Geno Segers (Cinemax)

Before this week, it’s been an open question what Banshee’s best episode was. Some fans might say season two’s “The Truth About Unicorns” was the best, as it’s a break from the usual routine of sex and violence and casts the Hood/Carrie relationship in its softest light. Others might give the nod to “Bullets And Tears” for its John Woo-style church shootout, while others may praise “We Shall Live Forever” for having an nearly all-episode brawl between Carrie and Olek. More recently, “A Fixer Of Sorts” built a strong case by pairing fan favorites Burton and Nola in a fight to the death, introducing ever more cartoonish adversaries, and playing one of the show’s biggest cards in the reveal of Hood’s identity to his new lover Siobhan.

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All of these have their merits, but the debate ends now: “Tribal” is the best episode Banshee has ever produced. Where “A Fixer Of Sorts” raised the bar for what Banshee could do, “Tribal” rips the bar out of the wall, uses it to knock the teeth out of a tough biker’s mouth, and then hurls it against the wall to impale two of his friends who are drawing guns. This is the engine operating at its highest velocity and efficiency, making fantastic use of the show’s gifts for stunt coordination and character intensity and pouring them into cathartic violence and heartbreaking realizations. Everyone from director OC Madsen and writer Adam Targum down brings their A-game, moments that can hold their own not only against anything on TV but also any action film released this year.

“Tribal” is also remarkable in Banshee history in that it’s the show’s first bottle episode, one that easily catapults onto the list of TV’s greatest examples of the format. With his arch-rival Proctor locked up behind bars, two of his Redbones in the next cell over, and his brother’s killer on duty, Chayton decides there’s no better time to unleash his gathered firepower and lay waste to the CADI precinct. It’s a familiar concept, explored in such iconic films as Rio Bravo and Assault On Precinct 13, but its familiarity doesn’t dilute its efficacy. Other bottle episodes may turn to loose insects or purple pens to put its characters in a confined space, yet it’s hard to dispute that few things ratchet up the feeling of being besieged by two dozen angry young men with assault rifles.

Siege is the right word for it, as the abandoned dealership-cum-police station takes on the feeling of a fortress with the reveal of the previously unknown shutters keeping the Redbones at bay temporarily. This first salvo leads to the first conversation that Hood and Chayton have shared all season—lingering glances in “The Fire Trials” not withstanding—and it does not disappoint. Chayton, clad in a terrifying red and black paint job, demands the release of his men and his targets, every bit the conquering chieftain. Hood, always the antagonistic force, rejects the ploy and twists the knife over Tommy’s death. It sets the tone for the event even better than the opening salvo of bullets, the indication that neither of these men are going to back down and neither has even professional respect for the other.

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From there, the action kicks into high gear and doesn’t stop, Chayton’s force throwing everything at the walls and Hood’s team scrambling to cover up the holes that appear. There’s not a single dull moment in the entire night as the Banshee creative team keeps the energy levels high by adding multiple Redbone plans to penetrate the station defenses, ranging from the psychological (cutting the power) to the inventive (using a truck to pull open the front door gate) to the brute force (turning a mounted machine gun on the shutters to bore a manhole-sized gap). And in each point, the attacks are fantastically countered by Hood, diving between cover to get in place to shoot down the machine gun operators or teaming up with Proctor to shoot down and then blow up the truck in question. Madsen gets the most out of shooting in these tight quarters, dark angles and flickering lights making the station feel every bit the prison it’s become.

If the gunfight forces alliances between all parties, it’s what they do in the moments between bullets that makes the episode stand out. Everyone’s decidedly on edge here, be it Proctor’s attorney demanding with an absurd lack of regard for the situation that his client be released, Brock furious once the attorney gets his head blown off and Proctor lets himself out in the confusion, or Medding enraged that an apparent neo-Nazi has all the firepower. Like Rio Bravo and Assault On Precinct 13, “Tribal” understands that the dynamic between the people who are trapped is even more interesting than the dynamic between the besiegers and the besieged, and the show collects a fair pot of Banshee’s best. (Interestingly, despite having three innocent bystanders who we’ve never seen before, not one of them winds up fulfilling their expected role of cannon fodder.)

The biggest surprise of the night turns out to be the apparent neo-Nazi, as ex-skinhead Kurt Bunker—last seen in “Snakes And Whatnot” looking for work—becomes a temporary member of Banshee PD. He offers help, though it’s not help anyone there wants once they get a look at his varied swastika tattoos. Bunker offered an apology to Hood and Siobhan on his first meeting about how his physical appearance could be alarming, and the weary way he delivers the same apology verbatim—twice—is evidence it’s a prepared speech he’s given a hundred times over. Far more life goes into his recounting to DA Medding of how events brought him to have these tattoos, a stirringly delivered monologue by Tom Pelphrey of a life that he never expected to live. As much as everyone regards him with ugly suspicion, he’s a man of focus and reserves of strength, both of which they’ll need plenty of to survive the night.

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His head certainly seems the coolest of any of the lawmen (real or fake) on the premises, as the situation leads all the tensions between them to come to the surface. Brock, already incensed over the Proctor situation, decides that he’s had enough of getting into insane shootouts on Hood’s authority and finally accusing his boss of being less a cop than a murderer. It’s a charge which Hood coolly refutes by pointing out there’s blood on both their hands now, and points out if he doesn’t like it he can turn in his badge. The relationship between these two has been one of restrained antagonism since day one, so it’s refreshing to see the two finally come out and say how little regard they have for the other man’s methods. It also leads to a moment of grudging respect right before one of the final Redbone assaults, as Brock states the obvious fact that he’d make a better sheriff and Hood has to admit he’s got him there.

If Hood and Brock’s conflict is of a professional nature, Hood and Siobhan’s is entirely personal. Her betrayal over his deceit is palpable in every one of her interactions with Hood, torn between wanting to get as far away from him as possible and not letting him out of her sight. And he takes full advantage of the fact that they’re trapped together to have as real a conversation with her as he can, coming clean about just how long he was locked up and how the last thing keeping him from running away is the hope that he can talk her into coming with him. It’s the most open we’ve ever seen him, even in his various interactions with Carrie, as he goes so far as to give her the one thing she wants to know: his real name. (Of course, the show has him whisper it to her and places the viewers outside Hood’s office, meaning it remains a total mystery.)

This moment of course sets off every alarm bell. Last week in the comments, many of you were predicting Siobhan was a goner after learning Hood’s secret, and the fact that she learns his real name leaves her fate feeling all but sealed. Once that happens, every action since then appears geared toward ending her life, leading to multiple moments where holding your breath is the only sane reaction. She leaps in front of Raven when he tries to negotiate and Chayton puts an arrow through him, coming within an inch of catching one herself. She stays behind to help Raven and gives him her gun, leaving her unarmed in a scary place. And while she recovers a machete from the evidence locker, it’s almost not enough to fight off a Redbone attacker, creating a terrifically tense match between the two that finally ends with the blade buried deep in his chest. A triumphant smile comes to her face on that victory—and yet the viewer’s heart drops into their throat when Chayton emerges from behind her as if he coalesced together from the darkness.

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If any scene in Banshee has destroyed viewers, it has to be this one: Hood transformed from indestructible sardonic to utterly terrified, Chayton silent save for a lightly whistled “ssssh” noise, Siobhan straining against those implacable tattooed arms. Hood’s desperation for mercy on Chayton’s part is nothing we’ve ever seen from the character before, all the tortures of Rabbit and Brantley meaningless next to the possibility of losing the one decent thing he found in his new life. And met only with the soulless force of Chayton’s eyes, the night’s early promise to make him suffer is now to be fulfilled. One twist, one snap, and a character both Hood and the audience have grown to love over two seasons exists the show. It’s a fitting exit for Trieste Kelly Dunn, one that draws out wrenching grief as Hood cries over her body while sirens faintly start to appear.

As wrenching as that death is, it’s equaled in its pain by the death of Leah Proctor. While Siobhan’s life ends in one sudden crack, Leah’s turn for the worse plays out over the entire episode, periodic scenes of her final night turning out to be oddly the only moments of respite. The question of her fate is clear on Proctor’s face for the entire night, and certainly what motivates him to make a run for it through the back door. His final moment with his mother is a unguarded scene of full keening, a hesma phobou for Kai Proctor and for the viewers after all the blood of the last 24 hours. Everyone in this episode has gone through hell, and no one has walked out with anything approximating a win.

The episode closes with the end of the siege: the wounded being patched up, the dead laid out in white-shrouded rows, and Hood sitting on the stoop looking like he’s caught between the two. It’s a look we’ve only seen on Hood’s face once before, during the flashbacks of the season one finale “A Mixture Of Madness” when he learned early release was just a cruel taunt of Rabbit’s. This is the look of a man who has spent years living with nothing and receives one faint glimmer of hope, only to have it cruelly snatched away and be kicked back into the darkness. And as the sun rises on a new day in Banshee, he’s once again facing a cold emptiness: only this time, he’s got the badge and the gun to mete out some payback for the loss. “Tribal” is a stunning achievement for Banshee, and a clear indicator that the policy of blood for blood is going to continue until no one has anything left to spill.

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Stray observations:

  • The post-credits stinger of Siobhan’s empty trailer door clacking in the early morning breeze adds insult to injury in the best possible way. If you weren’t broken up already, you are now.
  • If you’re missing Siobhan as much as I am now, a bonus for you: over at my weekly Banshee podcast “Under The Hood,” my partner Sean Colletti and I spoke with Trieste Kelly Dunn about the character’s fate, some of her favorite Banshee memories, and the experience of shooting “Tribal.” Give it a listen here.
  • Bunker mentions his former white supremacist protector Tank as the biggest man he’d ever met. Given the implication from “Snakes And Whatnot” that his past wasn’t buried, the still open case of Hondo’s murder, and the fact that Banshee loves introducing gigantic foes for Hood to go one on one with, it’s a safe bet we’ll be meeting him before the season’s out.
  • Maybe it’s the blue velvet curtains hanging in the room just outside, but there’s a decidedly Lynchian atmosphere to some of the moments with Leah, particularly when Rebecca can’t bear to spend another minute in the room and the scene-cutting makes it unclear whether or not she’s passed.
  • Funniest moment of the episode: Brock’s totally deadpan “Well, this sucks” once the Redbones cut the station’s power.
  • Proctor’s ultimatum to Hood: “If I don’t make it out of here, stay the fuck away from Rebecca. If I do make it out of here, you and I have unfinished business.”
  • “Everything you touch turns to blood.”

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