Review: After a bumpy final season, ‘Banshee’ goes out with a bang

Senior Television Writer
05.20.16 32 Comments

A review of the Banshee series finale, and thoughts on the final season as a whole, coming up just as soon as I see my daughter off to college…

“Banshee, Pennsylvania… suck my tit.” -Job

Well, that was much more like it, and not a minute too soon.

For the show that was Cinemax's first real original drama (Strike Back was a co-production, continuing a pre-existing UK series), Banshee got a somewhat shabby send-off year. Two fewer episodes, a new production base, and an altered budget all guaranteed that the final season wasn't going to feel quite like the ones before it.

When I moderated a discussion with the cast at the aTVfest earlier this spring, writer/producer Adam Targum said that one of the reasons for the time jump was to lean into the fact that everything was going to be so different after the move from North Carolina to Pittsburgh. And that part of it in isolation probably would have worked, even if the overall stories and character arcs might have felt more rushed with less time and money. Piling the serial killer arc on top of that was one change too many. As discussed last week and at the start of the season, the creative team never quite found a way to have it match the tone of the rest of the series, nor to avoid feeling like a retread of dozens of similar stories across movies and TV.

But on top of that, the combination of the serial killer arc and the brother vs. Brotherhood story (centered around two characters introduced relatively late in the show's lifespan) left precious little real estate for some of the oldest and most beloved characters. It was lovely, for instance, that Sugar got the mid-credits scene to himself, as he left the bar and town behind to go spend the money Job gave him, but he felt too marginal for too much of the season. Hood and Brock's candid discussion last week was wonderful, but we should have had many more moments like them between different combinations of surviving characters across these eight episodes.

Still, with Bode largely out of the way, “Requiem” was able to focus on the core group, and to let Banshee go out in a far more Banshee fashion than any previous episode this year.

Kudos to those of you who guessed last week that Bode hadn't actually killed Rebecca. If anything, that he was a red herring – and one that somehow ate the entire series whole for much of the season – makes that entire arc even more annoying in hindsight, but making Burton into the actual murderer was much richer and more interesting than if it was this stranger, and not just because it led to that final Hood/Burton showdown so many fans were expecting for so long(*). The complicated relationships between Kai and Rebecca, and Kai and Burton, were a key psychological piece of the show going back to the beginning, and Burton killing her because he felt she was bringing too much harm to his beloved boss felt much more germane to the whole story.

(*) Though if I'm being honest, I wouldn't have objected to Burton's final opponent being Carrie, whom the show tended to treat as a better fighter than her ex.

And, yes, Hood v. Burton in a shallow stream was excellent – even if, as happened last year with Chayton, the show had to hobble Burton a little in order to give our hero a realistic chance of winning. And both Burton and Kai got great death scenes: an apologetic Burton dying in the lap of the man he loved and the man he'd betrayed, and Kai facing off against a line of cartel assassins with only a Tommy gun at his side.

For that matter, while the Brotherhood's showdown with Kai never materialized – shut down by the arrival of the senator, in one of the season's most rushed and clumsy pieces of business – Brock taking out the cartel's drug shipment with a rocket launcher more than made up for it. There were no additional conversations between Banshee's current sheriff and its former one, but between the rocket launcher, the conversation with Kurt Bunker about how sometimes Banshee needs cops who will go outside the law, and the final nod at Hood, it became abundantly, satisfyingly clear that Brock had accepted that Hood's way of policing had its uses, and that included letting the man himself leave town.

It was also a nice touch, after Brock was left so thunderstruck by learning his ex-boss's true identity last week, that we found out he knew about Carrie's vigilante career all along. He never figured out the show's biggest secret, because what sane person would even consider it – Veronica sniffs it out (and also accepts it), but she's damaged enough that she could imagine such a thing – but he's still a smart man and a good cop.

That Hood and Carrie both survive the series works because their relationship doesn't survive with it. It would be too sappy for this show, too much a betrayal of its theme and tones and characterizations, for him to set up house with her and help paint the fence and go visit Deva at college. He's too much a restless spirit for that, she's trying too hard to be the woman that Gordon married – when Hood tells her, “Goodbye, Anna,” she replies, “It's Carrie” – to walk the earth with him, and too many people have died as a result of their burning love for them to ever stay together. Their final scene together was perfect, and I loved, as I usually do on this show, the asynchronous editing of the final sequence. In many ways, Hood is still living in that cell, and he's also still living in that time before prison when he and Anna were together, and she's trapped in a limbo between past and present as well. The show often did a very nice job of using its visuals and editing style to capture that, all the way to the end.

I wish that this season could have lived up to the first three, and particularly to the extraordinary third. But finales are hard, and so are final seasons. At least the former worked out well. And we'll always have those great fight scenes and sex scenes and Job/Sugar banter scenes to remember from this odd, violent, frequently outstanding little gem.

Some other thoughts:

* True to Jonathan Tropper's promise, we never learned Hood's real name. I do wonder if he might have told Brock had they not been interrupted by Bode and his doctor last week, or if that's one truth he wasn't willing to share with his former deputy.

* The Bunker brothers' fight paled a bit next to Hood/Burton, but Calvin going for suicide-by-cop seemed about right. From the moment he murdered his boss, his life as a free man was over, and Kurt had already stolen his family out from under him.

* Veronica's incredulous, “The butler did it? Seriously?” is pretty much Banshee in a nutshell: take the hoariest of clichés and find a brand new and macabre way to use them.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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