Antony Starr (Cinemax)

If I had to select one word to encompass the entirety of Banshee, there’s several options that come to mind—“violent,” “insane,” and “brutal” are the ones that hover at the top of the list—yet out of all of them, the one that fits the show the best is “war.” The conflicts that rage within the county limits of Banshee may be ones that are between small-town cops and robbers, but every one of those conflicts is depicted with a scope that wouldn’t be out of place in a scene where each side had an army to throw at it. Even the various factions—neo-Nazis, private military contractors, Native American warbands—are sides with a long history as being the bad guys in films, professions and idealologies that have regularly spawned fighting forces to be thrown against the side you’re expected to root for.

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And it’s not just limited to gunfights and brawls, as Banshee is a show where the internal conflicts can be even more destructive. Season three was a season full of issues for our central cast, be it Hood’s doomed attempts to find normalcy with Siobhan, Carrie falling off the wagon and going back to her larcenous past, Proctor seeking peace in the wake of his mother’s death, or even Brock being torn up over the execution of a white supremacist in the season premiere. The inhabitants of this town are a deeply disturbed group of individuals, ones who are reckless in pursuit of their goals and even more dangerous when someone tells them they can’t do what they’re doing. The show is less a television program than it is a room full of explosive dominos, where if anything gets knocked over it starts a chain reaction likely to leave the room a wreck and shrapnel lodged in at least three foreheads.

“We All Pay Eventually,” the season three finale of Banshee, is a fitting capper to the events of what’s been a season both chaotically brilliant and brilliantly chaotic. The show’s creative team went all out this year with sequences ranging from an estate driveway duel to a night-long police station siege to a heist viewed chiefly through surveillance cameras to a manhunt in the streets of New Orleans, and still manages to find something big and bold to close things out with. Yet at the same time it’s an episode that transcends mindless excess, with professional execution and emotional consequences resonating in the way that’s made this Banshee’s best season to date.

Fittingly, the episode’s structure is one of two parallel narratives centered around the show’s central figures, Lucas Hood and Kai Proctor. Both men have made questionable choices over the course of the season—Hood recklessly choosing to rob Camp Genoa and incur Stowe’s wrath, Proctor taking his eyes off the business enough for Rebecca to mess things up—and both of them are now facing the consequences head-on in ways that are truly in character. Hood walks right into Camp Genoa and negotiate with Stowe face to face, a move classically brazen yet also one that demonstrates his unerring loyalty to the group that’s supported him throughout everything. Proctor meanwhile is clearly disappointed in Rebecca but he holds off on pushing her too far, either because of his twisted affection for her or because he recognizes her mistakes as ones he made many times over when he first started in business.

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Both groups portray a reasoned approach to the situation, one that soon turns out to be a calm before the storm. As good as Banshee is at delivering action it’s even better at creating the anticipation for said action, and the buildup here is fantastic. Despite Job’s statement that the only three friends Hood has are all locked up he does find some backup in Gordon, and the moment when Gordon wordlessly reveals the extent of his military career by assembling a sniper rifle in the Forge is a tremendous payoff—both for the earlier reveal of his accuracy in the CADI shooting range and a character who’s for the longest time been on the weaker side of Banshee’s cast. And the Proctor organization readying their attack—together with Morales, who’s offered a promising business deal and a fancy sword as incentive—is a delight to witness, all the swagger and assertiveness of an “Avengers assemble” moment.

Let’s start with the Camp Genoa shootout, because if there’s ever a place where the war parallel comes into play, it’s here. “You Can’t Hide From The Dead” seemed like the best use of the military base setting they could devise, but the act of Hood and Gordon staging a two-man offensive against Stowe’s mercenaries exceeds all expectations. Whatever location the Banshee team had access to for this sequence, they make the most of it: blowing up a guard tower, transforming the original Lucas Hood’s truck into a bomb, staging a sniper duel across opposing rooftops. It’s an explosive exclamation point on the argument that Banshee produces the best action sequences on all of television, and if this show doesn’t sweep every technical Emmy it’s eligible for the Academy will lose any last credibility.

The clash doesn’t lack for the up close and personal touch either, as the gunfire dies down and rival parties engage in hand to hand. Going back to the list of words that can define Banshee as a show, “brutal” is unquestionably the one most appropriate for what’s happening here. Captain Murphy gets a rematch with Job that sees both men pulling out every dirty trick they have in their repertoire, moving from fist fight to belt fight to Job applying the other man’s knife to his throat. And the battle between Carrie and Stowe is ugly in a way that only people who have been intimate with each other can be, the punches making what Chayton and Hood did a couple weeks back feel like pattycake. “You fight better than you fuck,” Carrie hisses at Stowe at one point, only further charging a scene that didn’t lack for it.

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And in any war, there are always casualties, which Banshee makes land with devastating impact. Stowe gets the upper hand on Carrie, only to have that hand shot away by Gordon and be gutted by the very knife he was sharpening earlier in the episode—one last display of marksmanship for Gordon, who bleeds out from a gunshot wound shortly thereafter in his wife’s arms. Both are deaths that hit in the right way, and that run parallel to other main characters who have been taken out this year. Like Chayton, Stowe had reached the logical end of his part in this story, and his takedown comes only after a clash befitting a warrior of his supernatural capabilities. And like Siobhan, Gordon’s dying in a place where it has maxmium narrative impact, right as it seemed he’d gotten both his mayorship and marriage back together. Both Langley Kirkwood and Rus Blackwell deliver their final moments with aplomb, and the raw emotion on Ivana Miličević’s face in reaction to both speaks volumes—within five minutes two men she was intimate with are dead because of her, one directly and one indirectly.

In comparison, the action of Proctor going up against the Black Beards stronghold doesn’t have the same epic scale, but it’s no less brilliantly executed. Team Proctor moves efficiently through the factory complex from the moment Burton takes off his glasses and never once breaks stride, splitting off into groups to clear rooms and popping out at just the right moment to take an arm off with dramatic impact. If what Hood and Gordon initiated on Camp Genoa is open warfare, this is a marvelously executed commando operation, dispatching the sentries and taking out the guard outposts before breaching the central location with an explosive charge.

The ultimate satisfaction of the sequence goes to Proctor, with the tables turned and Frazier now at his mercy. While the confrontation lacks the memorable camera angles of last week’s abandoned gymnasium, the tension between the two former business partners more than makes up for it. Ron Cephas Jones keeps Frazier defiant even in the face of certain death, and Ulrich Thomsen conveys the most secure satisfaction Proctor’s had all season as he lights up Frazier’s cigar and then puts it out in the other man’s dead eye. It’s heavily implied that he’s trading one devil for another in this circumstance—and Morales botching the decapitation at first swing doesn’t breed confidence—but Proctor’s eyes appear wide open. Whatever false start he made with Emily is now swept entirely away, and he’s even further distilled to the core essence of the man this life made him into.

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On its own, both of these sequences would make for an elegiac ending to Banshee’s season: old business cleared up, mourning for those who have fallen, uncertainty in where things are going next. Except in true Banshee fashion, things are getting much worse before they get better. While all of this is taking place Kurt Bunker is making things even worse between him and the Brotherhood, first by showing up at his brother Calvin’s house to promise the organization’s downfall and then by nearly choking the life out of one of its members sent to intimidate him. Once again, Bunker has become an unexpected emotional core of the show, Tom Pelphrey emoting marvelously in both his family reunion and his confessional moment to Brock. (The latter in particular is great material for Pelphrey and Matt Servito, Brock having dealt with so much crap this season he’s got no patience for Bunker’s pity party.)

However, taking a bold stance is rarely one that pays off well for those in Banshee’s police department, and Bunker proves himself not to be the exception that proves the rule. If Calvin invites parallels to Sons Of Anarchy’s Ethan Zobelle in his businesslike approach to white supremacy, the comparisons to become all the more appropriate and visceral when he takes Bunker prisoner and coldly states that his brother can’t be allowed to wear both his ink and his uniform at the same time—a threat backed up with immediate application of a blowtorch. Bunker’s arc has played out in the background for the majority of this season, and the degree of escalation here draws a strong case for making his struggles and crusade a focal point of season four.

For the time being though, Hood has a more immediate concern. It turns out that Leo, the hacker who came across as a creepy fanboy fawning over Job’s digital exploits, has a more insidious plan that materializes in him shooting the other man in the back and dragging him to a helicopter that lifts the two out of Camp Genoa. It’s a reveal that’s painful both for the way it comes out of nowhere (Leo almost forgotten in the hail of bullets tearing the camp apart) and the complete devastation it brings to Hood’s face. Hood’s been able to rely on Job since the beginning of the show, and the sense of loss he projects watching that helicopter fly away poisons the entire success of the Camp Genoa effort.

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Where did Job go to? Well, the answer to that may lie in the latest series of Hood flashbacks, where we go farther back than we’ve ever gone before to when a young Hood was an Army recruit in hot water for assaulting his drill sergeant. Evidently his 15 years in jail wasn’t the first time he was in torturous confinement, as a mysterious figure put him through all manner of physical and mental tortures in order to draft him into a black-on-black squad that may or may not be affiliated with the actual military. It’s about as honest of a look at the character as we’ve ever gotten, seeing him before all the identity changes wore him down to a blank slate—particularly when the tormentor coaxes out the long-hidden truth that he killed his abusive father. And the end reveal that his tormenter is the mysterious Dalton, who Job and Hood pulled a vanishing act on all those years ago, adds even more dimension to the early flashbacks. Banshee is a show that loves getting to the core of what defines its characters, and the move to go back to pre-Rabbit days shows they feel they’ve only begun to unravel the Hood mystery.

Interestingly, the reveal is kept from Hood, as the final scene isn’t him realizing his darkest past has reared its head. Rather, it’s a quiet moment on his front stoop as Proctor’s there waiting for him, not for vengeance but to admit he’d have left Hood out to dry if their roles had been reversed. This season didn’t use the Hood/Proctor feud too heavily this year (strip club fisticuffs aside) but that final tilt of Proctor’s head when Hood admits he’s handed in the badge for good is pregnant with potential. In another world—even different from the one explored in “We Were All Someone Else Yesterday”—it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hood could have drifted to Proctor’s camp instead of to the opposite side, and now that Hood’s more lost than ever there’s plenty of opportunities for both men (and the writers) to exploit.

It’s a testament to the power of Banshee that the final feeling isn’t exhaustion but excitement for what comes next. Season three was a terrifically ambitious season of television that succeeded in almost every goal it set for itself, packed to bursting with powerhouse moments that defied the boundaries of what you can get away with in an hour-long episode. In the first review of the season I praised the show as one of television’s most entertaining shows, and in the time since then it’s leapt past that designation, guns blazing, to being one of the best things on television period.

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Episode grade: A

Season grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • This was the bloodiest season of Banshee yet in terms of its regular cast members, and I’m not sure if any other show’s had a similar body count in a non-finale season. Hats off to Trieste Kelly Dunn, Geno Segers, Rus Blackwell, and Langely Kirkwood (as well as recurring guest star Odette Annable) for all their fine work on Banshee. They leave considerable shoes to fill.
  • Question: What was your favorite action set piece these season? So many fun ones to pick, but my vote has to go to the Nola vs. Burton match from “A Fixer Of Sorts.”
  • Some leftover business from last week: Thanks to commenter Bradley Adams for pointing out that House Of Lies beat last week’s episode in title length with “Everything’s so F’n Obvious, I Don’t Even Know Why We’re Having this Conversation” and thanks to Twitter’s @ha1lsanta for the winning suggestion that Hood’s gang should be called the Hoodlums.
  • Over/under on how many episodes it takes for Hood to get his badge back from Brock?
  • Second Max sighting of the season! Evidently he finally finished Forza Motorsport 6 and Deva hasn’t stolen him a copy of Evolve yet.
  • UPDATE: My screener didn’t have the guest star credits, but Dalton was was played by David Harbor, star of shows such as Pan Am, Manhattan, State Of Affairs, and The Newsroom. If I’m right and he’s being positioned as the Big Bad for season four, this is a great introduction to the character.
  • So much good Sugar/Job dynamic in the prison, from Job’s lack of hesitation in breaking Sugar’s thumb to the way they react to Murphy’s death. Job: “You don’t like the way I kill, you kill the next one.” [BANG] Sugar: “Done.” Job: “No one likes a smart-ass.”
  • “We’re gonna die, then we’re gonna die. Have some dignity, for fuck’s sake.”
  • “In my case you won’t be around to see it. Or rather, hear about it.” Damn Proctor. That’s an even sicker burn than the cigar optometry.
  • “You know, being the sheriff never really suited you.” “No, it didn’t.”
  • Thank you to all readers and commenters for making The A.V Club’s first season of regular Banshee coverage as much fun as it’s been. We weren’t sure how many would come out to celebrate this show, and you’ve turned it into a vibrant corner of the site on Friday nights. See you for season four!

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