Antony Starr (Cinemax)

Did the man who became Lucas Hood deserve to walk out of Banshee alive? That’s the question I’ve been chewing on in the wake of “Requiem,” an episode that ended with a surprisingly optimistic bent for this oft bleak and brutal show. For an episode named after a funeral dirge and a series that’s named after an Irish spirit whose scream is a portent of death, it’s almost remarkable that Hood would be able to make his way to the end. Sugar even says as much to him as they share their final bourbon, and Hood can’t find a single point of disagreement with that. And yet he does, and our final glimpse of the man is not his broken body but riding out of town, on the very same bike he rode in on.

There’s an odd neatness to that—and to much of the third act of “Requiem—that could be seen as out of keeping for a show I once praised as “unapologetically violent, over-the-top and a few degrees removed from reality.” In its four seasons Banshee was a relentlessly brutal show that spilled blood and debris like nothing else on television, unafraid to kill off any of its characters in pursuit of further heights of violence. But on the other hand, it was never a show that was unnecessarily cruel to them or took pleasure in their torments. It had an odd affection for the broken men and women at its core, one that acknowledged they were fighting for something or because of a total absence of anything else. It was never a battle they were fated to lose, it was simply one where the odds weren’t in their favor and they chose to ignore that. And just because the odds aren’t in your favor, that doesn’t mean you don’t get to win in the end.

And on balance, I find myself well-disposed to the finale. Partially (as with so much this season) the good things were so awesome that they eclipsed my concerns, and partially because “Requiem” succeeded at the two main jobs it had to accomplish. It needed to provide a cap to a season that had its moments but was also on balance the show’s weakest, and also find a way to close off all the madness that built the show up to its heights in the three seasons before. And despite the neatness of the story’s resolution, it’s accompanied by everything that made Banshee great: the high-octane explosions, fistfights and gunfights, and the quieter moments of reflection and character beats that made the violence mean something.

The biggest course correction of “Requiem” is the revelation that the mystery that seemed to be resolved at the end of “Truths Other Than The Ones You Tell Yourself,” that of Rebecca Bowman’s murder. A few discrepancies identified by Dawson and a shaky performance by Lilith indicates that Rebecca didn’t fit Declan’s pattern, a move that turns Hood into an investigator once again with his focus turned on Proctor. Establishing Declan’s coven as a red herring is simultaneously refreshing and aggravating in retrospect, validating my dislike for the plot but only further rendering it as a waste of precious time in the final stretch.

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The reveal of the true killer is all the more satisfying though, as it turns out to be the one many of you were predicting/hoping for: Banshee’s horn-rimmed angel of death, Clay Burton. If not redeeming the decision to kill off Rebecca at the start of the series, it does make that death feel like the logical conclusion of her journey. Rebecca was a loose cannon and her relationship with her uncle had grown increasingly frayed in the various flashbacks, but it was also clear that Proctor’s twisted attachment to her meant he’d never do anything. However, Burton’s own twisted attachment to Proctor meant he would. The final scene between Matthew Rauch and Lili Simmons is worlds better than any of Declan’s platitudes, all the history and loathing between them given form in a final confrontation.

That confrontation however can’t hold a candle to what happens when Hood and Burton come to blows in the woods of Banshee. The fourth season has suffered from a serious lack of major action set pieces, and the clash between Banshee’s indestructible members—filmed by longtime director OC Madsen, who also brought us the Albino prison fight in season one—is everything that we’d hoped for. The choreography of punches and kicks is close and brutal, the action periodically slows down John Woo-style to raise the impact of the blood and creek water raised with their movements, and everything is charged with the audience’s awareness of just how ridiculously tough these two are. It’s the sort of conflict that could only happen this close to the end, a clash that’s been often speculated on but never happened, and it lives up to all expectations.

And as with every great Banshee action moment, it’s the more introspective moments that make it sing. Burton gets the upper hand to choke the life out of Hood, and it triggers all the old ghosts to appear before his eyes. The Albino, Sanchez, Quentin, Rabbit, Chayton, Emmett, Siobhan—everyone he’s beaten and lost in his life, a greatest hits reel that looks like where the requiem of the title comes into play. Until one thing crosses his mind, his conversation with Deva right before she departed for college that morning. Hood is a fighter through and through, but he’s always needed something to fight for, and the chance to fight for the living galvanizes him—not to save them, but to simply be there for them. The tide turns as he manages to disable the unkillable Burton by way of multiple headbutts and drop him in a broken Proctor’s lap. It’s the resolution this story was begging for, ended in one terse nod, swift jerk, and scream into the sky.

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Of course, part of the reason that Hood’s able to get the drop on Proctor and Burton is because they’re already bloodied from the cartel handoff, spectacularly botched by Carrie’s intervention. As an action sequence it’s brief, but it’s more remarkable for the way it injects a sense of fun into the proceedings. Carrie’s full of joy at this closing moment of her crusade, cheered by the fact that it’s no longer a lonely one. Job’s on top of the truck whipping out an M60, Brock’s out of sight to deliver both an RPG and a kissoff line—“That’s right. Someone just blew up your fucking drugs”—and all three of them drive out of there with the cartel’s Lincoln Town Car. It’s that old Banshee caper energy, sorely missed in the serial killing mire.

The energy levels continue with the season’s most anticipated meeting, the final clash between the Bunker brothers. While this plot had its stumbles related to Maggie’s complete non-entity status, both Tom Pelphrey and Chris Coy continually did tremendous work independently and together, charging the energy in a way that distinguished such personal brawls as Hood versus Chayton and Carrie versus Stowe. It’s as rough as what happens between Hood and Burton and even uglier because of how personal it is, also taking some hints from “A Fixer Of Sorts” with the occasional car-provided improvised weapon. Choosing to shoot it in Brock’s comfortable riverside backyard as opposed to the show’s more industrial settings is a terrific choice, as when Madsen chooses to pull the camera back their fighting could almost be mistaken for roughhousing of the sort they must have done plenty of when they were children. It ends as it must, with Kurt having to fufill the prophecy of “Only One Way A Dogfight Ends” and putting down the mad dog his brother’s become.

In that remarkable Banshee fashion, all of that manages to happen and there’s a full third of the episode left. In the time it has left, the show elects not to close the door on the future, but implies that the road ahead might wind up being a little bit better than the one that came before. Bunker makes his weak case to Brock, and Brock lets him off with a slap on the wrist, stepping back to remind him—and the audience—that this town is fucking crazy and sometimes it needs to be met with crazy. It’s a great character beat to show how far Brock has come and puts him in a true position of authority in the office, owning the madness that comes with it. He ends the show given a chance to be the lawman he wanted to be, a conception now lightly flavored with the last sheriff’s brutal pragmatism—a sheriff he lets depart with one final nod of understanding between them.

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That brutal pragmatism means that there’s no response to an arriving group of cartel assassins looking for Proctor. The title of “Requiem” applies to Proctor more than any other character in this finale, and of all of them his end feels the most appropriate. Even moreso than Hood, Kai Proctor lived a life on the edge, a life that was constantly daring someone to reach out and kill him, and he always seemed aware of that reality. He knew there was never going to be more than just the next deal in front of him—his failed relationship with his family and Emily stood as testament to that—and when he eventually hit the last deal, devoid of his true constants in Rebecca and Burton, he met that fate on his feet. It’s a fighter’s death, ending with his gun ablaze but before we see his bullets answered.

Ivana Miličević (Cinemax)

A final stare and a nod between Hood and Proctor was all the resolution that relationship needed, but the relationship between Hood and Carrie needs so much more. Showrunner Jonathan Tropper said at the time of the season three finale that a happy ending between the two was never the plan, and while there were some hints last week it could go that way, his final script keeps things in the right territory. Hood’s not going to stay and she’s not going to go with him, and they both know it despite the offers. What hangs between them is “all that history in one moment” (to borrow a favorite quote), flashbacks of all their years and interactions, the understanding and memories that means and hurts so much. It’s wrenching work from both Antony Starr and Ivana Miličević in keeping with all their prior scenes, with just the right amount of optimism as Carrie throws off “Ana” for good.

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That sense of optimism continues into the final scene between the Hoodlums, as Job and Hood prepare to leave for parts unknown. Sugar has been something of a nonentity this season, his bits of wisdom and criminal actions limited with his partner-in-crime out of commission, but he gets one last chance to shine as he and Hood reflect on how far things have come since. It’s a quieter scene than any that have come before, almost relaxed in contrast to all the insanity that’s distinguished the series, an uncoiling of the nerves and the remarkable reality that they’ve managed to make it to this point. They’ve paid a lot, but they didn’t have to pay everything, and their quiet surprise and acceptance of that carries over to a sense that it feels right for Hood to leave it all behind and chase the next horizon. Hood may not have deserved to walk out per se, but he fought and bled enough that he earned the right to do so.

It’s a remarkable thing that he did, and a similarly remarkable thing that a show as insane, thrilling, and well-made as Banshee made it to air. It followed in the footsteps of Strike Back to shatter the boundaries of what was technically possible on television, raised the bar for all action scenes going forward, and eked a far more poignant a story out of pulp fiction and action film tropes than anyone expected from a Cinemax original series at the time. Whatever comes next in this genre will have a long and bloody shadow to stand in.

Stray observations:

  • Best Job Look: Absolutely fabulous in a blonde pompadour and a top that appeared to incorporate ninja stars, and leaving us all with a line that leaves no doubt he’s back to being him. “This is where I leave you, Banshee, Pennsylvania. Suck my tit!” (And his leaving the suitcase of money with Sugar is, I believe, the first time anyone on this show has paid for a drink at the Forge.)
  • Good musical choices here. Roam’s “Broken Twin” plays over the wreckage of the various battles, and Wwer’s “Steel Love” accompanies Hood’s final walk out of the Banshee Police Department.
  • The dispute between Calvin and Proctor is waved away with remarkable ease, as Proctor’s senator ally turns out to be a high-ranking member of the Brotherhood who puts Calvin in his place with choice words and a couple of slaps. A prompt resolution, but a necessary one given both men had bigger battles to fight in their last days.
  • Dawson wound up being much more of an ancillary character than hoped when Eliza Dushku joined the show, a likely consequence of the season’s shortened order. At least she gets to leave on a good beat by dropping a copy of Hood’s FBI file on the bed, implying she knew exactly who he was the whole time. I like to imagine that when she got the assignment to go to Banshee, Denis O’Hare’s Agent Phillips called her into his office and explained just what she was walking into.
  • Also in the ancillary character/red herring territory, Dr. Hubbard. I expected much more badassery from Erik King that just never wound up happening.
  • More than once I equated Burton to Proctor’s Luca Brasi, and that comparison rings true here as he meets the fate Don Corleone said was Brasi’s sole fear: that the man he’d given his loyalty to would be the one to kill him.
  • Carrie’s getting Max back! I’m sure that will reward all six of you who remembered that Max was once a character on this show.
  • “Normal might not be in my repertoire anymore.”
  • “You made pretty good backup by the way.” “I always thought you were my backup.”
  • “Who the fuck are you?” “I’m nobody.” Carrie must feel she’s doing the bidding of the Many-Faced God.
  • “The butler did it. Seriously?”
  • “You know, some might say you weren’t all that bad at that sheriff thing.” “And some might say I was the worst fucking thing that ever happened to this town.”
  • “Today, there’s really only one question left to ask. What are you going to do now?”
  • That’s a wrap on Banshee. It’s been a true joy to discuss this absolutely bonkers show on a weekly basis with you for the last two seasons and change, and one I’m going to deeply miss next year. Please use the comments below to discuss your favorite moments/fight scenes/guest villains/Job outfits. Thanks for visiting Banshee.

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