Banshee, Season 2: Episode 10 – “Bullets and Tears”
Written by Jonathan Tropper
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Renewed for a third season to premiere in 2015
In last week’s review, I talked a little bit about how the decision to keep Rabbit around for another season might have been an understandable misstep for the freshman series, Banshee. “Bullets and Tears” makes the best case possible for why Rabbit’s presence this season has at least been important in helping develop the relationship between the man known as Lucas Hood (or Tom Palmer, as he would have been known in another life) and Anastasia. And even though I would have liked to have seen more Proctor or Chayton in the main antagonist roles this season (more on that below), “Bullets and Tears” is about as perfect of an ending to the Rabbit years of Banshee as you could get.
Part of that comes with the intelligent and plentiful callbacks scattered all over this finale. It’s something that Steven DeKnight did as Spartacus wrapped up its final season, rewarding attentive viewers with major payoffs left and right. Though the track has been used several times in Banshee, I immediately went back to “The Truth About Unicorns” and the burning house as the Carrie-Lucas love theme played in the church sequence. In that brilliant episode, the theme helped contribute to the stories of destruction and creation being told as Hood watched the life he once yearned for fall to pieces before hitting the road and getting back to his new life. In “Bullets and Tears,” Hood anticipates a similar kind of destruction, which he thinks includes his death. If this is the end for him, he at least wants it to be a new beginning for Ana. The signature back-and-forth cuts between past and present that Yaitanes uses here flawlessly evoke that circularity. But more than that – and I anticipate many viewers might disagree here, though I’ve stayed away from all commentary before writing this – the moment brings the possibility of Hood’s death into full legitimacy. With the popularity of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, television viewers know their characters aren’t as safe as they used to be. And while viewers of “Bullets and Tears” might roll their eyes at the episode’s insistence that Hood might die and not be a part of Banshee anymore, the more important aspect is that Hood believes it. Everything about how the moment is constructed creates that sense of relinquishing oneself to the powers that be. Back in the premiere, Sugar told Hood he’d taken the sheriff thing about as far as he could. This is Hood’s admission of that. The best parallel I can make to a similar moment in a TV series here is in the finale of Justice League, before it became Justice League Unlimited (spoilers ahead?). Batman is faced with what he thinks is the only decision he can make to save his friends and which involves sacrificing himself for them. Much more than with Hood, we except Batman to not die. You just can’t kill Batman; he’s Batman. But the Justice League writers did an amazing job at convincing the viewers that it was going to happen if Superman hadn’t come in to the rescue (end of spoilers; when I asked Greg Yaitanes if he had seen Justice League, he said no, but I’m convinced this is cosmic transference). I was prepared to see Hood go down, even though so much of Banshee still revolves around him. So, when Job, Fat Al and his crew burst in, it was an experience of relief, not one of frustration at being subject to a familiar and manipulative (and, ultimately, pointless) trope that television shows sometimes use.
Just speaking of the church scene in general, Jesus Christ. If last year’s finale was a raucous bloodbath, what was this? Ridiculous. That’s what. Ridiculous in the same way that has made so many viewers fall in love with Banshee. In a Matrix-style infiltration sequence, Hood and Ana take on the whole friggin’ Ukrainian mob, gunning down Rabbit’s brother, Yulish (Ulish?), in the process. With all the religious imagery in Banshee, from what we see of the Amish community to the tattoo on Proctor’s back, faith is clearly something difficult for characters to possess and maintain in this universe. Emmett (more on him below, too) brought up that idea last week – that all the evil that pervades Banshee makes it hard to reconcile one’s beliefs with what one experiences in life. In the end, the power of faith is overcome by the more traditional power of ammunition in “Bullets and Tears.” The blunt reality and brutality of that is brought out in one of the best-directed action sequences that will be likely to air on TV this year.
Comparing that to a scene like Rabbit’s final moments shows the range Banshee has when it comes to styles of storytelling. In the episode’s quietest moment, we see the conclusion to twenty episode’s worth of conflict play out with precise, karmic punishment. “If” Rabbit was going to go down was never a question in this episode. “How” was the interesting part. Anastasia seemed like the likely candidate. Even though Rabbit screwed Hood over, taking fifteen years of his life away, it made more sense for Ana to be the one to pull the trigger. Yet, she gives the gun to Rabbit with one bullet in the chamber so that he has to do it himself (Hood sticks around to make sure, of course). It was an unpredictable choice when many other obvious choices were available, and it’s the closest the moment can come to being cathartic, by – again – calling back to the idea of letting evil punish evil. So, now’s as good a time as any to say that the work Ben Cross put into this role has been confoundingly good. In a series that looks like it’s going to follow the comic book route of bringing in supervillains with regularity, Rabbit sets the bar extremely high, and it is as much Cross’ memorable performance as the writing that makes the character so entertaining to see on the screen.
The other huge part that gives “Bullets and Tears” such a sense of finality and of things coming together is how it is structured. Banshee‘s second season has mostly been full of episodes that run the normal cable drama’s running time, hovering in the mid-40 minutes. With a full-length episode, Tropper gets to infuse his script with lengthy flashbacks, bringing back now-dead characters like Olek and The Albino. The cold open in particular is such a smart role-reversal of how another series might handle this kind of finale. Instead of showing a teaser of the action that will happen at the end of the episode or season (the only two examples I can think of off the top of my head that executed this well are the first season finale of Spartacus and the second season premiere of Hannibal from a few weeks ago; I’m sure there’s more), we open far away from Banshee and many years in the past. It’s all build up, capitalizing on what Banshee Origins has given fans who seek out the extra background story. It’s not necessary to see the Origins shorts to enjoy “Bullets and Tears,” but it certainly enhances the enjoyment by giving you more information about the priest and Racine’s case against Rabbit that is now closed (so, congratulations to him, even though he can’t experience the satisfaction). The extra minutes also give the episode an added filmic quality, hitting all the mini-climaxes and payoffs along the way.
The question, though, is what does Banshee look like next year? Before getting into that directly, and despite the fact that most of “Bullets and Tears” takes place in New York, there are a bunch of other story strands addressed that have major ramifications going forward. Unfortunately, we say goodbye to Demetrius Grosse as Emmett and his wife get gunned down in a racial retaliation. Grosse completely dominated the two episodes prior to the finale in a way that made sure Emmett didn’t leave Banshee underserved. As with the religious tensions in the town, racial issues are obviously still a thing, so even with Emmett gone, the conflict he has had to deal with in the series will still be there in the likes of Chayton and the rest of the Kinaho tribe. But in an episode full of deaths, Emmett’s hits hardest. What this means going forward, most likely, is that Hood will have one or two new deputies sometime next year, expanding the cast to fill some of the holes left behind and, more importantly, making the Banshee SD more than just the four people it has been in these first two seasons.
Admittedly, I had an eyebrow raised very high after last week’s kissing scene between Rebecca and Alex Longshadow. Viewers who were similarly worried/skeptical got to be completely reassured that all is well in The Rebecca Bowman Show. Rebecca has now gone full-Proctor by luring Alex into a trap and killing The Thunder Man at his own council table. There’s still a lingering sense that there’s some reluctance in her, since she hesitates to pull the trigger at first (and because she didn’t rat on Hood a couple weeks back when he broke into the house), but she revels in the deed afterwards, proudly showing Kai a picture of Alex’s corpse. Once again, we also see the murky territory being traversed between Rebecca and Kai. I’m not sure how long this line can be towed before something needs to be said about it, but the answer is probably something like “sooner rather than later.” Alex’s death, though, means more than just Rebecca’s development and fewer obstacles for Proctor in taking over the town. It also means Chayton is coming back home (and maybe Nola? It would be a crime against humanity if Odette Annable didn’t show up again). This is easily the most exciting prospect for me – possibly seeing Geno Segers’ name in the Banshee title sequence next season as a regular. Chayton extends the breadth of conflict to army-sized levels, not just because the guy is huge but because he also controls a lot of people with a lot of weaponry. He’s the only adversary of Hood to survive entirely intact, and, to draw on Batman one more time because why not, he’s the most appropriate character to be the Bane to break Hood’s back and challenge him both physically and psychologically. His beef will initially be with Proctor, of course, since his niece is the one who got rid of Alex, but the collision course is definitely Hood and Chayton in the Banshee brawl to end all Banshee brawls. There couldn’t be a more thrilling Kinaho replacement for Alex, but that being said, another round of cheers go out to Anthony Ruivivar for the charisma he’s brought to Alex’s character and for being especially creepy in the moments just before his death.
What else? How about the Hopewell family, whose ironic name now goes hand-in-hand with issues that certainly don’t invite hope. The shot of Hood and Ana holding hands on the drive back and then Hood letting go seems like the end of Anastasia altogether (or at least for a while). Now, she is Carrie Hopewell, trying to rebuild her shattered marriage with a recovering alcoholic in Gordon. The pieces won’t fit again, but there’s at least the chance of constructing something that can stand on its own. Deva is certainly a wrench in that, though, now that she knows Hood is her father. Hopefully, Gordon will have had plenty of time to come to terms with that in-between seasons, but don’t expect many scenes between Carrie and Hood next year if the Hopewell family has any chance of coming out on top of things. The temptation to use the Hood-Deva relationship earlier than this must have been intense, because it seemed like a device that would have been addressed in the first half of the first season, but I’m glad for the exercise in restraint, because too many things have been going on to give it the time to develop that it needs. How it will change Deva’s relationships with Carrie and Gordon will probably be dictated by how Gordon reacts to Hood’s name being spoken in their house. It’s a tough position to put Carrie in, too, but Ivana Milicevic and Rus Blackwell have been massive highlights in fairly limited roles this season, so just seeing more of them is enough to get excited about.
In one of the episode’s best moments, Hood goes to see Siobhan after coming back to Banshee. Banshee itself is a series that has managed to weave together what makes pulpy stories entertaining and what elevates material beyond pulp. That dynamic is completely encapsulated in the exchange between Siobhan and Hood, when he says that he needed to see her. “So, say that,” she tells him. It’s a comedic and light way to make Hood look like the unfeeling brute that some male characters are thrown into because it’s an easy archetype. But then the camera pans back to him so he can follow through: “I need to see you.” It literally amazes me that the season is now over and the Siobhan-Hood pairing hasn’t completely blown up with hurt feelings and resentment on one or both sides. Since his life with Ana is out of the way and off the table, Hood can really be with Siobhan. The events he’s had to endure over not just the course of Banshee but the fifteen years spent in lock-up prior to that have broken him – not to the point of paralysis, but to that point where alcohol and self-abuse have been necessities for him. In Siobhan, he sees reprieve. He steps towards her and the two just hold each other for a moment before kissing, comforted by the connection they share – two people not entirely alone in their worlds. Antony Starr and Trieste Kelly Dunn have fantastic on-screen chemistry, and we’ve seen how Siobhan has been able to bring out the best in Hood (we’ve come a long way from that “meet the new boss” line in the third episode of the series). It will be weird to see Hood in a stable relationship if that happens, but this is a finale full of intriguing threads leading into next year.
So, again, what does Banshee look like next year? More of the same? New power relations and conflicts entirely? Some combination of the two? Whatever the case, the completion of the Rabbit arc and a new group of writers gives Banshee a great diving board to jump off. The vote of confidence in the season renewal should also be a good indicator that Banshee has only just begun to make noise on Cinemax. I know some people were a little disappointed with the direction the series took this year, straying a little bit from its straight-up pulp fiction roots, but that seems more like a stylistic evolution and not a change in identity. If Banshee looks and feels a little different (and better, I would argue), its heart is in the right place and the crew seems as dedicated as ever to making it the best version of itself that it can be. Second seasons are notoriously difficult to execute this well (be on the lookout for an article about just that sometime this week in relation to this series), and if they go right, that creates even more expectations for the next batch of episodes. There’s extreme confidence at work and on display here, though. That might be enough of an edge to carry the series through another year of improvement. In any case, it’s been a hell of a ride and privilege to be able to cover this season. Thank you to all the readers for coming to Sound On Sight, for commenting and especially for sharing my posts, including this one that I’m happy to say was not premature (that extends to those involved with the series who were gracious enough to re-Tweet some links; Banshee, if you didn’t know, has one of the best and most active Twitter presences of cast and crew, and they are all willing to take the time to talk to fans). I’ll hopefully be back here next year to cover the third season in all its craziness. Till next time.
– Sean Colletti