Antony Starr (Cinemax)

From the moment that Banshee premiered, the question hanging over the series has been the same: “How long can this last?” Even as the action went to increasingly insane places and the narrative proved it had more interesting and pressing things on its mind, the audacity and implausibility of the show’s central lie never fully goes away. An ex-con lies his way into a small-town sheriff’s position, bringing both a chaotic neutral approach to law enforcement and a past that includes Ukrainian gangsters? It’s the sort of premise that seems like it’s built for either miniseries length or a series that proves weekly Roger Ebert’s theory of the Idiot Plot, i.e. something that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.

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Banshee has walked the tightrope on this event for two-plus seasons, managing to avoid answering the question with a combination of outside forces and escalating the world to be as insane as its premise. It still couldn’t last forever though, and last week’s tremendous “A Fixer Of Sorts” finally brought the secret of Hood’s life into the open. While it delays the serious repercussions of the reveal by way of a full-bore attack on the precinct, it still pulls things back enough to show just what it would mean for Hood to give up being Hood and go back to whatever he was before he set himself on this path.

That doesn’t appear to be much, at least based on the impressions of “Real Life Is The Nightmare.” While Job doesn’t miss a beat in suggesting that it’s time to pull up shop and disappear someplace, Hood seems genuinely shaken at the idea of giving up this life. Antony Starr’s come a long way from the early days of Banshee, where his character was something of a cipher, remarkable only for the way he could take a licking and keep on ticking. Now, his emotions are much closer to the surface as result of investment and abuse. There’s plenty at play here, either in the worry when he’s calling Siobhan constantly to no avail, or the complete frustration he has with Deputy Aimee’s concern over the Proctor/Chayton war or DA Medding’s commitment to due process as opposed to beating suspects within an inch of their life.

No, what’s important to Hood in these moments is finding some way to leave his girls, his daughter and the mother of his daughter, in a good place. Which unfortunately seems to be eluding both of them, as Carrie’s gripped with such feelings of vertigo in her waitress job that she walks out without giving notice and Deva is (in Gordon’s words) “missing assignments, disruptive, and apparently her attitude sucks.” Both of these characters have borne the full emotional brunt of last season’s resolution while Hood has been allowed to comparatively coast, and here we see some stark examples of what that means as both cut loose this week. Carrie indulges her darker side by flirting with and then beating up a biker, stealing his ride and leading a state trooper on a chase; Deva reaps the benefits of Hood’s earlier thieving lesson and makes off with a copy of Forza Motorsport 5 to give Max.

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Hood knows he’s in no position to help them get their heads on straight even if the threat of exposure wasn’t over his head, but he makes his best stab at it in some quieter scenes. Again, Starr is particularly good as he finds a level of honesty about his paternal feelings (“My old man never gave a shit about me! I guess you’d call him honest”), or as he slides easily into the familiar comfort of Carrie’s company. At this point, the twisted family dynamic between the three is in something of a holding pattern, and the desire is growing to see all three sit down and try to have something approximating a conversation about the status quo. A conversation that Hood and the show keeps pushing away, as he declines her invitation to stay and prepares for a lonely drive away from this life.

Unfortunately, his route out of town takes him past the Savoy, and the tumblers click in his mind about one last piece of business: Kai Proctor. As much fun as characters like Rabbit, Chayton, Brantley, Stowe, and every other minor antagonist have been when they’ve had their time on the show, Banshee (similar to the Raylan/Boyd feud in Justified) finds a new gear when it boils down to a confrontation between the two. The only reason Hood has the Hood life is because the old mayor wanted an out-of-towner to deal with Proctor’s empire, and since then the two men have moved between uneasy truce, legal battles, and open warfare. While it’s eclipsed by such epic battles as the fight with the albino and last week’s Nola/Burton showdown, the fight between the two in “Always The Cowboy” stands out in the Banshee canon because the battle is as much physical as idealogical.

That level of connection makes it entirely reasonable (if such a phrase can ever be applied here) that Hood would decide to end his tenure as sheriff by putting a bullet between Proctor’s eyes and vanishing into the ether. Except Proctor dodges said bullet and charges straight into Hood, and the next round between the pair commences. Once again director Magnus Martens produces an excellently choreographed fight that uses the setting to full effect, the strip club’s pole and stage providing elevated terrain, and the construction gear at hand providing the regular promise of even bloodier prop-assisted conflict. In its way, it’s even more fascinating than the fight in “A Fixer Of Sorts,” which was a ton of fun largely because it was a matchup of two fan favorites. This brawl has an extra energy to it because we know how how much each man is pouring into it: Proctor desperately needs distraction from his legal troubles and his mother’s worsening health, while Hood sees this as his last act in town. Both men appear as if they’d welcome either outcome to the fight, even as they fight tooth and nail (or hammer and nail, such as it is) to be on top.

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Siobhan reappears once Hood comes out on top—dragging Proctor in for assaulting a police officer, a development that feels too forced given how much in the wrong Hood was here—and finally speaks her peace. As betrayed as Siobhan feels by this revelation and as many pieces as she’s able to put together with this new information, she’s also a smart and loyal enough character that she recognizes this secret would damn the entire department along with Hood. It’s motivation that feels like an organic reason to keep the secret buried, even if her suggestion that Hood resign quietly speaks to a willful naiveté about how life works in Banshee. She wants to believe he’ll go quietly, when no one in the show’s history ever has.

Even before Hood comes straight at him, Proctor’s proving that fact of Banshee life. After the Littlestones make the initial moves, Proctor opts to counter by interfering with the transfer of Tommy’s body, sending Burton to deal with it—and Rebecca inviting herself along for the ride. The uneasy relationship between these two remains an open question, with Rebecca asserting more dominance in the wake of Burton’s injuries, but in his weakened state he appears more open to the possibility. So many little moments in this sequence land, be it the little smirk on Matt Rauch’s face as the car is gunned or the stride away from the burning van that could come straight out of a Joel Silver film. After two weeks of reactive moves from the Proctor camp, it’s nice to see them taking the initiative again, even if it’s a largely symbolic gesture.

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A symbol whose meaning is not lost on Chayton, who shows up at the reservation to claim his body. At a certain point the Banshee creative team realized that Geno Segers can command a scene simply by virtue of towering over everyone else in the room, and the moment of reverence and subsequent tears provides a potent emotional beat. It moves Aimee to tears similarly, but those tears are as much grief for what’s to come. What’s to come appears to be nothing less than war, scenes of Tommy’s grand funeral pyre intercut with preparing weapons and loading up trucks to storm the precinct and take Proctor by force.

That massing of the troops further postpones the broader reveal of Hood’s secret, but again it’s a gesture that feels entirely organic in the world of the show. Hood spent so much time brushing off the war between Proctor and the Redbones as not his problem—even before his supposed last day on the job—and now he’s caught right in its jaws. “Real Life Is The Nightmare” doesn’t provide the answer to how long Banshee can sustain its premise, keeping it secondary to the immediate action. What it does make clear is that even with Hood’s biggest reason to stay compromised, leaving town is as hard for him as it is for any other resident.

Stray observations:

  • Still no sign of Colonel Stowe or Camp Genoa this week. Interesting choice given the groundwork that appeared to be in place to make it a season-long focus, but certainly enough is going on that there’s not much room for it to factor in.
  • Once again Job and Sugar—or rather Roger and Frank this week—are operating outside of Banshee, as the IDs they copied are now used to obtain an algorithm that can help them open the vault door. These two feel like they’re on their own show at this point, but it’s a show that I would watch every episode of given how much fun Frankie Faison and Hoon Lee are together. This week’s highlight is Sugar’s stumbling through the thick head of hair Job gave him on the ID, and the ugly look he gives the latter after passing his security check. (Job: “He’s a little slow since the accident.”)
  • Gordon has his shit together this episode: dressing the part of mayor, cleaning out every bottle in his apartment, looking like the more responsible parent when he lectures Carrie, telling Proctor’s defense attorney to piss off in the nicest possible way. Good for Gordon, especially given that his wife is acting like she wants to join SAMCRO.
  • Job’s summary of the situation, boiled down to one phrase: “There are fake cops—that’s you—and real cops—that’s her.”
  • “You’re leaving, aren’t you. … Does it matter that I want you to stay?”
  • “You know I tried to be good with that badge.”

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