Banshee, Season 2: Episode 5 – “The Truth About Unicorns”
Written by John Romano
Directed by Babak Najafi
Airs Friday nights at 10 on Cinemax
The die-hard Banshee fan has every right to dislike “The Truth About Unicorns.” So much of what you would expect from an episode of this series is simply not here. That, however, does not mean that “The Truth About Unicorns” doesn’t stay true to the identity of Banshee. And while Banshee is the series I would least expect to see make this kind of formal departure, I can’t help but think that this is the episode that needed to happen at this stage in the season.
After a two-part thrill ride following the mystery of Solomon’s disappearance (which included heart-racing juggernauts Jonah and Clayton), the pace of Banshee needed to wind down if just for the sake of the viewer’s health. Instead of turning the dial down from something like a 9 to a 5 or 6, “The Truth About Unicorns” dips to a 1 or 2 – and it does it with sensational style. Before going into the technical aspects, the other reason why this episode works so well in terms of its narrative position in the season is because of how it deals with Anastasia’s story. One of the more impressive qualities of the last few episodes has been that Ana has remained a compelling figure, even behind bars. Usually, when a character in a television series makes that transition, they lose a lot of their screen time or else their scenes drag down episodes. Ana’s scenes have completely defied those rules to the point where I feel pretty confident she could have remained there for a couple more weeks and still have been a major presence in the overall story of the season. That said, it’s much better seeing her free after having to put herself through the mental hell of suffering the punishment for her deceit.
“The Truth About Unicorns” not only reunites us with Ana, but reunites Ana with Hood in a way that’s been mostly in the background this season. Aside from Hood’s visit to the prison, the focus of Banshee has been on building up other characters and other conflicts. The Hood/Ana relationship (?) might not be the strongest of Banshee‘s driving forces, but it was originally one of the major ones and it benefits from this kind of intelligent handling after being largely ignored. The episode is also a showcase for Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic, who knock it well out of the park. There’s a lot of help from the camera, sure, but I sometimes feel like Starr’s brooding and restraint when playing the troubled Hood contrasts harshly with some of the louder performances. Starr’s version of Hood, though, was made for this kind of episode in which he gets to communicate just by looking over at Milicevic or unloading some of Hood’s thoughts on leaving Banshee without ten different things distracting him. Milicevic, too, gets to let Ana show her face without worrying about keeping up the charade of Carrie. The performance absolutely sings just by showing Ana’s reaction to the touch of water or the glowing of the toy unicorn she brings back. Though “The Truth About Unicorns” shares very little with the story of Homeland‘s “The Weekend,” the isolation of the action and the focus on the two leads reminded me of that episode immediately, and both Starr’s and Milicevic’s performances sit comfortably alongside Damian Lewis’ and Claire Danes’ in that regard.
The heroes here, however, are the first-time Banshee partnership in Babak Najafi (director) and John Romano (writer). The episode might be the normal 45+ minutes, but I doubt Romano’s script is near that page count. Shirking dialog for extended periods, “The Truth About Unicorns” is mostly visual storytelling. Najafi does a remarkable job with the material, especially in trick shots like Ana running up to hug Hood outside of the prison or in the spectacular, tense action sequence that serves as the episode’s climax (the bird’s-eye view of the three characters in the field is wonderfully striking and memorable). Just looking at the product that Najafi and Romano come up with in isolation, it uses so many film-making techniques both technically and in its narrative structure that it could very well be labeled that if it met the normal time requirement. When the second season of Banshee premiered, it was pretty obvious that the team had stepped it up in terms of making the episodes look, sound and feel more impressive. “The Truth About Unicorns” blows everything out of the water, as far as that’s concerned, and it sets a high standard that I can’t imagine will be met again unless Banshee takes another detour like this. Najafi and Romano return for next week’s episode, so it will be interesting to see how they tackle a more normal episode of this series (if, indeed, that is what we get); but it can’t go unsaid how much of a handle they have on these characters and this world in just this unique episode.
For fear of being too lured into this episode’s successes, I have a relatively major gripe with it – Racine. Last week, Jonah got introduced and killed off in the space of an episode. That was fine. Jonah never felt like a major player. Racine, however, told us in the season premiere about his ambitions to take down Rabbit before he croaks it. There are so many characters in Banshee who deserve to be the one to kill Rabbit (sorry, Ben Cross), so it was a stretch to think that Racine would follow through and achieve his goal, even if played by the formidable Zeljko Ivanek. Yet, that goal made his character immediately compelling and the fact that he was one of the few people to know that Hood isn’t Hood let him occupy a strong, if shaky, position among the other characters. Would Hood have killed him anyway? Maybe. But any logical reason for Racine to die this early without even being given the chance to interact with Rabbit feels like logic superseding satisfying storytelling, especially when Banshee has been so good about executing those kinds of pay-offs. To borrow a line from Hood’s book: “Fuck that.”
– Sean Colletti