Banshee, Season 2: Episode 2 – “The Thunder Man”
Written by David Schickler
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Airs Friday nights at 10 on Cinemax
“You know, my people have this myth about the Thunder Man. He’s reborn once each generation. He’s got the power of a god. Prodigious lover. Fiercest warrior. But outwardly, he looks like a normal man, so every man has to ask himself whether he might, in fact, be the Thunder Man. And every woman has to wonder whether the man she’s with is him. Some women live to find him. Others know that he’ll destroy them if they stay with him. I believe you think you’ve found your Thunder Man.”
It didn’t take long for Banshee to return to its hyper-sexualized roots after turning in a much more reserved season opener last week. But you know what? Who cares? Fanshees (this is an actual term used by the wonderful people who follow this series to describe themselves) are used to a certain aesthetic, and if the season premiere deviated from that a little bit – in a very positive way – then “The Thunder Man” looks much more like a typical episode of Banshee ought to.
This idea of the Thunder man, though, is what frames this episode. Much like how Justified will occasionally serve its secondary characters well, Deputy Siobhan Kelly gets to be at the forefront for a single hour (and hopefully more). We get some pretty horrific flashback sequences that bring out Kelly’s backstory now that her ex-husband has stepped into the picture. How the Thunder Man applies is the purpose of this relative tangent for the series. The Thunder Man is an inherently sexist myth, which situates the female partner of the Thunder Man as someone who is consumed either by being destroyed by or obsessed with the Thunder Man. At various points in Banshee, Kelly has relied on Hood to finish some of her battles, intentionally or by not anticipating his actions. In “The Thunder Man,” she completely understands the situation – that Hood wants to know where her ex is staying so that he can bring the kind of justified pain that only our Lucas Hood can. And, in the best of decisions available in terms of this being a story on a television show, she misleads Hood so that she can show up to the hotel room where her ex is actually staying so that she can get back at him for years of psychological trauma caused by initial physical trauma. That Banshee has the best fight scenes on television goes without saying, but when the writers are able to incorporate a level of earned satisfaction is both poignant and troubling, because you end up rooting to see someone being beaten to near-death because Banshee has convinced you that they deserve it. It’s a weird relationship to look at after the fact, but while Kelly is delivering divine justice with a bible, the viewer is right there with her, executing those blows with the same level of intensity.
I wrote last week that this second season seems to be a slightly different, heightened kind of Banshee – still the same concept, but more intelligent and better produced. That difference is displayed in “The Thunder Man” to incredible effect. At several points, we get montages or parallel narratives for stretches that show how well the minds behind this series are at crafting something watchable and interesting. The cuts between Ana’s and Kelly’s stories work ridiculously well, where we see two pairs of characters who are trying to convince two other characters of something that they just aren’t in a position to believe – Kelly will never accept that her ex can be a good person and Deva will have a hard time ever trusting a word that comes out of her mother’s mouth. And, of course, the later pair of scenes in which both Kelly and Ana are fighting two other create a few minutes of action-based television that is flawless. So, even with some of the more obvious, lazy ways of drawing in viewers – sex, fighting or anything else vacuous in its own right – Banshee finds the best ways of visualizing its story. It makes the opening sequence where Rebecca is pleasuring herself more than just softcore tantalization; what we’re being told in that sequence is actually important to some of our main characters and serves as a clue as to what we should be paying attention to going forward.
That Banshee is often so masculine on its surface makes “The Thunder Man” stand out in a much more positive light. Spartacus, which is probably the closest comparison that there is to Banshee, managed to find ways of making its central female characters just as compelling and powerful as its male characters even if they were in a limited physical position that might have neutered them in hands other than Steven DeKnight’s. Banshee has a similar sensibility in that strong, nuanced characters are in every pocket of the series. Even if Rebecca doesn’t have the combat experience that someone like Ana or Nola might, the writers still find a way of making each character layered and tough in some way, so good on them.
– Sean Colletti