Banshee debuted last year on Cinemax, a cable network that for most people still carries a wide variety of unseemly connotations: Softcore porn, weekend nights alone, the mid-’90s. But Cinemax has a commitment to original programming. And while Strike Back, Hunted, and Banshee don’t have much/any cultural footprint, they show a network very carefully defining a specific gutter-pulp tone, one bloody gunfight and vaguely necessary sex scene and errant F-bomb at a time.
The second-season premiere of Banshee is very welcoming to newcomers, with considerable flashbacks that sketch out what happened last season. The still-nameless protagonist is maintaining his fake identity as Lucas Hood, the Sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of a gory shootout with the Ukrainian mob, a new character comes in to clean up the Sheriff’s department. Said new character is a terse no-bull fed who smokes like a chimney and is played by the essential Zeljko Ivanek, one of those character actors who raises the game of every project he touches. (Remember his eerily silent twist-assassin in Bourne Legacy?)
Ivanek’s character is the least of Hood’s problems. The gangster father of his lady love is supposed to be dead, but isn’t. Said lady love’s jilted husband is out for Hood’s blood. The first half of the episode is heavy on exposition, but Banshee is the kind of show that immediately follows up exposition with an armored-car heist and immediately follows an armored-car heist with an attack by a hot chick wearing all-leather on a motorcycle firing a machine gun.
At its best, the new premiere of Banshee suggests an Amish-country Justified. It lacks the FX show’s boundless charm (to say nothing of the nonstop-zinger dialogue), but it’s more unabashedly thrill-drunk. And although the lead character’s double life still feels like a ridiculous contrivance, it’s also a fun contrivance. At one point, Hood starts investigating his own armored-car heist. Later on, he has an unexpected get-together with someone who was shooting at him earlier. This is also an episode of television that features a man dying of cancer swearing vengeance to the face of a priest who is the brother of a Ukrainian mob boss. Banshee knows exactly what it is, and it’s getting better at being itself every episode.