This review contains spoilers.
3.1 The Fire Trials
Coming into its third season, Banshee really should be starting to show some cracks. Its base premise (jewel thief steals identity of small town sheriff) seems so immediately limiting that natural storytelling potential was initially hard to imagine for more than one, maybe two decent seasons. Yet the beauty of Banshee is that it is so much more than its premise. Unlike a series like Dexter or Breaking Bad, Banshee has never really been about the conflicts that arise when a criminal becomes a cop, and it has never genuinely gone out of its way to explore the avenues of such an idea. Sure, there was a bit of conflict in the first season as various characters attempted to uncover Lucas hood, but by now? No-one really seems to care that he isn’t what he seems, and the show is so much better for it.
Rather than a story engine, Hood is now our guide to what really makes Banshee so utterly entertaining and compelling; the insane, pulp universe it takes place in, and with the Rabbit storyline mercifully put to rest along with seemingly any more fears about Hood’s past catching up to him, season three has a clean slate to dive headfirst into the gloriously convoluted politics of Banshee’s many warring factions. On top of Proctor’s empire, the besieged Amish and the increasingly lethal Native Americans, we now have an army reserve to contend with, an army reserve Hood plans to rob despite the fact that the place is rife with dangerous mercenaries.
This concept alone is so typically Banshee; ludicrous but a promising open door to more mayhem, especially as it seems that the reserve will be going head to head with the Indians, now led by the imposing Chayton Littlestone. It is almost exhilarating how thoroughly Banshee embraces its own ridiculousness, while still maintaining consistent and likeable characters who are worth caring about.
Maybe what makes Banshee work so well is watching the surprisingly nuanced characters navigate an otherwise insane world. And sure, characters like Job and Chayton are part and parcel with the heightened nature of the universe, but in Kai Proctor and Lucas Hood the series has an endlessly riveting central rivalry. Both are damaged, dangerous men who are haunted by their pasts and yet have managed to forge new lives for themselves; the problem is that those respective lives will seemingly always put them at odds. Unfortunately we only got a couple of brief glimpses of Proctor this week, but what we saw was enough to get an audible reaction from me. While the illicit sexual tension between Kai and Rebecca has been present since day one, was anyone else surprised that the show actually went ahead and had them sleep together? It’s an unsettling development, but certainly not out of character for either party. It feels weird to be saying this about an incest subplot, but I’m fascinated to see where this is going. I’m fairly sure I saw a glimmer of unease when Proctor’s mother asked him about Rebecca, and that’s far from the only thing that makes me sure these two aren’t in for a smooth road.
Like most season openers, The Fire Trials was more about putting the pieces in place for the episodes ahead, rather than having any shocking developments of its own. Particularly after the bloody wipe-out of characters that was the season two finale, an episode like this was necessary (although it still found time for a couple of killer action scenes). And sure some of the dialogue was a bit on the nose and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the show’s love of strange shot compositions and jump cuts, but those are problems inherent to the series, not this episode. Banshee remains one of the most downright fun and entertaining shows on TV, and as a season opener there is not much more I could have asked for. Bring on the carnage.
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