Antony Starr, Ryann Shane (Cinemax)

Over the last week I’ve been thinking about my ambivalence toward the final season of Banshee. While my complaints about what the season’s added to the mix have been loudly voiced over the last few weeks, I think the real problem is what’s missing, the elements that last year convinced me I was watching one of the best shows on television. How wonderful it us then that “Only One Way A Dogfight Ends” makes an effort to restore some of those missing pieces to Banshee,and they almost do so in a way that makes up the sins of the season—sins that are unfortunately getting all the more glaring as we get closer to the finish line.

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In considering my complaint I’ve distilled it down to two major omissions to the season, the first of which is a lack of truly impressive action set pieces (recently extolled by Vox’s Dan Schindel as television’s best). It’s not like this season has been entirely free of excitement—various brawls at the Boedicker farm, Carrie with a goddamned flamethrower—but this is coming after a season where fistfights and gunfights were flowing like premium whiskey on an open tab. At this point last year we had the legendary Nola vs. Burton showdown, Hood escaping from a truck while said truck was driving down the freeway, a strip club shootout, Hood and Proctor beating each other half to death in the ruins of said strip club, and the siege of the CADI. What was once the most technically ambitious show on television has felt curiously unambitious, offering doses of adrenaline as opposed to a firehose.

The other missing piece is one that’s a bit more subtle, and that’s the involvement of Deva. Deva’s never been my favorite character by herself, stepping a bit too close to annoying teen territory over the seasons, but she’s important to the story because of the way she connects Hood and Carrie and what she represents to both of them. This season we’ve seen Ryann Shane a grand total of ten seconds in five episodes, and then it was only in a flashback that gave no indication as to how she and her father left things. How Deva deals with the insanity that has suddenly entered her formative years was an important part of season three, and an arc that can’t just be shipped out of town in the closing stretch.

Both of these pieces are supplied in full force in “Dogfight,” as Cruz’s investigation into the vigilante finally leads her to Carrie’s front door with a team of mercenaries at exactly the same time Deva’s gone AWOL from her grandparents’ house to steal breakfast from Carrie’s fridge. With showrunner Jonathan Tropper behind the camera the action is back to full-bore Banshee glory, beginning with Carrie just missing the gunmen scaling the fence and ending with her and Job spraying bullets at the retreating Cruz. Every bit of this is as charged and inventive as we’ve come to expect, using both the close quarters of the house and the scattered home improvement tools to its advantage—screwdrivers to eyes, sawblades to cheeks, and kitchen islands used as cover. And the clash between Carrie and Cruz is everything hoped for after they shared their first unblinking glance in “The Book Of Job,” some outright ninja action as they punch and flip and hack at each other in the most brutal of ways.

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And vitally for Banshee, the sequence remembers how important the people at the center of the conflict are. Job is the star of the sequence, hit with his PTSD symptoms almost immediately after hearing gunfire, but this time his deeply ingrained survival instincts win out and he’s kicking and shooting with the best of them. (Frustrations also win out in a glorious Hoon Lee delivery after he’s used assault rifles and trimming scissors to win a fight: “I am sick and tired of fighting for my motherfucking life!”) And while Carrie is excellent as she battles to protect her home, Ivana Miličević has her strongest point in the aftermath when Hood tries to argue against the war she’s been raging against Proctor. Carrie is left hollowed out, lashing out at Hood but left staring blankly at the sky in the end, the refuge she worked so hard to build still not enough to protect what mattered in the long run. Both of these characters have been through this sort of thing so many times, all they can do is get through it and see if there’s anything left afterwards.

The real victim of the conflict is Deva, who’s given a quick crash course in how guns work from Job and finds herself using one to dispatch one of Cruz’s goons after a tense run to the barn. Deva’s story has been increasingly threaded with the question of how much like her parents she’s becoming—witness her unsuccessful thefts in “The Fire Trials”—and with blood literally on her hands she’s taken another step down that road. No one puts it into words, but Antony Starr and Miličević all convey it in their familial gestures to their daughter, that this is yet another consequence of who they are they failed to protect her from. An underplayed Banshee strength is the way it can unexpectedly hit you in the heart, and Shane does that in her tearful confession to Hood: “I just wanna go home. The thing is, I don’t know where that is.”

Dragging Deva into the crossfires is another thing that Proctor is going to have to answer for, and the erstwhile lord of Banshee is having a rocky go of it. The serial killer arc has detracted from some of the energy of Proctor’s story this year, taking time away from what should be his final fight against Hood and forcing him into a place of largely internalized grief as he copes with Rebecca’s loss. “Dogfight” manages to get some momentum back as he directs veiled threats to Carrie in the courtroom—some expectedly great work from both Miličević and Ulrich Thomsen as they dance around the truth—and manages to be utterly nonplussed by Calvin’s swagger as Watts’ head takes up residence on his desk. The deadline with the cartel is drawing ever closer, and these twin complications are pushing him to a place where he may not be able to deliver.

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Indeed, Calvin’s riding high on the exhilaration of murdering and chopping up his domineering father-in-law. The problem is that in rising Calvin to these heights, Banshee also commits a cardinal sin as his energy leads him to rape his wife and sends her fleeing from the house. The show has played the sexual assault card before but it’s never done it so graphically, and going to this exploitative level with Maggie—a character who has almost no presence beyond what she represents to the Bunker brothers—is just nasty and unnecessary, even worse than the serial killer bullshit. It’s even worse when presented in contrast to the confrontation between Kurt and Calvin, a scene that needs nothing beyond its two actors and plays perfectly to Chris Coy and Tom Pelphrey’s shared strength of conveying so much volatility in body language alone. There are a lot of ways to make Calvin contemptible, doing this is lazy.

That’s only one of two depressingly bad moments handling a female character this week that stick out in what’s a largely solid episode, with the latter being the damseling of Agent Dawson. Last week I had some issues with the predictable ways the character was being used, and “Dogfight” does the work to dismiss that assumption as she and Hood get closer to the truth of the killer playing bad cop/slightly less bad cop. She turns her keen profiling eye on Hood and identifies what everyone in the Banshee sheriff’s department took far too long to pick up on, that his approach or stance are more in keeping with a criminal who’s done hard time. And while things in her hotel room go the expected route with both of them winding up naked and entwined, the damage that Hood’s sustained over the years culminating to his crossing over to memories of Siobhan and breaking down in tears. Dawson doesn’t flinch away, but instead holds him tighter, being unexpectedly what he needs in that moment—someone who sees what he actually is, without the baggage of his relationship with Carrie or the lies inherent to his relationship with Siobhan.

So of course, Banshee has to have her become the killer’s next potential victim when the investigation leads her to his partner in crime. As terrific as the buildup to Lilith attacking Dawson is with Tropper’s agonizing pacing leading to the inevitable conclusion, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that for the whole sequence you’re screaming at her to start driving and call on the drive back, because the audience can see the disaster coming even if she can’t. Barring an exciting escape on her part she’s either going to get killed by Declan or rescued by Hood, and this is a character that deserves a lot better than that.

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And truly, the less said about the serial killer—now named as Declan Bode—all the better. Frederick Weller is doing the best he can, but in Declan he’s shackled to a character who’s nearly impossible to take seriously. For all Lilith talks about his natural charisma none of that comes through in his scenes, and his confrontation of Brock in the alley and extolling of his higher calling turns him into a poor man’s Francis Dolarhyde. He’s presenting his superiority with a cocky smugness that makes you hope Dawson will escape and put him down in next week’s cold open so we can get back to the mess brewing back in town with the Hoodlums, Proctor, and the Brotherhood. As “Dogfight” proves, that’s where the real energy of the show is.

Stray observations:

  • Best Job Look: Another step back to the Job of old as he borrows one of Carrie’s old sweaters, which Deva says looks good on him. Job: “Most things do.”
  • Someone also set themselves on fire this week, as the florist introduced last week walks into the sheriff’s department to proclaim Declan’s superiority and dump a gallon of gas on their head. It’s an effective visual beat but that’s about it.
  • Far more effective is the scene where Proctor and Burton lay Rebecca to rest in an unmarked grave deep in the fields, beautifully shot by Tropper to reflect the wide expanse. (On that note, did Proctor just leave Burton out there to bury Rebecca and then make him walk home afterwards? That’s the only explanation I can give for why he wasn’t present when Calvin and his goons made their ultimatum.)
  • Between Chris Coy full frontal and Eliza Dushku rear end, Banshee’s filling its nudity quota this week.
  • “Do I need to worry about you?” “No. Might be nice if you did.”
  • “I’m also the bitch with the badge. Did I not mention that?”
  • “I don’t stay still because every time I do, someone close to me fucking dies.” Hard to argue with that.
  • “You can go quietly, or you can go bloody. Your choice.”
  • “Baby, there’s a whole world out there.” “So they tell me.”

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