Are the female characters of Banshee really empowered, or are they merely a fan service for the action hungry male gaze?
Got 99 sexism problems, but the scenes of women having consensual sex ain’t one. The women of Cinemax’s Banshee are sure getting off, and it seems to be on their own terms – when they want it, and how they want it. They are neither innocent, infantile nor simply cute. They can hit harder than an ordinary thug, and they definitely don’t need a man to protect them. Most of the time. Banshee features some empowering plot lines, as seen embodied in female characters who manage just well in their self-actualisation.
Banshee offers a nutritious platter of power struggling dynamics enveloped in a luscious coating of sex and violence
We see that in Deputy Siobhan Kelly (played by Trieste Kelly Dunn), who escapes an abusive relationship and turns pain into power, or in the character of Rebecca Bowman (Lili Simmons), who uses her sexuality to escape from the confinements of constraining Amish demands. When it comes to Carry Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), we’re still strung out to see how she’s going to choose. Genre-wise, Banshee exists somewhere between an action-thriller and a drama, with an emphasis on action over dialogue.
However, Banshee is not just one of those action-driven narratives with weak plotlines. The socio-cultural setting of Banshee is extremely fertile, and offers a nutritious platter of power struggling dynamics all enveloped in a luscious coating of juicy sex scenes and adrenaline-pumping violence. Banshee’s creators utilise the mysterious aura of rural America, in which they juxtapose a fictional indigenous Indian tribe – the ‘Kinaho’ – with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Add to that a romantic subplot, an anti-hero living on the edge, Ukrainian mafia, beautiful women, purposefully shocking visuals and there you have it – a recipe for a show likely to achieve cult status.
The trouble is that of all the people in Banshee always go for the thug-posing-for-sheriff antihero Lucas Hood. Writers Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler risk a comparison to an Axe deodorant commercial, and we can either decide that this is for the reason that Hood is the new meat on the market and therefore interesting because these women don’t have a lot of option to choose from; or it could well be due to the fact that Lucas Hood holds a position of considerable power, and power is thus embodied once again, in a phallic cult.
It seems that sometimes Banshee wants to be an action driven story that doesn’t pay fan service to anyone’s gaze
It would be refreshing for once to witness a narrative which portrays a release from the confinements of the unjust distribution and the abuse of power. It seems that sometimes Banshee wants to be that narrative – an action driven story that features strong women who aren’t there to merely pay fan service to anyone’s gaze. Christina Jokanovich and Alan Ball are two of the show’s producers as well as the missing link between Banshee and another sex and violence action driven show, True Blood.
While In True Blood there was not much they could do with ever undecided Sookie, who always fell into the same pattern of going for men (or vampires) who weren’t good for her in the long run, in Banshee, we no longer see these women choosing the wrong option over and over again. The creators often achieve dynamics out of contrasting notions that seem unmatchable on a superficial level.
Our anti-hero Lucas Hood moves swiftly between the worlds of the law and unruly criminality, between romantic longing for the love of his life and some of the best looking sex on TV in a long while. Scenes of an Amish young woman getting off from masturbating lustfully in the meadows, free and shameless to reach for her satisfaction while anyone could see, or an albino homosexual residing on the top of the prison hierarchy are two examples of how Banshee challenges stereotypes. But even if these scenes offer a satisfactory reverse of the way things usually are, this stereotype challenging is often, unfortunately, only momentary. Women with leading roles in Banshee are all of a certain type, and they’re almost all extremely good looking, white and young female warriors.
For every step forward there’s a step back, and while there sure are bigger issues at stake, the overall effect is somewhat neutral. For a show with a male protagonist and his struggle at its centre, whatever female empowerment we are looking for in Banshee will be in the background. This is neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor Xena the Warrior Princes. It’s slightly feminist-attuned, male-centered entertainment, nothing more or less than what its tagline suggests: Small Town, Bad Blood.
All images: Cinemax