Lindsay Ayliffe, Alpha Trivette, Ulrich Thomsen (Cinemax)

It’s proving harder and harder to think that the story of Banshee is going to have a happy ending. In my review of “A Fixer Of Sorts” I talked at length about the nature of karma in the show’s world and how everyone eventually pays for their sins, and as this season’s gone on the establishing and settling of those debts has become so intertwined that it looks like it’s going to pull everyone under by the end. Even the good things like the success of the Camp Genoa heist last week are tainted by the knowledge that a man like Stowe isn’t going to let this go unanswered, and that the crew’s slowness to get out of dodge is probably going to hurt everyone around them before it’s over.

The sense of dread that’s seeped into the show as time’s gone on is looming through the whole of “All The Wisdom I Got Left.” As much as everyone’s riding high—Hood has the location of his target, his crew is sitting on millions of dollars, Proctor’s coasting on new relationship energy—the high comes across as one of an Icarus nature, a false sense of safety that doesn’t even come across as all that safe at first glance. This is an episode full of some of Banshee’s most brutal close-combat action (as well as a contender for most violent death after Nola’s Road House-style throat rip) but the attitude throughout remains one that the worst is yet to come.

Hood and Brock get a temporary reprieve from the madness of Banshee by taking a road trip down to Louisiana, where Chayton has found refuge in an underground fighting ring. Banshee is expert at making Banshee County feel like a lived-in location—even as they’re recreating small-town Pennsylvania in North Carolina—and that sense of place extends to their use of one of America’s most recognizable cities. While its depiction of the city lacks the level of atmospheric immersion that Louisiana-centric shows like Treme or True Detective pulled off, the creative team appreciates the area’s unique elements like the architecture of the French Quarter and the ancient feeling of the surrounding swamps. It’s a small bit of location shooting, but the fact that they actually went on location as opposed to a New Orleans soundstage goes a long way to provide a new spin on the Banshee experience.

Of course, New Orleans exists primarily as the ring for our two fighters, as Lucas Hood and Chayton Littlestone are finally ready to throw down. Everything that’s happened with Hood and Chayton this season—the shared glance in “The Fire Trials,” the taunting in “Tribal,” the tent sparring in “We Were All Someone Else Yesterday”—has felt like an appetizer to a greater brawl, which materializes here in three rounds. Round one returns us to the fight club Chayton ran to last season, Hood proving himself supremely capable in tight quarters and even pulling off some parkour moves. Round two (easily the best) takes advantage of a Quarter hotel to shoot a knife-fight in 360 degrees, opponents drawing blood at every turn and following the action in and out of the balcony. And round three is less a fight than it is a hunt, Hood and his shotgun stalking Chayton through the tombstones and Mardi Gras floats of the city. Director Greg Yaitanes gets the most out of all three settings, using the lighting and camera angles to provide an entirely different experience in each round.

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It’s Hood that eventually comes out on top, but his victory over Chayton still remains more physical than psychological. Chayton’s particular brand of crazy was always made more dangerous by his conception of himself, and fittingly for his final moments he doesn’t do anything to break his single-minded focus. “You will never understand purity or true purpose. I am a warrior,” he proudly intones to Hood, right before a description of killing Siobhan that pushes him the other man to the edge right as he intones his final prayers. Hood, for his part, is in character as he’s determined to get the last word if nothing else: one quick word tricks Chayton into opening his eyes a split second before Hood gives him a Gus Fring special and splatters half his skull open. Every aspect of their final battle lives up to expectations, the clash that’s built for a season and a half and that couldn’t have ended any other way.

Back in Banshee, things are operating on a post-heist fragile stability. With the Camp Genoa money neatly tucked away in the Forge, Sugar decides to claim a portion of his share in advance and use it to compensate the son of an old rival he once beat within an inch of his life. Sugar’s past as a fighter has been largely skated over since it was first set up in the pilot, sticking only to the impression of a broken-down fighter who flickers back to life when Hood walks into his bar and gives him the chance of new adventure. Focusing on how he got to the broken-down part of the equation provides some of Frankie Faison’s best material in the entire run of the series, either in the steel in his voice as he warns Job not to push or hearing that voice break as he talks about what he did to Oscar senior. Sugar’s always felt like the most ostensibly noble member of Hood’s criminal crew, and his confessions and regrets further cement that position.

Sugar’s arc is a moving one, but it’s Job who displays the most surprising depth of character here. Simultaneously sensitive to the proceeds of the heist and able to smell a fellow con artist from a mile away, he quickly deduces that Sugar’s being taken advantage of and makes it his mission to get the money back. The odd regard Job and Sugar have for each other has typically made for some fine comedy—as their various capers this season prove—but this is the first time that glimmers of affection shine through between the two, and it’s a rewarding thing to witness. (Well, as much affection as either man is capable of. Sugar: “So why’d you give it back?” Job: “I didn’t give it all back.”)

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Operating from a similar place of blissful ignorance to Sugar’s is Proctor, who’s enjoying Emily’s company so much that a discrepancy in the books over higher drug profits isn’t enough to even raise his eyebrow. “That’s a good problem to have,” he chuckles to Burton when it’s brought to his attention. A less sanguine Burton follows up on the matter and sniffs out Rebecca’s own operation, her inexperience and swagger leading him right to her latest delivery boy. Apparently whatever understanding the two had in “Real Life Is The Nightmare” was short-lived, as the tension between Rebecca and Burton is so heavy you expect the latter to pull his glasses off mid-conversation.

It’s when Rebecca rephrases the terms of what Burton telling Proctor would mean that he’s truly thrown off guard—indeed, this is the first time we’ve seen him not just hesitant but paralyzed with indecision. Flashbacks to his brutal past (of which we’ve only seen hints in prior episodes) reveal just how much of his life he owes to Proctor, and establishes with perfect clarity that it’s the Luca Brasi style of absolute loyalty laid out in the The Godfather novel: He does not fear death, only that Proctor may be the one to kill him. It’s a dimension that’s unsurprising for the character, but it redefines the tension within the house of Proctor to a new extent. Burton has always been the implement of his boss’s orders, how will he react if those orders may lead to his no longer being said implement?

Unfortunately for Proctor, Burton’s moment of hesitation costs him dearly, as Mr. Fraser’s men show up at his re-baptism and drag him and Emily away in full view of his entire family. This scene is almost harder to watch than what happens to Chayton, because it’s an emotional toppling rather than a physical one. Proctor’s sense of loss in being cast out from the community has been the character’s most sympathetic attribute all series, so to see those tentative steps back in destroyed in a way that’s certain to reinforce all their worst fears about him only makes it worse. (Rebecca certainly doesn’t clear up any perceptions about herself either, emptying her clip at the departing SUV and being stared down by her mother in response.) Hood’s lured back to Banshee by the promise of taking Proctor down, but given the way things are going a lot of the work may be done by the time he gets home.

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And he’d probably be more eager to stay in New Orleans if he knew what was waiting for him when he got back. Whatever lingering feelings of dread “All The Wisdom I Got Left” produces are made material at the end as Colonel Stowe starts to form a plan of attack and figure out who took the money. The promise of the Camp Genoa take’s shady nature was a pro in Hood’s column, but Stowe’s proving himself to be an adversary with enough foresight and resources that the cons were far too downplayed. The questions are too easy to ask—How deep can the pool of candidates who could get his voice and handprint be? What hacker in this town could be better than his security expert? Who has the training to stand against him in single combat?—and by the end of the episode, he’s got an answer to at least one of them. With two episodes to go in a season that’s proven bloodier than ever, the only wisdom that anyone in Banshee needs at this point is the wisdom to get away before their number comes up.

Stray observations:

  • If I have quibbles with this episode, it’s that some of the beats were a little too on the nose. Stowe’s statement that his attacker had training but seemed to have grown a conscience, Brock saying out loud what we assumed from “Real Life Is The Nightmare” Hood had already figured out about himself and Proctor—these were a degree of underlining that the show’s audience doesn’t need.
  • RIP Chayton, you magnificent, larger-than-life bastard. While the character had gone to a point in the last few weeks where he’d outlived his narrative usefulness and it made no sense that he could stay alive, Geno Segers brought a tremendous amount of charisma to the role that leaves mammoth shoes for Banshee to fill.
  • Hood makes contact with Sammy Crow, a Native American criminal with impressive burn scars and a voicebox. More proof of how great the show is at creating bit players. (Speaking of, of course the pit boss is a fat man in a white linen suit. How Louisiana criminal can you get?)
  • Rebecca tries using her feminine wiles to get her way with Burton, only to realize he’s literally incapable of responding to her. Whatever happened to him in that basement clearly went far beyond mere lashings.
  • I like to imagine that Billy and Bunker spent the entire time Hood and Brock were gone playing gin rummy in the CADI and having the awkwardest of conversations.
  • Best Job Look: His outfit when he knocked out Oscar Jr. is the best-dressed we’ve seen him all season. It takes a special kind of style to look that good and kick that much ass.
  • “Float like a butterfly, motherfucker.”
  • “Well if it ain’t for money and it ain’t for glory, there’s only one thing left. Who was she?”
  • “Town full of day-drinkers. That’s a concept I can get behind.”
  • “Sure I can’t get you anything else?” “Not today.”

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