This review contains spoilers.
4.5 A Little Late To Grow A Pair
At the start of this season I was very quick to laud Banshee’s willingness to experiment, how it is so unafraid of trying new things and generally can make them work with a mix of confidence and audacity. While, like many others, I was surprised by the change in direction this season, there was no reason to think it would be anything other than a crowning Banshee success, a final display of blowing up the status quo before a glorious ride into the sunset. But here we are, three episodes from the end, and I’m really starting to miss the old Banshee.
Look, it’s not like this is a steep descent into shark-jumping territory. So much of what makes Banshee special is still in play, but it can’t mask the fact that not very much is happening, or at least not very much that is seeming to be of consequence. The pace is languid and there’s no real sense of urgency or high stakes.
A lot of this is down to the serial killer plot, which is showing no sign of improving. I can see why the choice was made; another outrageous freak added to a show full of them, but this late in the game it’s not only distracting from everything else, but actively annoying. I want to see Hood and Proctor gearing up for a final showdown, not Hood and Dawson hunting a killer we already know the identity of. In the first few episodes this material seemed promising, but now that we know who the killer is a lot of the puzzle-box element has flown out the window and so it has just become a matter of waiting for the characters to catch up with him. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just a subplot, but the fact that catching the killer is the main objective of the protagonist means that it is currently the main plot thread of the show, getting in the way of more interesting material.
Except everything else is just sort of inching along. The Neo-Nazi subplot, probably the best part of the show, is fizzling. Early on this episode I was thinking that Watts is a great addition to the Banshee rogues gallery, the kind of character who, with some development, could stand shoulder to shoulder with Chayton and Stowe. But his swift dispatching at the hands of Calvin makes me wonder what the point of his introduction was. Before he came along Calvin was more or less in charge, now Calvin is more in charge. I guess that means trouble for Proctor’s distribution, but why bother letting Watts out of jail at all if this was going to be the manner of his departure?
The issue right now is a growing sense that, while a lot of the individual character moments taken by themselves are strong, not much of what is going on is adding up to a cohesive or compelling whole. None of it seems to mean very much. I have no doubt that all the disparate plots will in some way converge by season’s end, but right now everything feels weirdly disconnected, and while it can be argued that things have been left in a relatively intriguing place at the end of this episode, the same thing could be said of every other episode this year.
By the midway point of last season we’d had the Nola/Burton fight, the billionaire in the truck, Hood’s reflective episode looking at what might have happened had he never become sheriff and the siege episode, still the highlight of the series to date. Nobody is trying to suggest that the show needs to be matching that level of pace and incident all the time, but it would help if there was any real feeling of escalation or progression. In a normal season, this might be less of a problem. In a final season? It’s a very big one.
Again, it’s not that there isn’t good stuff around the fringes of the episode. The scene between Hood and Job this week was a beautiful one, conveying the friendship and love between them with very little in the way of emotional admissions. It once again put on display how great the actors on this show are; Antony Starr and Hoon Lee saying so much more with facial expressions than they could with dialogue. Meanwhile, the more we see of Calvin the more interesting he is; last year I assumed he was hugely influential, but with the scene between Bunker and Watts this episode we saw that he was always considered the lesser of the two brothers, something that isn’t going to help matters when he finds out about Kurt and his wife.
But all of this remains set up, when we should be starting to see glimpses of payoff. Maybe it’s saving it all for a killer finale, but by this point in the storyline we should be feeling the stakes rise, feeling the nooses closing around the necks of our characters. Plus, with a lack of Banshee’s usual giddy fight scenes or ludicrous set pieces (aside from Carrie’s assault on the factory last week) we haven’t even had the usual amount of fireworks to distract from the crawl of the plot.
Look, none of this dooms the show. If the serial killer subplot is wrapped up swiftly and somehow influences everything else, leading to a blistering final couple of episodes, then Banshee will have not only secured its position as a cult favourite for years to come, but burnt it into the annals of television. A great finale could make this lull a minor blip on the legacy of the show. But with precious little in the way of the immediately iconic, memorable sequences Banshee made its name crafting, this season is starting to feel like the kind of dreary departure the show never should have made, with a lack of imagination to boot. I love Banshee dearly and I remain optimistic. I just wish that that optimism wasn’t feeling more misguided with every passing episode.