Banshee: Season Four (The Final Season) – Blu-ray Review

Banshee fans, get pumped because Banshee – The Final Season has finally released on home video.

For those of you less in the know, Banshee is a serialized action-drama created by David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper and produced by David Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) that ran on Cinemax for four seasons and ended its run earlier this year. Beyond that if you don’t know exactly what Banshee is, it gets complicated fast. Reducing the show to its barest elements, Banshee is a crime drama with a dash of satire, a boatload of eighties machismo, and some serious exploitation pulpiness.

If you’ve never seen Banshee but the premise I’ve outlined fascinates you, stop reading this article now and go watch season one. Like most other programming produced by HBO, season four makes little to no sense if you haven’t seen the rest of the show.

The Show – 3.5/5

Listen, I’ve had a really bad few days.

– Ex-Sheriff Lucas Hood (Anthony Starr)

Banshee is fantastic modern action-drama that should be mentioned more often in the same conversation as shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and True Detective. However, Banshee never got the fantastic ratings or the widespread critical acclaim those three shows received. Consequently it was cut off earlier this year with a noticeably shortened fourth season. Tropper and Schickler will tell you they ended Banshee when and where they wanted to, but the uncharacteristic awkwardness the show exhibits throughout Season Four seems to tell a different story.

No one in the town of Banshee, Pennsylvania is who they appear to be. Both of the shows main protagonists have assumed new identities. Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) is an ex-con posing as a (former) Sheriff, and his ex-partner-in-crime, Anastasia, is posing as housewife Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Miličević). Both of these characters are fantastically portrayed, but that doesn’t stop them from being upstaged by the third partner in their gang of thieves, Job (Hoon Lee), a snarky transvestite computer hacker and the one character in this show who has nothing to hide.

After that, you have a fantastic ensemble of allies and villains (skinheads, mobsters, Amish, Indian gangbangers, etc.) who fill out the show. Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomson), a former Amish turned into a cold Kingpin leads the show’s cast of villains in all four seasons, and he is a terrifyingly awesome character.  I hate to cut it off without delving deeper into Banshee‘s ensemble, but going much further would require me to profile 20+ characters.

Season four changed locations from the previous three seasons from rural Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, but the local Pennsylvania insight that Banshee exhibits remains one of the strong points of the show. The show is dotted with Pennsylvania native products including Giant Eagle bread and Yuengling beer signs. The only thing they’re missing is a greasy heart-attack inducing Parmanti Bros. sandwich.  I enjoyed picking out locations in the scenes filmed in Pittsburgh, which is a city replete with striking architecture (famously used to great effect in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Night), and it was also nice to see actual Pennsylvania forests and hills instead of generic California stand-ins. Breaking Bad lead the resurgence in locale filming, and I’m glad to see Banshee has also gone far and above the call of duty in accurately representing Pennsylvania.

Banshee has some of the best fight choreography and practical effects on television. The fights are incredibly satisfying and filmed in a way that won’t leave you with you motion sickness. If something is on fire, it’s really on fire. If a car explodes, it really explodes. In a scene where an RPG slams into a semi-truck loaded with drugs, you can almost can feel the heat of the explosion from your couch. Many of these effects are digitally enhanced (with mixed results), but you can tell the underlying effects are real.

While at its heart Banshee is a fun, pulpy show, the cast and crew clearly don’t view that as an excuse to do things halfassed. Banshee has some fantastic cinematography. There’s a ton of gorgeous shot composition and symmetry that give Banshee a striking feel. The acting is some of the best I’ve seen in an action show. Job’s recovery and Eliza Dushku’s performance as Agent Dawson are the highlights of this season’s performances and make this show a fun watch even if you’re not in it for the action.

However, season four strongly departs from the tone set during the previous 3 seasons of the show. While explosions and gore have a been a trademark of the show since the pilot episode, the other seasons did not share the theme of cynicism prevalent in season four. It takes three rather boring episodes for the depressed and tortured main characters to pick themselves up from Season 3’s mayhem. The previous seasons wasted no time with pitching you into a landslide of gory epic fights, snappy dialogue, and a fun sense of intrigue (rather than the sense of dread that defines Season Four). The suddenly dour characters seem to suck a lot of life out of what is otherwise a very fun show. Tropper and Schickler defend the change in tone as a realistic portrayal of characters who’ve seen some serious shit, but hardly anything else in Banshee is rooted in reality.

Season four is also damned by awkward and erratic pacing. Half the time you’ll be wanting the show to move along, while at other times you’ll be wishing for it to slow down. Banshee‘s writers shove many of the most interesting story lines that have been developing for several seasons to the wayside to instead feature a pretty hammy portrayal of Satanists sacrificing young women. In defense of “hamming it up”, I’m not sure you can convincingly portray a Satanic murder cult without a bit of cheese but the show spends too much time on these guys. This seems to be a common criticism of season four by fans. Banshee’s fans wanted to see plots involving the show’s main characters be resolved in a poignant and satisfying manner, but to get to that point they had to spend a large portion of the season’s eight episodes watching people never before seen in the show get murdered by other people never before seen in the show. By episode 7 of 8, it became apparent to me that this plot (filmed primarily in a single room) was filler meant to simplify the show’s production. In my opinion, the Satanist storyline could have been resolved in half the time the show devoted to it and other storylines, especially the ones that feature Proctor, could have taken up a lot more show time.

Nothing more annoying than a psychopath that engages in Socratic debate.

  • FBI Agent Veronica Dawson (Eliza Dushku)

Picture Quality – 3.5/5

The video presentation in season four is very good and the show has only a few apparent visual flaws while in motion. As mentioned previously, there is some gorgeous shot composition, great action filming, and some other signs of high quality cinematography. I wish I could stop there and write that Banshee is a perfectly filmed action show.

However, when I pause the video I would often find individual frames to be over-saturated or blurry. This seemed to be a purposeful stylistic choice that was implemented in post production rather than a flaw with the mastering. I would also occasionally encounter some artifacting in paused scenes with explosions or lots of action, but that was hard (if not impossible) to notice when the video was actually playing. While Banshee is a homage to exploitation flicks (shoddy editing and all), I would still like to see a crisper presentation on the Blu-ray.

The editors put too much focus on making the show look artificially gritty. I’m not a big fan of dirtying up digital video, but that is a hallmark of  season four. The show is already dour enough without artificially darkening the already dark and creepy basement with a filter in Final Cut Pro. The scenes with the satanists performing rituals were artificially made to look like a VHS tape that had been exposed to high levels of radiation and then pooped on by a dog. There’s a fine line between artistic and ugly, and I think the editors found it during the Satanic ritual scenes. They looked awful and obscured my ability to read what was happening. I hated when they did things like that in True Detective, and I’m not giving Banshee a pass for it either.

Sound Quality – 3.5/5

While the sound doesn’t necessarily stand out as reference audio, there are no obvious flaws to my ears with Banshee’s sound quality. Banshee features an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (compressed) audio track. It isn’t lossless, it isn’t 7.1 or ATMOS, but it doesn’t sound tinny or bad in any way. In fact, it sounds great on my home theater, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the audio quality on your setup.

I’m not big on Banshee’s score (it sounds pretty generic), but Banshee’s soundtrack has some really fun choices. The Indie-inspired soundtrack creates a feel that meshes perfectly with the show’s rural Pennsylvania vibe. One of the highlights is “Golden and Green” by The Builders and Butchers that plays during season four’s climax at the end of episode three.

Packaging – 4.5/5

The packaging is gorgeous. Banshee has a fantastic artist doing promotional material for the show and they take full advantage of his/her talent with the art for the blu-ray. Best of all, the cover art for all four seasons matches perfectly, creating some great thematic art for your Blu-ray shelves. A lot of time and thought went into making the home video release of Banshee look great.

They didn’t leave the inside blank on the case insert, either. You get a fun picture of Lucas Hood pointing a gun (hopefully not at you) and an index of the Episodes and Bonus Features on each disc. I always hate when they leave the back side white, and I’m glad to see they made decent use of this space.

However, I do have a few (mostly minor) complaints. I wish they had used a sturdier Blu-ray case. Sticking 3 Blu-rays in a flimsy eco-case seems a bit shortsighted to me (I suppose I should be glad they’re helping the environment). The discs might actually be heavier than the case. The hinged holder in the center of the case loves to pop out and I have concerns that the snap hinges might break if these Blu-rays see a lot of use. They should have at least stuck two of the three Blu-rays on the sides of the case instead of on the less structurally sound plastic insert to help reduce the weight load on the hinges. While the slipcover is gorgeous, it is made from noticeably thinner paper than the other slipcovers in my collection. I have some concerns with it getting crushed when it isn’t doing its job wrapped around the Blu-ray case. Finally, I also wish there was some differentiation between the art on the slipcover and the art on the insert.

Special Features – 3.5/5

The special features offered are perfectly fine, but there’s not really anything here to get excited about. You get ultraviolet digital copies, commentary tracks for two episodes, behind-the-scenes video featurettes, optional episode recaps, some deleted scenes, and the Banshee Origins webisodes that were released between season three and four.

The webisodes and recaps are a welcome inclusion. Speeding through recaps is one of the annoyances of binge watching TV, and its nice you only have to watch them when you want to on the Blu-rays (as complicated as the storylines get, sometimes you really do want to watch them). While the webisodes can be found on the internet, its nice they included some more content with these discs since season four was only eight episodes instead of the usual eleven.

I would have liked to see commentary for more than two episodes, and more commentary tracks that featured other people besides the writers and production staff. Actors really make commentary fun, and they should have gotten included in some of the commentary.

The featurettes were okay, I would have preferred to have gotten more in depth commentary about the process of making the show rather than these 2-3 minutes videos which don’t really tell you very much.

The Technical Stuff (click for Technical FAQs)

Video

Codec: AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Audio

English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (DTS Digital Surround 5.1), Latin Spanish Digital Surround 2.0, German DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles

English SDH, French, Latin Spanish, German, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Judgment

Banshee, especially season four, is one pulpy mess of a show. It’s also a charming and fantastically fun show, thanks to epic storytelling that was inspired by Breaking Bad and gruesome action scenes that would fit well in a Patrick Swayze movie.  If it wasn’t for the blatant filler side story in the plot and the annoying video filters applied in post-production, I’d of gladly sung nothing but praises for Banshee’s final season. This was a somewhat disappointing way to end one hell of a show, but it’s hard to say that the product was too flawed to still be thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to seeing where Schickler and Tropper take it from here. As far as I’m concerned, the only direction they can go is up.

What left Banshee in the dust? Banshee is one of the goriest shows ever filmed for a cable network. I’m no stranger to exploitation but I occasionally found it hard to watch, and it’s quite apparent that Tropper and Schickler wanted to make a show that would stand out amongst the crowd in its ability to make an audience squeamish. They did well, probably too well. Banshee was also a casualty of the front lines in Cinemax’s first attempt at high quality original programming. Banshee was one of the cornerstones of HBO’s plans to put Cinemax’s out of date After Dark to pasture and stop people from calling the channel “Skinemax” (You’ll always be Skinemax to me, baby). While Banshee played a notable role in slaying After Dark, it seems that the show was too niche and too violent to last long after the war was won.

Banshee, Pennsylvania. Suck my tit!

– Job (Hoon Lee)

3.75/5 – Good stuff!