Lili Simmons (Cinemax)
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Last week in my review of the season premiere, my joy at Banshee’s return was tempered by a couple of creative decisions, namely the choices to incorporate a serial killer narrative and to make Rebecca a victim of said killer. Combined with the disorienting effect of the time jump and the reality that this is the final season, there was a worry that the show was stepping away from its strengths and into unfamiliar territory. Lo and behold, “The Burden Of Beauty” goes a long way to pruning down those early concerns if not tearing them up at the roots. It feels like even more of a proper episode of Banshee than the premiere did, an episode that helps reestablish the many volatile players on this board and how hungry they are for a chance to knock each other over.

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A large part of that winds up being due to Rebecca, who remains a prominent part of the action. She’s there in life thanks to the miracle of flashbacks, and there in death as the reality of her loss is settling in on those she mattered to like Hood and Proctor. And in both cases, it’s remarkably clear just what kind of person she truly was: not merely an innocent girl or a conniving gangster, nothing less than an agent of purest chaos. She crossed the paths of others and left fire in her wake, seemingly incapable of empathy for those she touched or awareness of the consequences. It was a chaos so deeply rooted that her death brings no order, and if anything it only makes things worse, leaving only a void and a bunch of problems everyone else has to solve.

The biggest of those problems, as apparent in the flashbacks, turns out to be the Boedicker clan. I expressed some confusion about this introduction last week, wondering if Banshee was on a greatest hits tour of Hood’s various foes and I’d forgotten this one, and it turned out this was (thankfully) a story yet to be told. Rebecca, having learned nothing from the debacle of Morales and Fraser in season three, once again decided to deal behind her uncle’s back and created another mess to clean up. Lili Simmons, as always, is spectacular in her Mexican standoff with Aaron and company, exuding confidence and sex appeal in equal measure, convinced she can talk or fight her way out of anything. And the moment where that’s proven right—the giggle she lets out upon surviving the rabid dog attack where her captor wasn’t so lucky—is somehow even more terrifying than seeing the hound’s jaws rip out a throat.

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Antony Starr, Ivana Miličević (Cinemax)

It also turns out Rebecca had her own attack dog in response, as Hood answered her call for help. Suddenly Rebecca’s choice to offer Hood the cabin makes a lot more sense: she wasn’t just showing him mercy, she was keeping him in reserve on the off-chance she’d need some backup that she couldn’t ask her uncle for. It’s further illustration of her callous nature, throwing charity in Hood’s face and then ignoring his warnings by taking the time to burn their meth lab down—a move that gets Hood a shotgun blast to the abdomen for his troubles. If her death was so shocking last week, this is evidence that it’s more shocking she made it this long, ignoring every warning and lesson from the past to get what she wanted.

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Yet despite all of her flaws, there’s still a strange ember off loyalty that she inspired follows Hood to the present day as he tracks down her killer. Hood’s smart enough to know that Rebecca used him in that instance, but he’s become a man for whom that use is at least some sense of purpose, and there’s a reinvigoration to his behavior here that brings a smile to the Banshee fan’s face: once again thwarting Brock’s authority by abducting Eljay Boedicker for a Forge chat, intensely pouring over the case folder Proctor leaves him, and unafraid to suggest to Proctor’s face he might have killed his own beloved niece. Her kindness in saving him more than once may be selfish, but in Banshee, a little kindness goes a long way. (Often not the right way, as we see when an bloodstain on the SUV from that fateful day matches to Hood’s sample.)

As to the serial killer of it all, “The Burden Of Beauty” winds up being particularly clever in in how it steps away from that path. The cold open of the episode checks off the majority of that genre’s tropes—woman screaming in pain, shadowed larger than life assailant, the camera lingering a bit too long on the suffering—and just as things are approaching unwatchable, someone yells “Cut!” It turns out to be a porn director making rape films with underage girls, not nasty exploitation for the audience’s sake but the sort of everyday depravity that Banshee’s criminal underworld nurtures like mushrooms. And where there’s crime there’s some good old-fashioned police brutality to answer it as the sheriff’s department makes short work of the camera crew. Director OC Madsen uses the setting to his advantage, the darkened warehouse that had a murderous aspect to it now used for some exceptional fight scene angles and lighting.

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Ulrich Thomsen (Cinemax)

The porn production company also winds up shining a light on the way business is done in Banshee now that Proctor’s in the mayor’s chair. Going legitimate and going straight aren’t even close to the same thing, and Proctor once again proves he’s in control of everything that happens in town. He authorizes the raid on the studio through a police tipoff, then has the district attorney drop all charges, and shakes down Calvin for a cut once they’re back in business. Numb in the first episode, Ulrich Thomson gets to be all business here, operating with perfect calm and just the hint of menace—a hint reinforced by Burton’s unflinching presence just out of sight. While prior seasons have gotten a lot of mileage out of Proctor’s conflicted relationship with the past, he and Banshee don’t need any of that at this point, distilled to his core menace with only the occasional silent flashback to break the focus.

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Indeed, Proctor’s playing a particularly ambitious game this year, so secure in the expansion of his power that he’s offering a deal to a Colombian cartel (represented here by Nestor Sorrano, adding to the list of cartel bosses he’s played on shows like Dexter and Graceland). There’s nothing new in this approach, the sort of escalation that media from Scarface to Breaking Bad have deployed to take things to 11, pulling in a whole new breed of adversary that’s ruthless in the most offhand ways. And it makes plenty of sense in both a narrative sense and a practical one, given that Banshee has used up the bulk of its bad guy talent pool—Ukrainian gangsters, small-town thugs, Indian reservation gangs, private military contractors—and finally has to outsource its gun-toting hordes. It’s a clear sign of hubris that Proctor is confident in his deal-making, given the degree of enmity he’s simultaneously breeding in Brock, the DA, and Calvin.

The wild card in all of this remains Carrie, whose vigilante crusade in Banshee is picking up steam. This isn’t about justice for her, this is about finding an escape from her pain, and having Hood reappear in her life this week only adds a deeper layer of said pain. (The cherry on top being that Deva knew where he was this whole time and didn’t share that information.) It remains blissfully cathartic to watch Carrie wreak havoc on those who deserve it, and “The Burden Of Beauty” nicely thickens the plot by having Kurt “accidentally” leave the director’s file on her car. Banshee always is at its best when its world is a connected ecosystem, and tying Carrie to Kurt—and Calvin by extension—is just the affirmation we needed that her safe of guns won’t just be pointed at random toughs.

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Matt Servito (Cinemax)

“The Burden Of Beauty” is an excellent second episode for the season, one that clears up the lingering concerns of the premiere and that once again is setting up the nitroglycerin-soaked dominoes that make up a Banshee season. Hood’s now a concrete person of interest in the investigation, Proctor’s invited armies of cartel thugs to start lurking in the shadows, Calvin’s wounded pride has led him to strike out on his own, and Carrie’s only holding it together through the exercise of casual torture. If Rebecca is watching this from wherever she is now, it’s a guarantee that she’s smiling.

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Stray observations:

  • If you haven’t gotten enough Banshee talk from the above review, my podcast Under The Hood is back! Every week I join TV Roundtable’s Sean Colletti and TV Overmind’s Randy Dankievitch for an in-depth chat on last week’s episode, the first installment of which can be found here.
  • Best Job Look: This section returns, because so does Job! Hood’s fatalism is proven wrong and Carrie and Sugar’s hope is proven right as we see Job in an oubliette situation, naked and getting sprayed with a fire hose. Unfortunately, his best look is not looking so good, dirty and battered and the first natural hair on his head that we’ve seen all series.
  • Also in lessons that Rebecca failed to learn: don’t sleep with other men and have it get back to your uncle. Elijay goes the way of Jason Hood as Proctor garrotes him to death with his own bass strings.
  • I touched on it briefly, but the scene between Hood and Carrie in Carrie’s house is terrific. As always, there’s something that’s simultaneously electric and weary in their interactions, Antony Starr and Ivana MiliÄŤević both so aware of their characters’ history and how burned out their once passionate love is that it’s impossible not to feel it. Hood’s use of her real name at the end is just another little twist of the knife.
  • My favorite little detail of the episode is the way Proctor grabs Calvin’s tie and looks at it dismissively. In Proctor’s world, once you start operating on the other side of the law, the tie comes off.
  • True Detective season one vibes continue this week as the Boedicker farm and meth lab bears a strong similarity to Reggie LeDeaux’s shack.
  • The effect of the sickle going into Aaron’s hand goes into the top ten of cringingly brutal Banshee moments. I had to pause the screener and make a fist a dozen times after seeing that.
  • “I just needed some time.” “I could’ve used some too.”
  • “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” “I’m sure that’s true, sir.” Even without the badge, there’s deference in Kurt’s voice for the man who gave him a chance.
  • “I know Hood just well enough to know that I don’t know him at all.”

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