Ivana Miličević, Antony Starr (Cinemax)

It’s easy when talking about Banshee to talk about the violence that’s so integral to the way the show functions, a violence that’s almost a second language for characters like Lucas Hood and Kai Proctor. The abiding love the show’s creators have for 80s action movies and pulp fiction novels means that an episode can’t go by without someone getting dragged into a fight that punishes their body beyond what an everyday person should be able to endure. And that sort of aim isn’t a bad one for a show to have, celebrating excess for the sake of excess and giving over to some loud dumb fun.

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But what makes Banshee so remarkable of a show is the fact that the word “dumb” isn’t part of its vocabulary. The minds of Jonathan Tropper and company are not only geared to delivering potent action, they display a genuine commitment to making that action something the audience hasn’t seen before, or at least hasn’t seen in this light. One-on-one fight scenes like the battles between Hood and Proctor or Nola and Burton take full advantage of the setting to add unique flourishes and fatalities, while grand set pieces like the church shootout and the CADI siege expand and update conventions set out in the films of John Carpenter and John Woo. This is a show whose creative team never rests on its laurels, but always pushes further and further in service of delivering the greatest rush of adrenaline.

“You Can’t Hide From The Dead” is another technical achievement for the show, and another high watermark in a season that’s shaping up to be a serious Best Of 2015 contender. After a few weeks of preparation, Hood and company are ready to implement their heist of Fort Genoa (or mostly ready in a reluctant Job’s case). The various capers that the group have undertaken have felt separate from the main action—at times like they were setting up a spinoff of Job and Sugar as freelance thieves—but all the groundwork connects together nicely in the execution of the heist itself, handprints and algorithms and a big fucking winch all clicking into place as firmly as the realigned tumblers on the safe. Successful heist movies are as much about the preparation for the job as they are the job itself, and Banshee does its legwork on both.

Pulling off the caper is one thing, but it’s the framing that makes “You Can’t Hide From The Dead” a pantheon episode. Director Greg Yaitanes, whose previous achievements include the Olek/Carrie fight and the “Bullets And Tears” church shootout, trumps his prior work with the decision to shoot the entire 20-plus minute sequence from a surveillance perspective. The action alternates between the body cameras worn by Hood, Carrie, and Job; the surveillance cameras set up by Job to track their process across various checkpoints; and the existing security footage that’s being looped and monitored by the team. It builds to a dynamic that falls between found footage and first-person shooter, and Yaitanies manages the cuts between perspectives expertly. The tension never lets up at any point, using both the breathless energy of the body cameras and the near-misses of the surveillance tapes to convey the pressure of the situation. While this could have been shot conventionally, the use of the character-centric cameras makes it so much more immersive, and forces the breath to be held for the longest possible stretches.

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And choosing not to use a conventional shooting style only makes the moment where it goes back to that all the more effective. Keeping with the video game comparison, the action shifts from Splinter Cell to Silent Hill as Hood starts to hallucinate Siobhan standing in front of doors, staring numbly forward and leaving Sugar confused as to why he’s looking at nothing. The idea’s been explored at various points during the series—usually after an intense beating—but as season three has progressed it’s becoming more and more of an open question if Lucas Hood is losing his mind. Fifteen years of confinement, constant physical abuse, the strain of living a lie every waking hour, and now the pain of losing the one person he felt comfortable with are all adding up to fracture his worldview at the worst possible time. (A time that may cost him his friendship with Job, if the other man’s hostility at not being assisted in a ruthless brawl with Captain Murphy carries over past this heist.) Here’s the other way Banshee distinguishes itself from being dumb violence, daring to suggest that what our hero goes through has legitimate consequences and that it’s going to explore them.

The other excellent effect of the framing is to return Colonel Douglas Stowe to the role of being a figure this world needs to take seriously. Langley Kirkwood has been absent from the show in a meaningful way since “Snakes And Whatnot,” but his reaction when he realizes his money is in danger makes clear what a ruthless and indomitable bastard he is. Engaging in brutal close-combat fighting, surviving three shotgun blasts to the chest, breaking into the truck to fight all three of the thieves in equal measure—the majority of which is captured by the body cameras of the people he’s fighting in a decision that makes him even more terrifying—Stowe goes from stone-cold black ops to a full-fledged Terminator, an implacable force that can only be delayed rather than stopped. And his closing scene near-breakdown in the empty vault suggests his advance is only going to get worse, intercut with the PTSD it’s been implied runs deep in his character. This isn’t just someone who’s been robbed, this is a soldier who’s been given an enemy worthy of his time and talents.

The heist is so potently drawn that everything else in “You Can’t Hide From The Dead” seems lesser in comparison, but there’s a lot of things happening to advance the rest of the plot. Most encouraging is that that Charlie and his scumbag commune, after appearing to be a bear trap to snare Deva in a mediocre story, turn out instead to be another set of villains there to be beaten down by our heroes. The Hopewell family drama has been one of this season’s least engaging plots, largely due to how despondent all parties involved have been when they interact, so the feeling of alliance and engagement between Gordon and Carrie at getting their daughter back is a jolt. It’s hard not to feel incredible joy at seeing Carrie take on three thugs and win, or to see Gordon call up his dormant badass by facing Charlie at gunpoint and winning. Both characters needed this catharsis, getting a win and then getting to reconsummate their relationship on the kitchen counter. Small wonder Carrie turns down celebration whiskey and heads to her house, as it’s got potential to be home for the first time in a long while.

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In less constructive family dynamics, the rift between Proctor and Rebecca continues to deepen. Proctor, heeding his mother’s final wishes, is exploring a more conventional way of life by deepening his relationship with Emily and trying to reenter the Amish community. (The latter move surprisingly supported by his father, who appears to be as adrift and lonely with Leah’s death as Proctor is.) Part of those wishes includes the suggestion to Emily that it’s time for Rebecca to move out of the house—a suggestion that would take on more weight if he knew the steps she was taking behind his back, meeting with their competitor’s biggest rival and agreeing to keep selling to them in violation of the deal with Mr. Fraser. The sincerity in Proctor’s aims and the bravado of Rebecca’s promises makes both arcs stick, and heightens the promise of an ugly reckoning looming between the two.

Chayton’s plot is the one weak link this week, though that largely comes from a lack of history. Delirious and bloody from his last encounter, he stumbles his way onto a small farm where the owner (Susan Misner, Sandra Beeman on The Americans) opts to patch him up instead of turning him in. It’s an interesting character who’ll help Chayton rather than hinder him, though the fact that her development is limited to one sentence about a dead husband and child means that her death (and her neighbor’s death via pitchfork) is an inevitability rather than a tragedy. It’s just another brick in the foundation of Chayton as a monster, one that isn’t entirely necessary after the events of the last two episodes. Just yesterday, Geno Segers made Andy Greenwald of Grantland’s list of midseason TV all-stars and it’s an honor well-deserved: his portrayal of Chayton is of a primordial nature, and he resonates through the show regardless of how he’s used.

As to how long he’ll be able to resonate, that’s a question the episode directs us to in its closing moments. Chastened by her last encounter with Chayton Aimee calls in a favor from a CI, pinpointing Chayton’s new hiding places as deep in Louisiana with another crew of tribal outcasts. It’s a reveal that triggers Hood’s latest effort to hand the badge over to Brock, only for Brock—still fuming over Emily’s new relationship with Proctor—to declare this is going to turn into a road trip. Getting out of town might be the best idea for both of them, and given how phenomenally “You Can’t Hide From The Dead” is put together, the anticipation for what the show can do with a new setting is sky-high.

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Stray observations:

  • The CADI appears to be recovering reasonably well following the shootout of “Tribal.” If anything, the new paint job, new windows, and removal of a lot of the old station clutter have it looking the best it has all series.
  • Excellent costuming decision to have Rebecca shift from her normal angelic white to a more professional black outfit, a visual indicator of her character’s growth. And the way the camera shakes when she turns her back, similar to how Hood loses himself for a few minutes during the heist, indicates not all’s well inside her head either even if she can retain her urges to respond to insult with gunfire. When Banshee eventually ends, stringing together her arc from start to finish could reveal it’s the show’s most fascinating story.
  • Plenty of great quiet moments in this episode: Carrie’s Cheshire Cat grin when Charlie’s goon throws the first punch, Sugar’s chuckle when he gets his first look at the money on the surveillance camera, the hesitation to resolve when Gordon turns down a drink.
  • Seriously, is Max just spending all day in his room playing Forza Motorsport 5? With one sighting in seven episodes he’s even less visible this season than the kids on Cougar Town.
  • Best Job Look: A PAWS t-shirt may well win the prize for his cutest outfit yet.
  • Sugar: “Do you wanna know what I think?” Job: “You know my answer to that question never changes.”
  • “Hard to shake all that history in one moment.”
  • “You think that’s what other family interventions are like?”
  • “You do know this is a celebration, right?”

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