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Banshee – Wicks Review: Too Much Prison Violence?

“Wicks” was such a cliché ridden, contrived, predictable piece of storytelling that it was surprising how enjoyable and entertaining an episode it became. Okay, it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, but it was intriguing and captivating in a “can’t look away” manner. In the episode Lucas has to deal with a visitor from his past who comes into Banshee and inserts himself into the new sheriff’s life. Elsewhere Kai Proctor is back in business with the Longshadows and extorting his way to success and Carrie’s son’s health takes an unfortunate turn.

The main story this week deals with Wicks, a man who befriended Lucas during his time in prison and has coincidentally found himself in Banshee. Sooner or later someone from Lucas’s past was bound to make his or her way to the town and recognize him. It was only a matter of time for the show’s writers to exploit that possibility, especially in order to exposit details of Lucas’s life before he got to Banshee. The man from the past is an ex-con who befriended Lucas in his early days in jail and helped him survive while in prison.  While his presence in the present storyline brings in significant conflicts for Lucas, the character’s main purpose is to introduce us to Lucas’s ordeals in prison.

In jail, Lucas is condemned to live a miserable existence as the “albino’s” punching bag. Rabbit, still reeling from his daughter’s betrayal, has made it so Lucas would spend his time in prison suffering for what he has done. Our first view of Lucas in prison he is being brutally beaten by the albino and has to be taken away to the hospital ward. It is there where he meets Wicks, who is working as an orderly, and gives his advice. Lucas’s biggest obstacle is the albino man’s cruel brutality and needs to escape it, his only way out, according to Wicks, is to exploit the albino’s homosexuality and offer himself up as a sexual object. Lucas is not feeling that idea and decides to negotiate for his well being with the albino; of course the albino can't renege on his agreement with Mr. Rabbit, but is willing to lessen Lucas’s punishment in exchange for sexual favors.

Now, I have never seen an episode of HBO’s OZ (just haven’t gotten around to it) but this prison storyline already seems to me like a cheap rip off of the old celebrated show. There is no denying the existence and prevalence of sexual abuse in the prison system and its involvement in the power dynamics with prisoners, but there is a certain tactlessness with which the issues are handled with that gives off a crude, exploitative vibe. It is not an easy issue to tackle, had the show completely omitted the realities of prison life, it would seem artificial and we’d be criticizing for its inaccuracy and its glossing over difficult subject matter. There just seems to be a fine line between showing the realities of life in prison in a brutally honest way and exploiting them for shock value and this episode was pure shock value.

The whole prison sequence was just a string of highly gruesome and disturbing scenes and scenarios one after another. The beating of Lucas by the albino, Lucas slashing open pretty boy’s face with a shiv, the final cringe inducing fight scene with Lucas and the albino. Each one topped its predecessor and culminated in an amazingly ridiculous, but effective triumph for Lucas. The albino’s death was incredibly over the top, Lucas slices of is penis, gouges his eyes out, chokes him, and drops a 40 pound weight on his neck, so gruesome, so much blood. While it was a masterfully shot and edited sequence, the superfluous violence doesn’t necessarily add anything to the story, it all ends up being something cool to look at for a couple of minutes and trivializes the characters and their personal stories.

Of course the flashbacks indicate the events that are unraveling in the present. Wicks was the person who taught Lucas the power dynamics within the institution. He literally nursed him into health and gave him the advice Lucas needed to take down the brutal albino. Because of the help he gave Lucas in the past, and the information he has on the former convict, Wicks feels he is entitled to take advantage of Lucas’s privileged position in the town. He quickly becomes a thorn on Lucas’s side and needs to be disposed of immediately. Wicks’ fate was sealed the minute he glanced at the new sheriff and recognized an old friend; the only way for Lucas to really get rid of him and be completely sure that he wouldn’t ever come back was to kill him. Wicks’ death was so telegraphed and obvious that we didn’t need the hokey reveal in the end of his body in the bottom of the lake. Having Lucas and Sugar paddling off to shore would have been a much more subtle and dark ending to the episode. Instead seeing the fish gnawing at Wicks’ eye, although creepy, was strangely comedic, not in a darkly comic way, but in a “this is so ridiculously excessive” way.

This episode in general had a more comedic tone than any of the previous episodes; I found myself chuckling at random things more than I ever did before. The character of Wicks was definitely meant to deliver some comedic relief; his pathetic brawl at the casino, his observation “What is it about this town? Its like heaven for cons,” and his overall demeanor had a lightness to it unlike most of the other characters. This lightness was probably necessary given the harrowing state of the prevalent flashback. There were also some moments (Kai Proctor breaking out the sex pictures, “I took that one myself”; albino man coming out with his posse; Rabbit’s cheesy monologue) that were probably unintentionally funny, but so ridiculous they got some chuckles.

Despite the strong performances of the actors, I feel no kind of emotional investment in any of the characters whatsoever, not even the protagonist Lucas Hood. Lucas has become basically an unstoppable fighting machine with little to no character development. He has not shown any growth or change since the first episode and while we have gotten significant character information from his past, it hasn’t helped in developing any type of personality for him. We saw this episode his willingness to do absolutely anything in order to survive. His top priority is keeping himself afloat, and has no problem killing someone to do so. This information isn’t new, we have seen him kill before, but this flashback might have been the catalyst for his current state of mind.

Carrie is also suffering from lack of development, but there might be more layers to her as a character than any other they just haven’t been explored sufficiently. She definitely has a lot going on; she is feeling conflicted by her feelings for Lucas, her love of her family and her struggle with her past. There is a lot to deal with here, but the writers have just skimmed the surface of her character and I’m just bored by her. Especially this past episode, I couldn’t bring myself to care about her sick kid or even the fact that she might be going after Lucas. The rest of the characters in the ensemble are complete templates or types, the villain Kai Proctor, the doting husband Gordon Hopewell, the wise aging barkeep Sugar Bates, etc. With only a ten-episode season, it is difficult to give all the players their own subtle nuances and details, but there could be more for at least our protagonist. Here’s hoping that with their second season the writers are able to expand and explore the characters’ motivations and backgrounds with more care.

Random Thoughts:
- We get to see where Lucas learned those combat skills he used with the UFC guy.
- Wicks totally looked like burned out Jon Lovitz.
- Really?! Do we need the clichéd working out in solitary confinement montage? How many times has this trope been used and abused?
- Totally clichéd casino montage… There’s a pattern here.
- I was waiting for the origin story of Wicks face scar, but was deprived of it.
- Where did the prison dudes get that appropriately creepy black umbrella?



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