Last year, it was announced that Cinemax’s ultra-pulpy crime-in-a-small-town series Banshee would end with season 4. The series had been a cult favorite from the beginning, with its tale of a nameless ex-con assuming the identity of a small town sheriff while attempting to reconnect with his former flame and the daughter he never knew. Amidst the criminal and almost-but-not-quite domestic drama going on, the series found itself in the midst of a character ensemble unlike anything else on television. That group, which included among other things, an excommunicated Amish crime lord, his mostly mute, bespectacled manservant, and aspiring gangster niece made the already fecund storytelling ground of the titular Pennsylvania town even richer, adding intriguing personal narratives to supplement the mystery of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr).
With each subsequent season, Banshee morphed into something slightly different from the year before. The series was seemingly emboldened by its station on a premium cable channel like Cinemax, taking advantage not only of fewer restrictions with regard to sex, language, and violence, but also the freedom to play with visual techniques like cinematography and editing. As the series turned the corner on the season 3 finale, it was clear big changes were in store for the show’s nigh-indestructible protagonist and the rest of the characters as well. Hood had embarked on a mission of vengeance against Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers), his former lover Carrie (Ivana Milicevic) lost her husband, and Job (Hoon Lee), Lucas’ partner in crime, had been abducted following an epic assault on the season’s second-tier antagonist, Col. Douglas Stowe (Langley Kirkwood).
With the show headed in a very specific direction, series co-creator, writer, and executive producer Jonathan Tropper took the time to speak with Screen Rant about why it felt right for season 4 to bring Banshee to a close, what fans can expect from the arrival of Eliza Dushku, and what’s next for him after he says goodbye to Lucas Hood and the fine folks of Banshee, PA.
[The interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
You mentioned it came about during the writing process that season 4 was to be Banshee‘s last. Can you discuss how something like that breaks down, maybe explain when the “aha!” moment occurred and how you as a writer realize it’s time to make the decision to bring the series to a close?
“I think that what happened was season 3 ended with a really powerful cliffhanger. And at the same time we put Lucas Hood probably in the worst state of mind he’s ever been in. He’s still grieving the loss of Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn), and at the end of season 3 he loses Job. And he feels the weight of all the responsibility on this. So the end of season 3 is kind of [Hood] resigning as sheriff and walking off. Coming back into season 4 we had to think about where does this leave Lucas? And every time we started going down the road with his story, it felt like we were stretching out the story and the story didn’t feel compelling. It felt like we were introducing new plot elements and new zigs and zags that were primarily there to give us more real estate.
Really, the emotional core of the story is Lucas Hood and Lucas Hood dealing with the consequence of everything he’s done for three seasons, and it felt like the only way to truly realize those emotional stakes was to let this be the last season, because every time we decided it wasn’t [we] had to artificially give him a turn of emotions and give him a new way to keep going forward. I was just starting to worry that the quality of the show was going to suffer. We have a very rabid fan base; they’re very vocal and we’ve done better every season in terms of building our fan base and I honestly didn’t want to be around to lose them. I just felt that we had a really great, compelling, emotional story to bring to its conclusion and if we tried to stretch it out there’s only so much you can do before it starts to feel empty.
I knew we had a fantastic season to write if it was our last one. We were struggling to come up with how it all worked if it wasn’t our last. Once I didn’t have to struggle with that anymore I think it became the most deeply emotional ride of all the seasons. I think it comes to a really great conclusion and I think it gave us the opportunity to add really significant stakes throughout, because we knew it was our last season; we knew we could push every boundary.”
As far as season 4 is concerned, you have a number of storylines left to deal with. How do you balance all of these threads with the audience’s desire to know more about who Hood is and still create a satisfying conclusion to the series?
“The thing we’ve done from the very beginning is we’ve always been ambitious about our storyline. We’ve never had fewer than three storylines working their way through a season, and one of the things that I really enjoy is finding a way to interconnect those three completely separate storylines. I love thinking of the characters and of Banshee on the whole as an ecosystem where everything affects everything else. And so one of the pleasures of writing the show is that we try really hard to ensure there are no isolated stories that don’t impact the other stories. The interconnectedness of everything is kind of where I think the show really distinguishes itself.
It was no different with season 4, where it was just kind of like: Here are all these characters we’ve had up in the air, we’ve had all these series regulars, this is all the stuff they’re up to… how does this stuff all begin to intermix with each other in the final season? How do we spin the axis a little bit so people who’ve never had to deal with each other before suddenly find themselves dealing with each other. This is all while bringing these stories to their conclusion. It was just sort of the fun of a writers’ room and it was the fun of figuring all that out. But I don’t think season 4 is any different than our previous seasons, except that it’s building up to something much more final.”
Is it important for you to fill in the specific details of Hood’s background, or is it more intriguing to leave certain aspects about the character’s past unanswered?
“Lucas Hood is someone who has a mysterious past, and we’ve been teasing his past since the show began, giving tidbits here and there. I think to actually go full throttle and to reveal everything is to rob it of its mystery and rob him of his mystery. And I think, part of who Lucas Hood is – who he’s been from episode one – is a man who doesn’t actually know who he is, and is constantly trying to figure that out. We definitely wanted viewers to have a vague understanding of what he comes from and what he’s been through, but that’s a whole other show to tell his origin story, and that wasn’t something I was interested in doing.”
You had a big casting announcement with the addition of Eliza Dushku. What can you say about her character and how she will fit into the final season?
“The basic goal was I wanted to bring somebody in who was in every way a match for Lucas Hood. I wanted somebody who was both an ally to him and also a threat to him, and we wanted someone who could hold her own with him and so… in season 4, Banshee is grappling with its first ever serial killer. Eliza’s character, Veronica Dawson, is an FBI agent who has been sent to help catch this serial killer. Even though he’s no longer the sheriff, it’s always a threat to Lucas to have a member of the FBI around. He’s tangled with the FBI over previous seasons and to have one who is actually a criminal profiler and understands people is doubly a risk for him as he finds himself helping her out. [Hood] is very wary of her, and that creates a real tension that carries through the season and it gives us a chance to really push Lucas into some places he hasn’t been pushed before, because this is somebody he can’t push around and somebody he can’t fool. [She’s] somebody he has to be real careful around and at the same time he needs her help.
[Veronica is] a huge challenge to him, she’s a threat to the unraveling to the whole Lucas Hood ruse that he’s used for the last three seasons. And at the same time, she’s somebody who’s challenging him on a personal level.”
The series has taken some stylistic and storytelling chances with episodes like ‘The Truth About Unicorns’ and ‘A Fixer of Sorts.’ Are those the kinds of things that reveal themselves as they are being made, or are you aware going into them that you’ve got something really special on your hands?
“The show gets very dark. Lucas gets very dark. Carrie gets very dark. At some point we can lose sight of what it is that holds them together, what it is that made them fall in love. And I wanted to take them out of Banshee for an episode, to just kind of remember who they were before Banshee. And that led to a conversation about two different Sopranos episodes, one is when Tony takes Meadow to visit a college and another was when this gay mobster goes off to New Hampshire. It was this odd, completely other episode that did not feel like a Sopranos episode. In that sense we decided we would take ‘The Truth About Unicorns‘ and make it a very un-Banshee episode, where we would color time it differently; we would remove them from the whole juggernaut of Banshee and really do a character piece on Lucas and Carrie and we were really pleased with it.
We knew with that episode people would either love it or hate it, but we definitely felt like we had earned the right to take a chance on it. And we took a chance and I think the response overall was incredibly positive, and we just went into the writers’ room for season 3 with that same notion that we’d love to take a spot in the middle of the season where we do something different. We just didn’t want to do the same thing, so in season 3 it became more of an Assault on Precinct 13 [situation]. Which, even though that was a lot more action driven, it was also a character study. It just became something we felt added another dimension to the season, which can otherwise begin to feel a little uniform.”
Do you have plans for something like that in season 4?
“Season 4 is a little different because it’s an incredibly intense season and it never stops moving and we only had eight episodes instead of ten. I would be hard-pressed to point to an episode that does that in the same way. Season 4 was much more kind of like putting a really proper end to the show. In a sense, the whole season plays like something a bit different, where we don’t do the same amount of set pieces and we don’t have these wild action sequences. It’s much more about tension and suspense and moments of brutal visceral violence, and so the whole season is a little bit like one of those episodes. We’re really telling a very concentrated kind of story.”
Did having two fewer episodes for the final season present a challenge in any way?
“Eight versus ten is primarily a financial consideration. We could do eight rich episodes or ten strained episodes. You have a finite amount of money in the kitty and we wanted to make sure we could deliver the same level of cinematography and action and hire the same caliber of actors, and we just didn’t want to risk compromising in any way the standards of the show, so the decision was, ‘lets do eight and let’s do the hell out of them.'”
One of the things fans have come to expect is a scene in which Hood endures a terrible beating and just keeps going. It’s almost like a superpower. How did Hood’s semi-indestructible nature come about?
“From a pure storytelling perspective a guy who survives 15 years in a maximum-security lock-up has developed a certain amount of durability. And at the same time we do take a slightly comic book approach to his recovery abilities. Any one of the beatings he takes would lay out most of us for a couple of months, and from a sheer storytelling perspective we need him back on his feet sooner than that, so he’s therefore able to be. It’s kind of like an inside joke with the fans of this show that Lucas Hood is going to stand up again no matter how hard you beat him.”
What’s next for you, now that you’ve wrapped things up with Banshee?
“I have a show that I developed at Cinemax called Warrior, which I’m doing with Justin Lin and with the Bruce Lee estate. It’s very different; it’s a period piece set in late-19th century Chinatown San Francisco, which was a really bloody time in both Chinese and American history. It’s set during the time of the Tong Wars, which were these brutal wars between the rival gangs of Chinatown and so its a show based on an original Bruce Lee idea about a young martial arts prodigy who comes from China to San Francisco and gets swept up into the Tong Wars.
We’re not producing it yet, we haven’t been green lit yet, but the script is written and there seems to be a lot of support for it, and I know Justin is planning to direct it, which is great, and produce it with me. And I’m hopeful that it will be hitting the air pretty soon.”
As a series, Banshee has a certain pulp sensibility. Is that something you plan to bring to your next project as well?
“I did take the time period very seriously. Mine is set in 1878 and I’ve done a tremendous amount of research into that time period so I want it to be historically accurate, but at the same time I don’t want it to have an ounce of pretension; I want it to be a lot of fun and I think the fun of Banshee will carry over into the weirdness of the characters and the fact that one of them is a martial artist that moves like Bruce Lee. The martial arts component will be a lot of fun, but at the same time it’s a period piece, so I think there’s a great challenge to making something like that fun – it’s sort of a time in American history that was a really difficult time to be Chinese in America.”
Banshee season 4 premieres Friday, April 1 @10pm on Cinemax.
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