Jonathan Tropper (L) and Greg Yaitanes (R) at a Banshee autograph signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013.
Banshee just finished up one heck of a second season, capped off with an emotionally draining and revealing finale. Around these parts, the show is known for its pulpy storytelling, its extended action sequences, and of course, it's raucous fanbase. I recently had the pleasure to chat with Banshee's lead writer Jonathan Tropper and director/showrunner Greg Yaitanes (who were both credited on the finale) about shining a light on new corners of the town of Banshee, the challenges of the show's action sequences, and the Banshee team's social media activity. Here are some of the highlights.
Cory Barker: What did you guys learn in making Season 1 that you brought to Season 2? What were some of the primary goals this year?
Jonathan Tropper: The first season, we learned a lot of valuable lessons in terms of what we could fit into a ten-episode arc, how many stories we could tell, and the nature of stories that we could tell effectively. Our first season, we had a number of story arcs that we realized we weren’t going to get to, and so [this season] we were able to be more focused, to tell dense stories, we wanted to have denser scripts. We also wanted to be able to expand the world of Banshee, get more into the Amish world, and get into the Native American world.
Greg Yaitanes: We added a layer. We found our momentum and our groove. We wanted to go into the season as if you were watching immediately following the other season, where it felt like Episode 11, Episode 12, all of a piece. We very much felt that by the end of Season 2, we had concluded a 15-year story in some ways. It was closure. Most importantly, we wanted to bring together our transmedia and multi-platform content of Banshee Origins; that makes it all clear why we did the finale the way that we did it.
How do you expand the world and develop new characters while staying close to the core story?
JT: The philosophy of our storytelling from day one has been the interconnectedness of everyone in Banshee, so even when we go into the Amish world, that’s still affecting the Native Americans, and that’s still affecting Lucas and that’s still affecting everyone in the BSD and Kai Proctor. We try not to have independent plotlines, but we make sure that everything is interconnected to everything else. As long as you’re growing it organically and not saying “Let’s do a two-episode arc in the Amish world and forget about everybody else."
Did you also make a concerted effort to show more of the locations you have access to? [The show shoots in and around Charlotte, North Carolina.]
GY: We’ve always been a little bit vague on how big Banshee is. In my mind, it’s modeled after the small town I grew up in Massachusetts in terms of the sense of size and population. We’re always looking to expose people to different cultures that exist within that town. Whether we shined a light directly on that with the Amish murder mystery and the Kinaho murdered girl storyline [in "The Warrior Class" and "Bloodlines"] was a great way to show all the simmering tensions within the town. We've been able to showcase Banshee as a character far more this year.
It seemed to me that you were also trying tell stories at different speeds, or with different endpoints in mind. Was that intentional?
JT: On any serialized show, you’re going to have through-lines that take you through the season and you’re going to have individual arcs that resolve themselves in shorter order. The fun of a show like that is that you get really immersed in a fun episodic adventure and then you remember “Oh, there’s all this other stuff going on as well."
From a visual standpoint, were there new things you wanted to try?
GY: For me, coming around the show, directing the season opener and the season ender, a very different director emerged in the second half of season. The thing I love about the show is that each director leaves his or her mark and each director evolves that. One of the beautiful things that Jonathan wove into the story this year was Episode 5 ["The Truth about Unicorns," in which Hood and Carrie spent some time away from Banshee], which was a complete departure for us, yet still within the same story. That departure really enhanced our entire storytelling—in acting, directing. Those things are very exciting when they happen because it's rare in shows that you get to break out like that. So often people want the same thing week in and week out, and we take a lot of pride in surprising the audience, not just within the episode, but within the structure of the season.
I definitely noticed the change of pace with the fifth episode, and the fans seemed to have reacted to it very positively. Can you talk more about why you took that detour when you did?
JT: After 14 episodes of super-intensity, we wanted to give Lucas and Carrie a moment to step out of Banshee to mourn the relationship that had been lost and to mourn the life that had been lost. And yet at the same time give them a chance to see what that life might have looked like. So we decided to take them out of the world of Banshee, where suddenly the light shines brighter and the world feels a little less ominous, and see what our two characters look like in what we'll call "the real world," or the world that isn’t Banshee—take them away from all their troubles to see who these people are. They were lovers once, a long time ago, and they had a whole other life ahead of them. It gave us a moment to take them out of the show. And a side effect of that was that when we came back into the show, everything felt fresh again. We had taken this little intermission from the world of Banshee.
GY: I always say that if Michael Mann and Terrence Malick had a kid named Banshee, that’s what we got in Episode 5. It was very dreamy. I thought it would come later, but it was always the plan to go back to the house [the one that Lucas had purchased so he and Carrie could start their lives together]. We didn’t know the circumstances, but we had the notion way back in the first season and when this story evolved, I worked harder than I did with any other episode to find the perfect director, and I think we [and Babak Najafi] beautifully succeeded. It’s also rewarding to have that be one of the highest-rated episodes; it really means that we've earned the ability to do [something like] that, and that the fans responded.
Can you tell me about the logistic challenges of shooting an action sequence like Job's shootout at the church at the beginning of the season's penultimate episode?
GY: The church [itself] is in New York and the bottom, the basement of the church, is in Charlotte. That alone was challenging because we had to try to find cohesion in states apart. It was an amazing location; we had to start with the church and find something [that matched]. We've actually been really fortunate—there’s so much that Charlotte and the surrounding towns have to offer that we are always finding things that we go “Oh, could we write to this?”
And what were the most challenging sequences to shoot throughout the season?
GY: The truck heist from the season opener was probably our biggest physical production challenge. It took three days, we closed 60 miles of toll road in South Carolina. It was enormously complex. And that was just BIG in nature, which made it challenging, but the intimate scenes can provide their own challenge. Every day you’re trying to push the limits of the show and what the show can offer.
But I'll actually say that the finale was such a pleasure to shoot because, as a producer of the show as well, the challenge is always [to balance the roles]. When directing the season opener, I’m trying to [simultaneously] produce the following episode, so I get stretched a little then. So directing the finale was a culmination of so many great ideas and Jonathan wrote two wonderful scripts. It’s funny because the season finale really begins halfway through [the penultimate episode], when they get to New York. In that way, it’s really an hour-and-a-half-long finale.
Why the flashback structure in the finale?
JT: We had created that story for the comic book a season earlier. It was our feeling that after two seasons of the viewers understanding Lucas and Carrie’s backstory but never having seen it, the opportunity to take them to New York, awaken those memories, and actually shoot the scenes of them 15 years ago felt like a very organic way to finally put that story on the screen and give the viewers the satisfaction of seeing who they were, instead of just the little glimpses they've gotten along the way. It felt like an epic movie to be able to tell the story of our season finale and at the same time tell the origin story in this two-hour package.
GY: The cool thing with the comic book, which Jonathan wrote the comic and I did the visuals—I didn’t draw it, but I worked with the artist on the angles and imagery—is that when it came time to direct it [in the finale], I had already done the work.
JT: You had already storyboarded it.
GY: It very naturally falls in. So if people read the comic book before or after [the finale], they’ll see a lot of direct references to visuals [from the episode]. It was cool to adapt and change things to make it even a little cooler. The challenge of that was actually getting the rhythm... [knowing] how much you’re going back and forth in time—how many times is too many, how long is too long, how short is too short. It evolved into something different than what was scripted and we found the right balance, but it took some time in editing to get that.
And now, Rabbit's dead. Why kill him now—and who fills that void in Season 3?
JT: Well, I’m not going to tell you who fills that void. The concept was that for two seasons, the thing that has been keeping Lucas in Banshee is the idea that Rabbit could come back and hurt Carrie and her family. We even hit that note in Season 2—the reason he doesn’t leave is because he can’t leave once he knows Rabbit is still out there. Once we kill Rabbit, Lucas needs another reason to stay, and now he has this daughter who knows that he is her father and we have some other stuff coming up where Lucas is going through some real existential deliberations about whether or not he belongs there, and whether or not he should be the sheriff of this town. We wanted him to have all of those deliberations free of the easy answer.
How do you balance the mystery of Lucas's pre-Banshee life with giving the audience necessary information?
JT: We like teasing it out in little bits so that viewers start theorizing and imagining their own version of it. In the first season, we knew that he was this guy who had been an ex-con and Carrie’s lover and a thief, and then we teased at the end of Season 2 that he might have actually had a military past before she knew him. The most telling line to me is when she says to him [in the finale] “How many lives have you actually had?” And he kind of looks her and says “None really.”
What were your goals for Lucas and Carrie this season, leading all the way into the finale?
JT: Lucas coming into the ecosystem of Banshee immediately meant that there could be no happy answer, no happy ending for Carrie. One way or another, she loses somebody. We wanted to make it very clear that nobody is riding off into the sunset. At the end of Season 2, the damage has been done—the damage to Carrie’s family, the damage to Deva, the damage to Gordon—so it’s not realistic that Lucas and Carrie can go off and raise their [step] children; it’s just not going to happen. So what we’re looking at with the end of Season 2 and into Season 3 is that beneath all this gut-wrenching love is also a tremendous friendship and respect. When that love becomes too destructive, we wanted them to find each other as family and friends, to still be there for each other.
You introduced Jason Hood this season. How do you feel the character was integrated into the story?
JT: In the first season, Lucas Hood takes on this new identity but he can’t escape the ghosts of his own past. In Season 2, he had escaped the ghosts of his own past and now he has to escape the ghosts of [the real] Lucas Hood’s past. It was just another consequence of taking this man’s identity. You can’t just bury a man, take his identity, and expect there to be no consequences. Jason Hood represented that it’s not just [Lucas's] own past he has to look out for, but the guy whose identity he took.
And Jason Hood's death obviously set some things in motion between Lucas and Proctor, right?
JT: Lucas identifies with this kid who needed to escape his past. It’s too late for Lucas, but not too late for the kid. So when Proctor kills the kid it’s almost too personal for Lucas because once again, it’s like Lucas himself being robbed of starting a new life. Lucas reacted to his own inabilities to escape to his past. He wasn’t that attached to Jason Hood yet.
People asked me about Proctor and Rebecca quite a bit. What's going on there?
JT: That is something that is still unfolding. That is something that does not stop at the normal boundaries that society would like. These are two people who are so removed from normal society in so many ways that they're having trouble finding their footing. But in many ways they're not bound, but between the killing and the criminal activity and the fact that there is no one else in the world who understands them except each other, it's easy for that relationship to go in a handful of wrong directions before it finds its ground.
Why was now the right time to kill off Emmett, right as he skipped town?
JT: Emmett was the most pure soul that we encountered in Banshee. Once Lucas had come in and set these things in motion, this thing in Banshee that corrupts everyone, no one is safe from it. [Emmett is] the one guy who tries to really stay out of it, but ultimately, you're not going to get out alive. Whatever the metaphysical thing is in this town that brings out the duality and corrupts them, you can't get away from it.
You've mentioned the comic and Banshee Origins, and you guys have been very active on social media. How did that start and what has it been like?
JT: Greg really pushed for it and he had to educate myself as well as the actors and the network on how it could be effective. And once it started being effective, the network became obsessed with it.
GY: When I came involved with Banshee it was 2011 and Season 1 wouldn’t air until 2013. So it was a lot of trying to anticipate where viewership would be going in terms of engagement, and that involved a social presence. In fact, we didn't hire any actor before we had a conversation with them that “this is what will be expected... we expect that you’ll be tweeting with the show and participating with the multiplatform, Origins specifically.” In fact, the actors started to get competitive. All of our cast voiced the trailer for the Banshee Origins comic book. They’re game, they like it, it’s become part of our workflow, and most importantly, it was/is to keep the show relevant.
If we were breaking new ground as far as what could be accomplished, I knew that people would come and as a result, all this content has become our marketing. It’s a way to hold people over until the next episode. We're always surprised by the lengths that people go to find the layers of engagement with Origins, the comic book, the title sequence, and the numerology within the title sequence. There are so many places a fan can go and it's all content that Jonathan or myself has [worked on].
It seems like it's helping the show with awareness, right?
JT: It definitely adds that sense of buzz to every episode. Friday morning it begins, and by the time the show airs, there’s so much Twitter action and we almost always end up trending.
GY: The fan engagement... they're a rowdy crowd. The Banshee audience is hilarious. I love retweeting the fans’ crazy reactions to things that happen in the show. And I think the fans appreciate that the crew and the cast, year-round, keep them involved. We love engaging with that fanbase. It doesn’t influence what we're doing with the show, but it does get us excited about what we're doing beforehand.
And what's been the feedback from Cinemax?
GY: I have so much stuff that I want to do, they don’t know what to do with me sometimes. I'm usually way out in front and they have to turn me down because I could keep them busy with everything that we'd like to do. We did the character Vines this year, which got a lot of attention because it was the first time someone tied that into the narrative of the show. They love our photo-shoots. We try to keep pushing the limits of our content to keep our voice out there because we only have ten weeks to make an impression.
We're slowly getting out there and people are realizing they have Cinemax and they want to watch it. We're still under the radar enough that it’s cool to like us; people are discovering us and telling their friends and that’s cool.
You're just revving up for Season 3; how much story do you have planned out?
JT: We have the whole third season already planned—we’re writing the scripts, we’ve outlined the whole ten episodes. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do in the fourth, although we haven’t broken it down yet. And I’ve always known what the last scene of the show and the last two minutes of the show look like, no matter how many seasons we go. How we’re going to get there, I don’t yet know. We’re very open, creatively, to directions we discover along the way.
AIRED ON 3/14/2014
Season 2 : Episode 10