Banshee: Snakes and Whatnot Review

Cinemax’s Banshee elevates the action and drama this week with some truly arresting visuals.

Spoilers ahead for tonight’s new episode, Snakes and Whatnot.

It’s amazing how an empty park bench can speak volumes about expectation and disappointment on a show like Banshee. An empty bench, a hint of blood in a glass of water on a bedside table—all subtle yet bold storytelling choices for an episode that opens with a fatal shootout in a slaughterhouse. (More on that in a bit.) This is not to reduce the power of simple images, especially as they pertain to Kai’s ailing mother, Leah Proctor. Rather, this is proof of Banshee‘s command of both story and character—lethal combinations for any successful series. And this sequence—outlining Kai’s discovery of his mother’s inoperable pancreatic cancer—is laid out in a jarring, nonlinear fashion that’s just as disorienting and disconcerting to viewers as it is to Kai himself. Editing is a powerful narrative tool, and in the right hands, the effects can be truly devastating. There are two stories at play here—those of defiance and compassion in the face of a terrible reality. Kai the offender, shunned; Kai the rescuer, selfless. It’s great character development for a difficult character to embrace. But now, it’s easy for a viewer’s sympathy to broaden and deepen for a man who’s known mainly for being strong and ruthless and unforgiving.

Snakes and Whatnot hits us again with another sequence that’s visually stunning and dreamlike, namely the Red Bone gang’s attempted kidnapping of Rebecca Bowman. Displays of Chayton’s power and dominance are contrasted and imposed against images of Rebecca’s beauty and vulnerability. There’s a certain surrealism and weightlessness to this scene that belies the earthy violence and raw sexuality. From the unconventional framing and slow dissolves to the juxtaposition of superimposed images, this trippy, avant-garde style is something out of French New Wave cinema (and I mean that in the best way possible).

But this has always been one of Banshee’s strengths, its unconventional storytelling. From the beginning we’ve been presented with antiheroes we’re meant to root for and believe in, despite their dirty hands and even dirtier souls. It’s an impressive trick this show and its creators manage to pull off neatly every episode, delivering complicated individuals motivated by sometimes amoral machinations.  And tonight’s episode, which opens with aforementioned gunplay, is no exception.

Ad – content continues below

You see, the once-meek Rebecca Bowman not only has her uncle’s back, she has a taste for blood, too. So when a drug trafficker disrespects Kai, his entire group goes down in a hail of bullets (and some deft stabs to the neck, courtesy of Burton’s quick reflexes). Kai’s not ruffled, though. Rebecca is many things to him—niece, lover, protégé. Oddly enough, the show looks to be setting up a love triangle that includes a new character: Emily, a hospice worker who’ll be caring for Kai’s mother. Most love triangles do not end well, and, given this show’s history, I’m inclined to think Emily better watch her back around Rebecca.

And while we’re on the subject of love triangles, Carrie has finally broken things off with Colonel Stowe, amicably so. But Stowe is a man of breathtaking intensity, given to bouts of violent, vengeful rage. As much as I want to see Hood go head to head with Stowe, I don’t see how Hood could ever come out on top against such an adversary. (We saw the savage beatdown the colonel delivered to a soldier caught with his hand in the cookie jar.)

But the most impressive showdown of the night belongs to two unlikely rivals Chayton Littlestone and Nola Longshadow. Chayton moved in to fill the power vacuum following the death of Nola’s brother. He even goes as far to proclaim, “I am the tribe.” But Nola, who is imposing in her own right, is not impressed by such declarations. If she can stand toe to toe with Chayton, she can stand up to anyone.

As for standing up for oneself, Banshee’s newest deputy, Billy Raven, has a long way to go before he’s earned the respect of the tribe he’s left behind; truthfully, it may never happen. A BPD badge means nothing on the reservation. Even the Kinaho PD is nonplussed by Billy’s return to the reservation (in a white man’s uniform, no less). He is an outsider now, shunned by his own people, much the same way Kai Proctor is no longer welcome by his own people. This dilemma is Banshee the show and Banshee the town in a nutshell: people of different faiths and backgrounds and desires trying to coexist in a town too small to contain them or their aspirations. Hero or antihero, friend or foe, week after week, through boom and bust, we root for them anyway.

Some closing thoughts:

Nope, nothing out of the ordinary about a random reformed white supremacist showing up in Banshee to apply for the deputy’s job.  Nope, nothing weird about that at all.

Ad – content continues below

Brock isn’t doing himself any favors by sleeping with his ex-wife. The post-coital bickering doesn’t exactly scream romance, does it? Brock has his priorities, and they are his job and sandwiches, in that order.

Though it doesn’t qualify as French New Wave, the Chayton/Rebecca sequence reminded me a bit of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, a French film that was very experimental for 1934.

Some other showdowns I’d like to see:

-Chayton vs. Stowe

-Chayton vs. Nola

-Chayton vs. Burton

Ad – content continues below

-Chayton vs. pretty much anyone, really.


4.5 out of 5