It’s nearly two weeks late, didn’t air on a Sunday, and certainly wouldn’t pass network FCC regulations, but all the same, this week’s Banshee was 100% what you’d call a post-Super Bowl episode of TV. If you were a New Girl or Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan who suffered (or celebrated, if you’re from Seattle) through the big game just to watch the new episodes airing immediately after, you might have noticed how slightly “off” each show was from its established rhythm. When not cashing in on guest stars like Prince and Adam Sandler, both New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine were serving up simplified, easily accessible versions of themselves, downplaying the idiosyncrasies of the characters and comedy that won them devoted fans, instead emphasizing loud, easy gags, like a 2-minute riff on the proper pronunciation of “panties.”
Fox having command of over 100 million sets of eyeballs for one evening is all well and good, but the thinking goes that networks have to use the post-Super Bowl timeslot as a chance to introduce their brand of TV to viewers leaving the tube on in a nacho-fuelled haze. Understandably, playing to such a large audience usually devolves into dumbing down the show to the point of pandering: Alias followed up Super Bowl XXXVII with a lingerie-clad Jennifer Garner strutting around like it was the Victoria Secret Fashion Show come early, which is probably the only real way to get new people to sit through an hour of a complicated spy-thriller in the middle of its second season. Whereas comedies just have to pitch their laughs to the cheap seats, plot-oriented dramas have the burden of getting viewers invested in a story that they’re only just jumping in on, so the episode itself will often feel like one big game of catch-up for those who have been following along so far.
So it’s awfully strange that Banshee would try one of these types of episodes on for size, considering we’re right in the middle of the second season, and the show has no massive lead-in to potentially draw new viewers from. The episode doesn’t have anything in the way of guest stars, and the T&A doesn’t arrive until well into the hour’s second half, but “Armies of One” was a mission statement, “here’s what we’re all about” episode through and through. It spends a great deal of its running time refreshing us on established character relationships and motivations, while delivering a the familiar A-plot of a trouble-maker coming to town, and Hood having to deal with him.
Coming off last week’s divisive (if the comments are anything to go by) detour, and the disappointing two-parter that preceded it, the back-to-basics approach of “Armies of One” isn’t a bad idea, especially when it has a strong villain to keep the whole thing humming. But that much of the episode plays like an extended “previously on Banshee” sequence gets it working from a deficit early if your a regular viewer. The first five minutes quickly establish both Hood’s background, and the threat he’ll be facing this week. This is useful for someone who doesn’t know the show from Adam, and needs a reason to watch passed the first act break, but if you’re up-to-date on your Banshee, even two minutes spent on a Hood highlight reel seems a little unnecessary, especially this deep into the season.
I’m running with the theory that “Armies of One” was written as an oddly-timed point of ingress for new viewers, because otherwise, it makes you wonder what kind of a handle the show’s writers have on it anymore. How else can you favourably explain a scene that starts with Kai expositing a line like “Alex Longshadow, what brings you here?,” and then reduces their relationship to barebones points about old animosity becoming a new partnership. It’s not like Alex and Kai setting aside their differences doesn’t make sense: “The Warrior Class” and “Bloodlines” got us to a point where Alex’s desperation would have to finally supersede his arrogance. But the presentation of this major turning point ignores any mention of Kai and Alex’s history together, boiling their relationship down to a byline like “they used to have beef, but now they need to work together,” which is to the benefit of those just introduced to these people, not someone looking for a mention of that time Kai totally dumped a ton of cow guts in Alex’s hot tub while he was still in it.
It’s just one scene of many that plays like a rehash of ones dedicated Banshee viewers have seen previously: Rebecca peeps on Kai getting physical with one of his employees, Deva acts like an angsty troll doll, Gordon dives further into a tailspin, Ana tries to reintegrate into her family, etc. You’re left about as rapt by the revisitations of these scenes as Rebecca is when jumping back into bed with Jason Hood, as bored with the second verse as you were the first. It all feels like it’s for the newbies, with each such scene designed to make crystal clear just who these people are, and what point in their lives they’re at right now.