#Banshee – The Lame Goodbye, and Season 4 Syndrome

No intelligent discussion of stylish television, action scenes, sex on screen, or sheer pulpy pleasure can be complete now without mention of Cinemax’s first ever original drama, Banshee. That alone is a hell of an achievement. Thanks to an excellent ensemble cast, visual direction every bit the equal of Hannibal, Breaking Bad, or anything you’ll see on the silver screen, and characters more layered and intriguing than they ever needed be for a guilty TV pleasure, the show will rightly be remembered as a cult classic and one which will hopefully serve as a career springboard for the many talented people who worked on it.* And yet, you can’t talk about Banshee; a show which screamed from the mountaintop in primal exaltation, without discussing its abysmal, whimpering, limp-wristed, hobble-off-into-the-night, final season.

* – My shout, for what it’s worth is that Anthony Starr would be superb as the morally assaulted Commander Shepard should the Mass Effect movie ever get going, but don’t hold your breath.

Banshee season four, for a variety of reasons, was barely the same show as the one that proceeded it for three years. A change of filming location didn’t help – Banshee went from being a town you could imagine driving through in five minutes to a urban sprawl and so the, “small town; big trouble” cells that ran through the show’s blood were immediately weakened. Gone was the charm of a cop shop in an old Cadillac showroom, replaced by… well, a police station. How dull is that?

A needless two-year time jump didn’t help matters either. This has always been a lazy writers’ technique for character development and only rarely, as in the case of Battlestar Galactica’s season two finale does it ever really justify itself with a payoff that simply couldn’t have been achieved another way.

Then there was sidelining beloved characters for new ones which added nothing to proceedings. Bringing in the talented Eliza Dushku as a junkie FBI agent was largely pointless. There was never any threat (as there had been with Zeljko Ivanek’s Fed), of Hood’s past being discovered. Having established Brock as Sheriff, a new investigator wasn’t required. Hood’s ‘new’ love interest of the year was Rebecca, who, for no narrative payoff whatsoever, was pregnant with his baby before she was murdered off screen so Banshee could swap action drama for a police procedural format.

New officer I’m-sure-she-had-a-name-but-who-honestly-remembers as Proctor’s spy in the Banshee Police Department was never given enough development for anyone to care as to her motivations or fate, and so when her end came, no one cared. Speaking of Proctor, that whole becoming mayor thing never really went anywhere, did it?

Job had been kidnapped at the end of season three and his absence for the first half of season four left a chasm in the show’s landscape. Hoon Lee as a crossdressing, gun-toting, whisky-swigging, foul-mouthed, hacker has been one of TV’s most charming characters in years, and his exasperated, “it’s about fucking time,” upon his return was surely echoed in every living room as it happened.

Then there was Sugar; the first friend our hero made in Banshee. Wise ex-con bartender may not be a new role, but Frankie Faison brought good humour with an undercurrent of darkness to it, and his reward was being reduced to a bit part for most of the final season. Deva and her brother are non-entities too – the latter doesn’t appear at all.

Banshee has always matched its heroes against TV’s best comic-book villains, who remain in the mind long after their runs (often single episodes) are done. Nola Longshadow who tomahawked her way into one of TV’s finest ever fistfights. The Jason Statham-like cockney assassin who feeds the birds Scotch-soaked bread while calmly discussing his own mortality. Olek who loved Ana dearly, but whose loyalty to her father meant he would kill her if need be. The enormous bookkeeper who was too fat to fit in a car and so was transported everywhere in a pimped-out lorry. The terrifying albino who seemed physically invincible. Chayton Littlestone whose dreams of a native American violent revolution at times seemed entirely plausible. Mr Rabbit, whose wrath would hunt Hood to the ends of the earth for vengeance. Kai Proctor, who openly defied God to strike him down for his crimes, but privately wished only for redemption in his mother’s eyes.

And a bespectacled, bow-tie wearing, silent aide. Yes. Banshee did bad guy very well indeed.

And as part of this, it had built up its local Nazi population as future villains-in-chief from early on in its first season. When they executed a black police officer – one of the show’s few entirely good and honest guys – his wife, and their unborn child, it was easy to hate them and wish for their destruction. When they blowtorched the skin off a young officer who had left the Brotherhood and tried to start a better life for himself, we knew they would be the primary threat to our heroes in the last ever season.

Except they weren’t. There was a new Satanist serial killer and his death cult. On paper, a man believing he acts on the word of the Devil is absolutely ridiculous enough for this show. But to stretch it over seven episodes in a not-particularly-interesting serial killer plot? That’s never been what Banshee’s about. You’d be forgiven for thinking this season had been given over to trialling a new show as the final season of The Practice did for Boston Legal. Eliza Dushku in a noir detective thriller, anyone? Oh wait, Netflix kind of did that already.

And why did anyone bother bringing in the Colombian Cartel for a cameo? The Nazi Senator? (always nice to see Frasier’s Bulldog, mind you.)

Then there were the fights. Oh dear Lord, the fights. Daredevil is understandably lauded for its choreography but next to Banshee’s Lucas Hood, Matt Murdock is a ballerina. Remember the corridor scene in Daredevil’s second episode? Banshee did it first. Nola’s one-shot battle with Burton in, around, and through a classic Rolls Royce was stunning. Ana’s episode-long fight to the death with Olek was tear-inducing. Hood fighting for his life at the side of a road while eighteen wheelers scream past, his desperate struggle to survive in prison, his arresting of a rapist cagefighter. All were a visual feast of brutality TV hasn’t seen since Spartacus and Crixus fought the Romans.

Throughout it all has been the unspoken promise that we would eventually see Hood face off against Burton and while the show’s final episode did deliver this, it paled in insignificance given what had come before. Like the rest of season four, this fight just didn’t come close to the energy of what preceded it.

Showrunner Jonathan Tropper made a point of often saying not everyone would make it out the series finale in one piece, and yet, they pretty much did. Ana got her children back. Hood got to ride off into the sunset. Job returned to metropolitan civilisation, Brock got to be Sheriff of the sleepy town he loved, Bunker settled down with his love and her child, and Sugar retired a millionaire. No one likely has a complaint about this; there’s nothing inherently wrong with a happy ending, but it’s not what we were promised.

Banshee had a good final episode to a miserly final season to a superlative television show. As one friend suggested, you could always imagine it was cancelled after its third season and leave it there. Rocky V, as we all know, never really happened. Maybe Banshee season four didn’t either.

And maybe that would have been for the best. Something seems to happen to shows in their fourth seasons. The West Wing, which for its opening two seasons was as fine as television has ever been, struggled so much in its fourth year to get traction that Aaron Sorkin quit the show. Of the many hilarious episodes in Steven Moffat’s Coupling, no one’s favourite is in season four. Sherlock’s fourth ‘season’ (the Victorian Christmas special) was universally panned. Luther, which is arguably the best police drama the BBC has ever produced, had a two episode by-the-numbers fourth run. Channel 4’s chavtastic Misfits never really recovered from the loss of so many of the original stars and the fourth season was the beginning of the end. Battlestar Galactica which tore the label of best ever sci-fi series from Star Trek and never gave it back, nevertheless had a confusing, disappointing, and muddled fourth and final year.

Banshee. Sweet, beautiful Banshee went from a blazing hot sun of stylish and emotive action drama to… well, nothing of any note whatsoever and the scenes we wanted to see were largely absent. Brock finding out the truth about Hood was good, but it was one standalone scene sidelined by a lame serial killer plot, rather than built up to and savoured over time. Proctor always knew there was something off about Hood; how would he react to finding out the truth? What exactly was the familial connection between him and Sugar? Who wouldn’t have preferred to spend more time with Rebecca scheming to take over her uncle’s crime empire and risking likely death at his hands than see her serve as a plot point for a story no one wanted told? What, exactly did Hood becoming a hairy hermit accomplish? His finally leaving as Sheriff wasn’t worthy of a scene? Why wasn’t every episode just Sugar and Job flinging lovable barbs at each other before retiring to Tahiti together to set up a cocktail bar & hairdressers?

Banshee remains in my top ten list. It is a wonderful show, and one I’ll enjoy revisiting for many years to come. But if it teaches us anything about making television, it’s that maybe, just maybe, you should plan to end things by the end of your third year, and if you want to make a different show, go make one. But don’t change a winning formula as Jonathan Tropper said they explicitly set out to do after the action-laden season three. Don’t keep the brand and change the format. We deserve better as viewers.

And Banshee deserved better as a show.

Understanding Bias – What color is this truck?

I fucking hate pseudoscience

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No, it’s not a trick question.  Go ahead and say it.  The truck is yellow.

So what’s the point?  How does this help us grasp the concept of cognitive bias?  Well, consider this quote from David McRaney,

“If you notice a rise in reports about shark attacks on the news, you start to believe sharks are out of control, when the only thing you know for sure is the news is delivering more stories about sharks than usual. . . you think, ‘Gosh, sharks are out of control.’ What you should think is ‘Gosh, the news loves to cover shark attacks.”

It’s actually very reasonable to assume that the more you hear about shark attacks, the worse the problem is. It’s how our minds work.  Our brains are making an assumption that works really well in small-scale.   In other words, when our world is small enough that the stories…

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We can no longer afford to ignore religion’s role in promoting evil

In the eighteenth century, the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire wrote that, “if you can make people believe absurdities, you can make them commit atrocities.” It is, sadly, every bit as much a truism today as it was before the tulmultous events of the Revolution which followed his death at the close of the century.

It is important to note that at the time of writing, it is unknown who committed the latest atrocities which struck at the heart of France though of course that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous ‘journalists’ and by extension the twitterati from baseless speculation. Inevitably, the phrase on everyone’s lips is, “Muslims.”

It’s become an unfortunate cliché to begin such a discussion with, “of course most Muslims are peaceful, but…” Non-Muslims can only imagine what it must be like to have to defend their faith in times such as these. We do not require Christians to answer for Anders Breivik or the bombers of family planning clinics any more than we demand contrition from the Saudis for Osama bin Laden. Neighbourly ribbing aside, no one judges millennial Germans for the actions of their great grandparents, Iraqis are not held to account for the crimes of Saddam Hussein, and yet following every attack on civilisation by Islamic extremists we cast a suspicious eye on our Muslim citizens, waiting with baited breath to chastise them if they voice anything but the most vocal and heartfelt condemnations.

Religious terrorism is the great evil of our age. There is no explanation, excuse, or circumstance which justifies the actions of those who would strike at our friends and family in their homes. And yet there is no doubt that these fractions of men, these cowards and curs, feel entirely justified in their murder. They are as indignant in their slaughter as we are in our outrage. They go to hell covered in the blood of innocents with pride and joy because old men taught them to hate, as those old men were taught before and though it flies in the face of accepted tolerance in the West, to ignore religion as the direct cause of the rage that beats at our door is an abandonment of reason.

Debating the difference between mainstream religion and fundamentalist or extremist religion is to sidestep the obvious. There would be no religious extremism without religion. From human sacrifice in Mesoamerican civilisations, through Egyptian slavery and the Crusades, right up to the Ku Klux Klan’s so called ‘white pride’, the Vatican’s protection of child molesters and ISIS waging war on Humanity itself, religion has been the primary fuel that burns in the fire of human barbarism.

Still we patronise them. A man preaching the ridiculous is mad; a civilisation chanting along is religion. “Faith-based” is a lazy stereotype thrown around by unionist commentators to describe Scottish politics. It is derisory. An unashamed criticism. “People only vote for the SNP on faith; it’s nothing to do with facts.” The merits of such an argument aside, why is the same naked scorn not there when it comes to the origin of that very criticism? It seems preposterous to have to note the following, but there is no evidence – none whatsoever – for the existence of a singular or pantheon of beings or entities that bear any relation to the fictions our ancestors invented to enslave people. There is a compendium of evidence that points to the truth. Religion is about control, and the easiest way to control is to instil fear. From there it is only the shortest hop to anger and hatred. This is why religion was created.

Whether Islam is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other religions is an interesting, but irrelevant discussion when it comes to countering the threat of terrorism. It is not atheists strapping explosives to their chests. Agnostics do not vow death to the West. Humanists do not cry “God is great” as they deprive men, women and children of their lives. No evidence-based judgment of the Human condition can conclude anything but that that ours would be a world more peaceful and loving absent the bigotry that we indoctrinate our children with.

There is no denying that we are at war, and horrific though it is, there are times when the use of violence to defend ourselves is inescapable. Firearms and munitions alone however will not save us from the loveless abyss these men of God would drag us into. As with so many ills in the world, education is the silver bullet. No one is born religious. There is no such thing as a ‘half-Christian’ child. We tell lies to the young, and they are the most odious untruths our species has ever conceived. We tell them to abandon personal responsibility, because God has a plan for us. We discourage critical thinking because faith is the shibboleth by which virtue is judged. We encourage them to scorn their neighbours because there is only one true religion and non-believers, whatever their other qualities, will be judged accordingly. Perhaps worst of all we instil a casual disregard for life itself because our very existence is but a test for the next, and everlasting rapture lies in wait for true devotees.

It is no coincidence that so much of the world’s horror comes from the Middle East not because the region favours Islam over Judeo-Christian mythology, but because education is seen not as an inalienable right, but a pernicious evil that must be shied away from. Dissent is not merely rude or irritating; it is a sin against God and punishable by the most extreme measures.

If we wish to triumph over terrorism, we must first acknowledge the mire in which it breeds. We must bring about an end to such insidious claptrap as ‘respect for religion.’ Everyone should of course be able to believe what they will. If religion brings someone strength in the privacy of their own home then we should respectfully disagree and wish them well. The moment it impedes on our lives however, there should be an abandonment of tolerance. We should teach our children the difference between respecting someone’s right to believe, and respect for the belief itself. Religion should be no more shielded from scorn and ridicule than Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.

This war is not about land or resources; it is about hatred. That hatred is taught, and religion is the maestro. If we are to combat hatred, we must combat its source, and the peace must be won at home before we can hope to spread it elsewhere.

Gayle Newland’s sentence was both entirely proper and wildly disproportionate

#Politics Can we ditch the Left/Right spectrum and get complicated, please?

It’s hard to argue in anything but support of the proposition that political debate would be a lot better in this country if we ditched the concept of left-wing and right-wing. Jeremy ‘may or may not be an IRA plant – not sure yet’ Corbyn is either left wing or far left depending on how you see it. To some he’s centre-left but these are the same people who don’t find the SNP worryingly authoritarian so we won’t bother with their delusions today.

I find David Cameron right wing personally. Some go further, and yet just last week he and his ilk were talking about not only claiming the centre ground, but the centre-left. Couple this with a Labour party that secretly really liked those racist mugs and we are through the looking glass already.

Of course we’re not. It’s all politicking. It’s bullshit. George Osborne is no more a centrist today than he was a year ago. Theresa May, having moved on from her anti Nasty Party phase years ago is now so right wing she thinks immigrants swapped alphabetti spaghetti with hoops to try and scare her at dinner time. Jeremy Corbyn is far left if you accept the middle ground as Blairism, but no one bar Blairites does that.

The “centre-ground” is a meaningless phrase in modern politics. Once upon a time it was solely about economic policies. The left wanted to tax and spend and the Right wanted to cut taxes and have poor people string themselves up by their bootstraps. Or something.

It’s not now though. Now Left is interchangeable with liberal just as Right is interchangeable with conservative. And since none of us can agree where the centre ground is, aiming for it is an exercise in futility.

Most of my friends are liberal. This is hardly surprising. I’m liberal, one year shy of Churchill’s switching age and most of my friends are younger than me. By and large, the young are more socially compassionate than the old.

Most of my older friends however, to say nothing of the majority of people in my life I have real intellectual respect for, are conservative, at least with a small c. They have more financial interests than the young and are, reasonably enough, more concerned with such things than people currently enjoying a student grant.

But we’re not America, at least not yet. We’re a more interesting people than red or blue. My best friend has voted Conservative all his life and yet found it hard to disagree with what Jeremy Corbyn had to say on social matters. He earns more than the average and has no problem paying more for things like education, foreign aid and the NHS. In the US they’d call him a RINO – Republican in name only – save for the fact that in America, he’d likely be a conservative Democrat because their notion of the centre ground is to the right of ours.

I have liberal friends who hate the idea of foreign aid when British children are suffering in (relative) poverty. I know one young, liberal bar manager who wants to run his own place one day and sees no problem in the basic conservative theory of cutting tax credits so long as the minimum wage catches the difference.

I don’t have a moral objection to private citizens owning firearms, but the results of the US’s catastrophic fuck ups on this front cannot be ignored. Nor am I morally opposed to Trident in the UK. I can see a coherent argument for a nuclear deterrant without balking. My opposition has always been financial – we’re an island nation and I’d rather the funding went to naval defence forces. Or schools and hospitals, but that’s just my inner hippy blethering on.

People are too fond of labelling themselves; particularly in an age and country where we’re all supposed to be individuals, and more than that, we’ve a desperate need to be part of a gang. The SNP speaks for a huge part of liberal and centrist Scotland, but rather than be satisfied with this, there are acolytes who lap up everything Nicola Sturgeon lays out for them as if it were delivered by the Angel Gabriel and actively hound those who dare criticise even a single SNP policy. Despite what most papers would have you believe, they’re not alone. Scottish Labour and many of their supporters are hamstrung by a visceral hatred of the SNP, unable to acknowledge even the slightest good deed, and desperate to criticise things their opponents aren’t remotely responsible for. Gang mentaliy.

But where do these two parties lie on the spectrum? Both claim to be centre-left. There are many pundits who say they are dangerously far-left while on the street (and by street I do of course mean twitter), supporters of each denigrate the others by referring to them as Tories. Red Tories, Yellow Tories, and even some Blue Tories, goes the cynical joke.

If we can’t agree on the centre however, we can’t begin to get into the comparative intricacies of far-left, centre-left, and so on. So let’s just stick with liberal and conservative. Let’s acknowledge that life is too complicated to spend saying, “I agree with X on Y so I agree with X on every-fucking-thing.”

Or we could do what Political Compass do and recognise the need for at least two axes. Left/Right and Authoritarian/Libertarian. Sounds a mite complicated for the average political pundit though, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Corbyn calls himself a socialist. Alex Salmond calls himself a social democrat. I don’t know what the fuck that is. I call myself a left-wing, libertarian, pragmatic, liberal. Or at least I do when someone asks for specifics which is almost never from someone who matters, because those who are worth talking to recognise that your position on one thing need not dictate it on another. We are shades of grey, we are multi-coloured, we are fucking complicated.

And left or right, I don’t like anyone who wants to be part of a gang.

Please don’t call me a feminist

“You believe in gender equality?”

“Obviously.”

“Congratulations, you’re a feminist.”

Despite the impression that this oh-so-clever witticism is taken directly from an internet meme, it’s irritating in other ways. Chief among which is I really think I should get to define myself, rather than let an internet phenomenon do it for me.

Of course feminism wasn’t invented on twitter, but the mob mentality that has always been one of the ugliest parts of our civilisations is amplified via the safety and security that comes from not being face-to-face with someone. The Internet has surely contributed as much as anything to the metamorphosis of feminism from a fight for equality into… well, whatever you want to classify it as now.

And there are multiple definitions, and many have perfectly sound reasoning behind them. This isn’t mathematics where 2+2 has always and will always equal 4. This is language morphed by societal attitudes over time. Just as some words become more or less offensive, and others develop to have more than one meaning, the label of feminism is no different.

And a label it is. “Feminist” for the most part, sits in the same pool as “socialist”, “tea drinker” and “party animal” as a phrase. It’s a word to stick on your twitter profile and make you acceptable in certain company – a way to indicate that you have strongly held beliefs about women’s rights. There is nothing wrong with this. It is an evolution though. “Feminist” used to be more closely related to “activist”; it was applied to people that were actually doing something about their beliefs beyond bleating about them and undoubtedly there are passionate and intelligent campaigners who still claim the word in that sense. Most people don’t though. For most it simply indicates belief in the ideology.

But which ideology? Equality? Special rights? Practically everyone who claims the word would favour the former definition but there is a valid argument for the latter. For some it is about empowerment in the workplace, others focus on their personal lives. Some claim that feminism is, in part, about ending beauty contests and page 3 whereby others say it is more concerned with reducing the stigma surrounding them. Are independent, successful sex workers feminists or are they unwitting fools playing a subservient role in a patriarchal society? Can you wear push-up bras, lipstick and four-inch heels and still be a feminist? Again one could make an argument either way.

In three hundred words my point has basically been to establish that there is no single accepted definition of feminism. I am, as the opening conversation indicates, clearly a feminist by some people’s standards, but I’m also excluded from the club by others. Some say I can never be more than an ‘ally’ because there are dangly bits between my thighs. Others yet would say that because I am not an activist for the cause, I logically cannot be called a feminist.

I have other problems with the label; the fact that it has no opposing word of equal value is one. It’s a divisive term by its nature. I don’t like many of the people who are loudest when claiming it for themselves, not least because a great deal of them take shelter under a noble cause merely as an excuse to vent what is in no uncertain terms, sexism. I’ve talked about such behaviour before though and that’s not what this post is about.

When there is such confusion over what the word represents, it’s just plain rude to fling it at others. By all means claim it for your own if you will, but don’t act as if those more reticent to follow suit are somehow less than you. Don’t hulk out because someone refuses to accept your definition of a complicated word.

Is someone English merely because it says so on their birth certificate? Legally sure, but what about their identity? Their label? Can they be English by virtue of living most of their lives in the country? Because they married into the fold? Because they have a love for the culture and people? Simply because they were born there and yet have never been back since childhood?

I’d be happy with anyone to identify as English for any of the above. It’s a label and one they’re welcome to.

I’d be pissed if they called me English though. I don’t hate the label, but it doesn’t apply to me. I have my own identity. I’m not English.

I’m also not a feminist, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The U.K. Now Has More Gay Lawmakers Than Any Other Country

TIME

Following last week’s election, the U.K. now has more lesbian, gay or bisexual Members of Parliament (MPs) than anywhere in the world. The Westminster House of Commons now boasts 32 MPs who openly identify as LGB (there are no transgender MPs) out of 650, making up 4.9% of the Parliament.

The data comes from the University of North Carolina’s LGBT Representation and Rights Research Initiative, but collecting statistics on LGBT representation is always tricky because some lawmakers may not have revealed their sexuality. In fact, there could be more gay MPs in another country where people do not feel as free to state their sexual preference in public. Nevertheless, the fact that more are willing to do so in Britain than elsewhere signals more progressive attitudes, putting it ahead of countries like Sweden where there are only 12 out lawmakers (3.4% of the parliament).

Elsewhere in Europe there are…

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