This review contains spoilers.
In early 2013 I started watching Banshee with no knowledge of what I was in for. All I knew about it was that my favourite author had written a TV show, and beyond that my only expectations were based on what I knew of showrunner Jonathan Tropper’s novels. Across the board his books are emotional, heartfelt stories about people struggling with day-to-day issues, books that are designed to make you cry like a small child several times through before thrusting them into the hands of everyone you know demanding that they read and share the emotional journey you just went on.
It’s fair to say Banshee was not what I expected.
There’s something special about discovering a show in its infancy, realising you’re watching something special, and then following it through as it develops and grows and becomes spectacular. I always looked on Banshee with a sort of weird pride, and as it came into its third season and critics everywhere started to acknowledge it as one of television’s best and most exciting shows.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve been so let down by the fourth season. Season Three felt like the fulfilment of all the promise established in that first explosive pilot, and I was ready for Season Four to take the show to greater heights before riding into the sunset. Interviews with the cast and creatives had said that, rather than trying to top the action of Season Three they wanted to go more introspective and character-driven this year; an inclination I understand, but not one that worked as well as they’d hoped. Sure, in some cases it paid off, especially with Job, but I never felt like any of the other characters were really being taken to a place we hadn’t seen them go before. Couple that with a serial killer subplot that could charitably be described as a bit weak, and coming into this series finale I wasn’t as excited as I should have been, especially not for a show that this time last year I was ready to call my favourite ever.
But hey, the finale was really good. When all is said and done, with Declan Bode out of the way and the stage set for the titular requiem, I finished the episode with a smile on my face. Only a few television shows have ended in a wholly satisfying way, and even after the huge flaws of this season, Banshee pulled it off in an episode that was far more gentle, emotional and heartfelt than we could have expected. With the exception of Proctor’s inevitable demise, all of our principals seemed to get something akin to a happy ending and as Hood rode off on his bike at the end there’s a great sense that his adventures will continue. But the show was called Banshee and the story of his time in the town had reached a natural endpoint.
Part of me wonders if this season would have been better served as a two-part finale special, or even a movie. I respected Tropper saying last year that they simply didn’t have enough plot to do another two ten episode seasons, but having finished the show I don’t think there was even enough plot for the eight episodes we got. Subplots spent this season treading water and the Declan Bode storyline ultimately amounted to a season long red herring; a reveal that I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or angry about. On the one hand Bode didn’t kill Rebecca, which is a relief, on the other hand we had to spend several episodes thinking that he did, and the fact that he wasn’t her killer poses the question of why we spent so much time focussed on the hunt for him. The Bode plot might have worked if it was introduced and resolved in one or two episodes; not dragged out the way it was. Now that we’ve seen the full story, it simply didn’t justify the time that was spent on it and was ultimately too separate from everything else to really get away with being part of the final season.
But it’s hard to be critical considering how much the finale did right. We got a last couple of great fights, some powerhouse performances from just about everyone, Brock with a rocket launcher, Calvin getting slapped in the face and even a couple of moments where you could be forgiven for brushing away a tear or two. Looking back on the show as a whole, it’s easy to consider Season Three the real climax of the story and everything after an extended coda, albeit one that didn’t need to go as long as it did.
I really appreciate the fact that Banshee didn’t try to go for a grim, tragic or depressing finale. For all its darkness it was never really that kind of show; Banshee set itself as a cut above from the start by merit of a tremendous amount of heart and affection for its characters, and in the end, that was the element that came to the forefront. Heart made Banshee special and heart saw it home. Most of the back half of this episode was just a series of farewells between various characters, and after three years on this wild journey it felt completely earned. Hood and Carrie may not have ended up together, but they parted with one last kiss and a final acknowledgement of how much they mean to each other. Hood found a reason to live in the form of his daughter and in his final fight against Burton it was the thought of her that brought him back from the brink. Sugar got to retire a rich man, Job sauntered off with one final “suck my tit” thrown in the direction of the town he always hated, and Proctor went down in a blaze of glory.
I can understand that maybe some people will feel let down by the fact that we didn’t get a final showdown between Hood and Proctor, but at this point engineering a reason for them to fight would have been contrived and done both characters a disservice. Once it became clear that Proctor did not kill Rebecca, there was no reason for that fight to happen, and I appreciate the fact that the show didn’t try to force it. And besides, we’ve had Hood and Proctor fights before; what could we see in another one that we haven’t already seen?
In fact, maybe that’s the reality behind so much of what went wrong in Season Four. Season Three was an exercise in holding nothing back, delivering episode after episode of increasing imagination and audacity. It’s a tough act to follow and you have to respect the Banshee creative team for going in a different direction, albeit one that didn’t entirely work. The fact is that after everything we have been given over the run of this show, asking for any more feels churlish. Banshee may not have bowed out at the absolute top of its game, but at least it knew that the time had come to pack it in and gave us an ending worthy of the show that preceded it.
I realised I haven’t discussed the Brothers Bunker yet; this is predominantly because I like to pretend that Calvin isn’t a character I have to watch, but at least in the end we got a great fight and a performance from Tom Pelphrey that somehow managed to sell his anguish despite the weakness of the plot that was being resolved. Even mired in a pretty terrible storyline, Bunker remained one of my favourite characters and he emerged from the mess more or less unscathed. Seeing him and Brock sitting down over a cigar at the end and agreeing that sometimes they have to take the badge off to do the right thing was a simple, understated and totally fitting end to both characters. The good guys won, and after four seasons of chaos it was nice to see our heroes breathe for once.
So, when all is said and done, what is the legacy of Banshee? It was a show unlike anything else on TV, a show that eschewed pretentions of prestige in favour of glorious pulp storytelling underpinned by great writing, memorable characters and a huge heart. It was a show that seemed to delight in its own existence and even in its uneven early days there was a giddy joy to all it did, a sense of throwing everything at the wall, seeing what stuck, and swiftly moving on from anything that didn’t quite work. It was an approach that paid off in spades and even when it stumbled towards the end it reverted to the core ingredients just in time for the finale, giving us a fitting and wholly satisfying send-off.
Banshee is already a cult favourite and I think going forward it’s the kind of series that will pick up more and more fans as Blu-ray sets do the rounds and people everywhere wonder how they possibly missed this. Banshee has always deserved more attention than it received, but the people who love it love it enough to keep its legacy alive in years to come. Getting to review this show for its final two seasons has been an absolute privilege, whatever its missteps towards the end. Thanks to all who have read along, and above all thanks to everyone responsible for making this series happen. It’s been a blast.
UK viewers: Banshee season 4 currently airs on Fridays on Sky Atlantic.