Banshee’s Adam Targum dishes on the show’s final season

Cinemax’s Banshee returns for its fourth and final season in January. Writer/Executive producer Adam Targum dished on the show’s colorful past and strong sendoff.

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“Season 4 is going to be the most memorable, mind blowing experience ever for Banshee fans.”

Gregory Shummon/Cinemax
Gregory Shummon/Cinemax

All good things must come to an end, especially on television. When the master team behind Cinemax’s Banshee wrapped Season 3 and began prepping Season 4 nearly one year ago, a thought started to lurk inside the group that includes creator/writer/executive producer Jonathan Tropper, director/executive producer O.C. Madsen and writer/executive producer Adam Targum. Was it time to end Banshee? When news broke last month to fans on the internet, there was a mini explosion. Why now? Well, I have some answers.

I had the chance to discuss the show, past and present, with Targum over the phone as he uncoiled in Los Angeles mere days after wrapping production on Season 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dan Buffa-Banshee really started something for Cinemax, sort of like a trailblazer for the cable network.

Adam Targum-It really did what it needed to do for Cinemax, putting it on the map as a scripted drama destination. That’s where television is going, away from network television. They can’t compete, because they are programmed for a broad audience. On Cinemax, we program to the audience that understands us. That’s why we are successful. We write and craft the shows that we want to see. 

Buffa-In the same way that the Wire and Sopranos did for HBO…

Targum-Yes. When Steven Soderbergh was asked why he brought The Knick to Cinemax, he said that any place that will support and put something like Banshee on the air is a place I want to work. 

Buffa-One of the things you do with the show is push the limits of normal storytelling and keeping it fresh. Does Season 4 continue that? 

Targum-I think Season 4 is going to be the best season yet! Season 3, we did our best to create the most action packed, over the top, heart pounding adventure that we possibly could. That was our goal. In the offseason, we realized we were never going to top that and there was no reason to try. In season 4, we took a different approach to the storytelling in trying to maximize these incredible characters. We found the perfect balance between action, character and story. This season is more serialized than ever with each episode fitting very snugly with the narrative. Instead of bringing these different antagonists for Lucas Hood to deal with, we wanted to used the existing characters and turn it all inward. The story lines intersect, thus making a more richer, more thought out story line. 

Buffa-Season 4 is the end. When did you and the rest of the gang know this was it.

Targum-We had a sense that this could be happening really early on. Jonathan, O.C. and I had conversations about what we could do to carry the story forward and while Jonathan was open to a season five, it was very important to him that there was an organic story line and that the characters had a real place to go. He didn’t want to rehash old story lines. We spent several months spitballing the ideas for a Season 5, and at the end of the day, we realized we had done everything we could do with these characters. It was important to honor Jonathan’s original vision in taking these characters as far as we could take them and make sure we were delivering the audience the most fitting conclusion we possibly could.

While it’s bittersweet, this is the perfect time to bring this story to an end. As Jonathan said in that great Grantland piece, there’s nothing more tragic than a show that sticks around too long. We didn’t want people to watch Season 5 and think, “Man, I’ve seen this before. This episode feels like the one from Season 2.” It’s really exciting because of the freedom it gave us in crafting the perfect finale. 

Banshee-2-550x366Buffa-A lot was left on the table at the end of Season 3. Lucas and Kai had that chat that seemed to bury the hatchet between them. People died. Job was kidnapped. What can you tell us about the jumping off point of Season 4? Is there a time jump?

Targum-The best way for me to answer that question is to tell you to watch episode 1 in January of 2016 and see where it goes. Coming out of Season 3, we did lay some significant story pipe to be addressed. We had Lucas walking away from being the sheriff, and it felt different than it did in the past. It felt like it had more finality to it. A truce between Proctor/Hood possibly. Deva’s state of mind. Carrie’s state of mind. Job’s whereabouts? It left a lot of rich opportunities for us to explore. And we address all of those dangling hanging chads when this season starts up. That doesn’t mean people will be happy with the way we address them. That’s the thing about Banshee. Everyone doesn’t like the choices that our characters make. Ultimately, the audience understands why we make them and that is because it is best for the characters. 

The other thing that is really exciting about Season 4 is that within the first five minutes of the first episode, we turn a lot of things on their head. There are surprises and big turns that the audience won’t see coming. That’s the mandate as a whole, and that’s constantly push the envelope of the show. Do things that only Banshee can do. That has to do with how we tell our story. We aren’t precious with our characters, as the first three seasons showed. We do kill characters that audiences love and that’s not to enrage our viewers. Sometimes, we need catalysts that drive our characters in different directions. As I always say to people..in real life people have sex. They kill each other. They are cruel to each other. There is incest and trucks do blow up. As much as our set pieces are heightened at times, the thing that brings it back to reality is that the characters stories are very grounded. These people are struggling with regret, lost love and that makes it relatable. 

Buffa-There has to be consequences for the characters on this show and Siobhan’s death was proof of that.

Targum-It was a very difficult decision for a number of reasons. First, we love Trieste(Kelly Dunn) and she is a very important part of the family. Also, we knew this was the final hope Lucas Hood had at salvation and a chance for love. Ultimately, we decided that Lucas Hood doesn’t deserve to have those things. As painful as it was for me to write it, watch it get shot and see it air, it wasn’t something haphazardly done. This was the best move to drive Hood forward in his narrative. The fact that fans mourned her like she was a real person is a testament to the people who work on this show, most notably Trieste, the writing team and directing team. In season 4, they will see why we made that decision and why it’s best for the show.

Buffa-Each season seems to build on the last. 

Targum-They do. I mean, we wrapped Season 3 in mid September and by the end of September, Jonathan and I were sitting in a restaurant talking about Season 4. We took time in talking about each individual character before we started plotting. We knew when we got into the writer’s room, in November, both of us knew the beginning, middle and end of each of these characters. Season 4, for all intents and purposes, could be an eight hour long movie. 

1280x720-nccBuffa-How important is Antony Starr to the production? He seems to eat, sleep and bleed Lucas Hood.

Targum-He truly is, but we have a lot of people like that on this show. There’s no question. Ant is the #1. He’s never about vanity. He doesn’t care how he looks on screen. It’s always about “what would Lucas Hood do?” Antony has incredible story instinct and in Season 4, he took a very hands on approach with us in making sure that the narrative was as tightly woven as we needed it to be. I will say though, that Ivana and Ulrich are also big parts of that process. Ulrich will not just give us notes on his scenes but on the episodes as a whole. We have a cast that really cares about the show.

There are new faces this season in Eliza Dushku, Ana Aayora, Jennifer Landon and Fred Weller. They immediately fit the bit and were committed to the project. There’s not a weak link this season. Having such versatile actors allows us to push the envelope even further. That made it especially hard to wrap up, knowing this kind of group may not come together again. 

Buffa-The move from Charlotte, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania must of been a little rough.

Targum-It was a culture shock in a lot of different ways. In the end, we found a good balance of the old and the new. There are things that will look different, and we explain very effectively why they do. It will look like a fresh show, but also feel like Banshee. In a pragmatic sense, we had to build new sets and bring in 75% of a brand new crew. What we found was that the new Pittsburgh crew came in with a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of the crew were fans of the show and went out of their way to get hired onto the set.

I walked around on set, feeling this energy from these 200 people who were fans of the show now working to make it new. When we wrapped the show and speeches were being made, there were a lot of tears and melancholy but also a huge sense of pride in what we had made. We screened the first episode and they were blown away, saying that this was the Banshee they always wanted to make.

Buffa-For most of these actors, it’s like burying a character you’ve grown attached to. 

Targum-It’s immersive. We all live away from home for months shooting this show and there are a lot of long stressful days. I joined the series in Season 3, and Jonathan and Greg immediately gave me the opportunity to put my voice on the show. In Season 4, O.C. and I were running the day to day operations, working with Jonathan, and it helped take the show to another level. Season 4 is where Banshee matures. It feels like a more sophisticated show. And that’s a testament to everyone who works on the show. From the craft services to the #1 person on the call sheet. It’s truly magical. I wish January was tomorrow.

Buffa-It just gives me more time to tell people to watch the show.

Targum-Banshee is a word of mouth show. People walk up to me and have no idea what it is and I tell them it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV and they say whatever. When they come back and say, “oh my god that’s unlike anything I’ve seen on television today,” I say, now you know, so go tell a friend.

Buffa-I recently told someone they should go make friends with a neighbor they don’t like if that neighbor has Cinemax. 

Targum-(laughs)Yes. The truth of the matter is that Cinemax is very affordable. Anytime people tell they don’t have it or can’t afford it, I tell them call your cable provider because the extra 6 or 7 extra dollars is well worth it. Especially now with Cinemax putting an emphasis on scripted drama. They are becoming a top notch destination for top rate drama.

Buffa-One of the things I am most looking forward to is more of the Bunker brothers, played by Tom Pelphrey and Chris Coy. The end of Season 3 really started something there.

Targum-Yes it did. Pelphrey has brought an incredible amount of heart and humanity to Kurt Bunker, the neo Nazi, which I will say is not an easy thing to do. When we came up with characters for season 3, what an interesting notion to have a reformed hate mongering neo nazi who has given up the hate and ideology but still has the exterior signs on his body. What better place for him to come to than Banshee. Tom is unique talent, and has so much range and soul. That’s where we came up with the idea of his brother, played by Coy.

I’ve known Chris for 6 or 7 years. I cast him in a small film called Rogue River, a little horror film we shot in Oregon in -12 degree weather. Chris refused to get warm throughout the shoot because he knew the character didn’t need to get warm.  I knew he was the real deal right there. He’s a true method actor who immerses himself in the role. We really advance that story line of the two brothers in this Neo-Nazi brotherhood. We explore the backstory of these two brothers. How Kurt was recruited by the brotherhood and how he brought his brother Calvin into it later on, leaving him with tremendous guilt. We throw real conflict between these two and from beginning to end, it’s explosive.

Buffa-I can’t stop thinking about Pelphrey’s scene in the finale in the basement with Brock Lotus(Matt Servitto). That’s my favorite scene from Banshee, all time.

Targum-That scene Jonathan had written as an audition scene for Kurt Bunker. It grew and finessed so it could fit into the story line. Jonathan wrote this monologue that really embodied what we were looking for in Bunker and Pelphrey did it and was incredible. As we were moving forward in Season 3, that scene came up and it was a perfect moment for us to put it out there. During his three minute monologue in episode 305(Tribal), Tom showed such range that we decided to take that other scene and adapt it. We shot that pretty late. Tom, wrapping the belt around his hand, which was something he did on his own, blew us away in that first take with his level of emotion and intensity. Matt Servitto came over to me afterwards and said in the beginning of the scene he wasn’t acting but simply trying to calm Tom down. It was such a powerful performance. I remember watching the crew react to the scene and seeing how visceral it was, knowing it was going to be one of our best scenes. We only did 3 or 4 takes because it was so intense. 

What’s most important about that scene is the relationship being built between Bunker and Brock. It’s Brock becoming a father figure for Kurt, who never had a real father. 

Buffa-I remember telling someone these are the scenes that separate Banshee from other shows and people’s perception of the show from the outside. 

Targum-I’m happy to hear that because I will tell you, there is a lot more of those type of scenes in Season 4. It was very important to the entire team that we found more of those moments where the actors could dive deep into these characters. This season, there is a scene around 8 minutes long that is one of the most powerful scenes we have shot. It will be a show stopper in Season 4 because when you have characters opening themselves up, it gives viewers a window into who they really are that a fist fight or gun fight can’t really do. That’s a testament to the work Greg, Jonathan, David, and O.C. did in Season 1. Since then, it’s evolved. In Season 4, we found the perfect balance in putting the viewers in these characters minds. 

In the end, Jonathan, O.C. and I make television that we want to watch. That’s what separates it from the rest.

Buffa-You can tell when there’s passion and when there’s just effort.

Targum-You can. It shows. I was a fan of the show before I came on. The people who worked on the crew this season were big fans. When we handed out scripts, we had to use extra security. You don’t want to spoil the surprise. It is fun to see the fans speculate online and while 99 percent of it isn’t true, it’s always nice to know we are going to surprise the audience because they have a different expectation. 

Buffa-The last thing I wanted to ask about was Lucas and Carrie, the lost soul couple at the heart of the show. One thing on people’s minds is the idea of them coming back together in this final season. What do you have in store for them this time around?

Targum-Anything is possible.They are always going to be at the forefront of the fiber of Banshee. Their complicated relationship and past was such an intricate part of the pilot that it will always play a part in the story. They share a daughter together in Deva. We spent a lot of time servicing those two characters. They love and care about each other deeply, but the external world doesn’t care about that. We do spend quite a bit of time this season exploring their relationship and come to a definitive conclusion on what happens between them.

Buffa-Shooting Banshee has to be a roller coaster in itself. What are your best memories from making Banshee? Any definitive moments?

Targum-So many of them. The making of episode 305, Tribal, last season was the most intense experience of my career. We spent 8 or 9 days inside the Cadi shooting that episode with O.C. Madsen and a good part of our cast. There were 3,000 squibs and thousands more. We were all there, in it, and covered in debris. It was hot and muggy. No air conditioning. It was oppressive. Those hardships are up on the screen and I couldn’t have been any prouder of that episode. It has signature character moments. It’s the end of Siobhan. The moment where Brock stands up to Lucas. We made Chayton into this monster.

Season 4 was special because I got to spend so much time collaborating with O.C., who is a true visionary. He was there from day 1 and brought a different level of character to the show. Jonathan Tropper, who has become a close friend, directed an episode in Season 4. It was satisfying seeing him translate his words to the screen and make all the decisions.  It was also incredibly hard this last week. The last week of production was challenging for us. We had to say goodbye to the actors. Every time we did, the crew would gather around, and we were all so connected. It was a special moment, and on Friday night, we wrapped the final part. Lots of hugs. Tears. Throughout, it was an overwhelming sense of pride. 

It was important for us to honor the audience. When they walk away from season 4, they feel like we did them justice and we did the show justice. I’d love for them to feel a little sad because there will be no more new episodes, but I think they will be satisfied with what we have done.

Buffa-So now, you guys go into post-production?

Targum-From the moment we start shooting, the post-production team and editors start on the assembly. Half of the episodes have already gone through director cuts, producer cuts and gotten notes from the network. Sound is mixed. Things are cut together. Now the intense post-production begins. We also shot origins this year, and they focused heavily on Sugar Bates, played by Frankie Faison. Matty Rauch(aka Clay Burton), got to write and direct some of the origins. He gives 100% and it was gratifying to give him the room to explore the other creative needs he has. 

Buffa-If you had to pump fans up with one line about Season 4, what would it be?

Targum-Whatever expectations you have, we are going to exceed them. We are going to shock, surprise and take the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride. I truly believe this will be the most memorable and mind blowing season yet. We are going out with a bang!

In the make believe business, everybody is a creator. The producer creates the possibility. The writer creates the reality and world the characters live in. The director frames those characters in that world. The actors make them come alive. Adam Targum’s effect on Banshee in Season 3 was seen in nearly every episode, whether it was the Burton-Nola fight or the Tribal shootout. He’s got a wicked mind that extends to an original form of violence, action and power as well. The whiff you got of his talents in Season 3 comes full circle in Season 4, along with Madsen, Tropper and the cast.

Instead of crying about the inevitable end, think of the way a show like Banshee, which blows originality out of the water on a weekly basis, will go out. Think of the spectacle. Forget Game of Thrones. Winter is coming folks. It’s name is Banshee and it arrives in January. Consider this the official tease.

Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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