Banshee Review: “The Truth About Unicorns” (Season 2, Episode 5)

Ivana Milicevic in Banshee

Woof, this is going to be a divisive one. For some, this week’s Banshee will be a cathartic and long-awaited chance for the show’s central relationship to take spotlight. For others, it’ll be the episode they skip during future re-watches, because nothing happens, and it’s a talky nothing at that. Marking the halfway point of the season with a detour is a bold choice, and the unexpected change of pace and focus will no doubt ruffle feathers. Even the title of the episode seems committed to the hour’s aggressive push against what typically constitutes a Banshee viewing experience: two to three action scenes, a weekly A-story with various ongoing Bs in the background, an overstuffed cast, and some explicit as all get out T&A.

Unsurprisingly, “The Truth About Unicorns,” makes for a mixed bag, as it mostly splits the difference between the risks that payoff, and the ones that don’t. It brings Hood and Ana’s relationship to the foreground, in an attempt to make it as important to the audience as it is to the characters. Putting it front and center unfortunately highlights how big that gulf in investment is, but the intentions are good. The episode then brings back a long-expected returning player who has one electric scene, before getting getting pointed to the exit by a .50 calibre bullet. “The Truth About Unicorns” even manages to polarize on a purely technical level, as it features one of the tensest, most striking setpieces the show has even done, but only after indulging in the show’s worst editing and visual impulses all hour long.

While season two is more in need of a shot in the arm than a trip down memory lane, my initial inclination was to be lenient towards “The Truth About Unicorns,” for at least trying to strengthen the character foundations at the center of Banshee. The show’s underlying drive has always been Hood and Ana’s relationship, even though it’s sometimes hard to view as a priority when you’ve got psychotic Ukrainian gangsters running around in a county with the country’s densest population of violent badasses.

The very first thing Hood did when he was released from prison was track Ana down, and he’s been living a not-so-elaborate lie since coming to Banshee just so that he can be near her. Much of the drama of season one came from seeing how both parties had and hadn’t changed in the 15 years since their separation. Season two, meanwhile, has seen the chickens from Ana’s old life come home to roost, leaving her to wonder if maybe it’s time to find a new home altogether. With her 30 days in lockup finally over, she finds that it’s Hood waiting for her on the other side of the prison fences, not her husband or children. When he suggests they take a trip out to a remote neck of the woods two one-horse towns over, she obliges, letting the two engage in some much needed cross-country catch-up.

Ana’s increasingly conflicted feelings towards Hood have been well-developed over the course of the series, but “The Truth About Unicorns” really wants to make that conflict clear, splicing between fantasy, reality, past and present throughout the episode. The unusual editing choices the show sometimes makes certainly try their best to enliven otherwise dull material, but the effect is disorienting enough when used in its usual short bursts. Loading up the whole episode with these little flourishes as a means to try and invigorate the slower pacing backfires in a big way, turning simply uninteresting sequences into outright aggravating ones.

When it’s not aggressively trying to goose its quiet moments for a little extra adrenaline, “The Truth About Unicorns” does make the most out of its showcase for Ana and Hood. Having now walked a mile in Hood’s prison shoes, and doubting how willing her family will be to take her back, Ana’s softer demeanour toward the man who’s pretty much ruined her second chance at life is believable. And it’s fun to see Ana and Hood shooting the breeze as they scope out a jewelry store, providing a glimpse of the sexy thrill that came with being the bandits taking on the whole world they once were. But the fun is short lived, and mostly muted by a weariness that hangs over the whole hour. Both Ana and Hood have done terrible things to one another, intentional or not, and what they have to show for their 15 year relationship is an estranged daughter, and an abundance of scar tissue.

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