at the show's core. As an action-based drama, violence is pretty much a given – a necessity, really, in terms of what the audience is expecting from a series as pulpy as this. Generally, though, the expectation begins and ends with carnage and bloodshed being a obligation of the plot, or a manner in which the episode seeks to reconcile whatever drama is at the heart of the narrative. In that respect, Banshee is no different; it uses violence and brutality as a means to start, progress, or to settle plotlines – it is, after all, that kind of program.

In fact, just take a look at tonight's episode and see how violence has permeated each element of the two-part mystery revolving around the murder of Lana Cleary, Much of what transpires between the discovery of Lana's body, the search for her boyfriend Solomon, and the subsequent battle that erupts between members of the Kinaho tribe and their Amish neighbors is directly related to how the community reacts to aggression with more of the same. It's frequently brutal, but as with Cinemax's other series Strike Back – which is often times wall-to-wall gunfights and explosions – it never feels tedious or trite; it happens for a reason beyond the visceral satisfaction of watching a well-choreographed fight sequence devolve into utter barbarity. In essence, the violence on Banshee serves to define the character by when, why, and how they choose to use it.

There're several prime examples of this presented in 'Bloodlines.' For one, we see how people like Proctor and Nola generally view violence as a means to getting what they want. In Proctor's case, he wants Jonah Lembect (Ólafur Ólaffsson) to reveal the location of his nephew, which quickly turns into a gruesome torture sequence that's preceded by Kai's monologue of how "pain is a tool" – a line that could almost replace the show's tagline of "Good Town. Bad Blood."

And then there's Nola, who because of some unspoken but clearly unpleasant business in her past, is something of an outsider, a perception that can't even be repaired (or is maybe made worse) by the fact that her brother Alex is the Kinaho chief. Her decision to kill Jonah while he sits in the sheriff department's holding cell is indicative of her predilection for using violence to settle matters – a fondness her brother, in his reluctance to enter into an all-out war with Proctor, clearly does not share.

At the same time, the decision not to use violence also offers up an interesting depiction of certain characters, and how they go about affecting change in any given situation. Hood, for his part, is typically one of the brawliest characters on the show, doling out punishment and taking just as much (if not more) in return. But while he's seemingly drawn to violence, it's typically a reaction to some sort of threat, which surprisingly makes Hood and Chayton Littlestone more alike than would seem possible.

While Hood engages Jonah in justifiably severe fashion, it's only after his unofficial interrogation of the hardhanded teacher had instigated some kettle throwing. Like Proctor and Nola, Hood knows when to use violence to get what he wants, but he also knows that sometimes aggression can simply be implicit, rather than explicit; something Chayton demonstrates when he lets Siobhan and Emmett live, even though he's in a position to easily dispose of them. Not wanting the law on his case for killing two deputies could explain this decision, but considering he doesn't even recognize the BSD's authority, that doesn't seem likely.

The differences in how aggressive behavior (Job's non-stop verbal assaults are certainly another method) is engaged in, has helped to create characters who are better defined by what they do, even when what they do isn't terribly nice. But it's also the reasons and the purpose behind the violence that make Banshee more than just a salacious action drama; it's a show that understands how to make the most of every bad situation.


Banshee will continue next Friday with 'The Truth About Unicorns' @10pm on Cinemax.

Photos: Gregory Shummon/Cinemax

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