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Banshee, Ep. 3.05: “Tribal” maximizes the one-hour format of episodic television

Banshee, Ep. 3.05: “Tribal” maximizes the one-hour format of episodic television


Banshee, Season 3: Episode 5 – “Tribal”
Written by Adam Targum
Directed by OC Madsen
Airs Friday nights at 10 on Cinemax

If it’s worth quoting, it’s worth quoting twice:

“I don’t know if anyone ever changes, really. But we can evolve, right? I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do, isn’t it? Just become better versions of ourselves?”
– Deputy Siobhan Kelly

When it comes to episodic television, no one expects any show to simply be the best. If such objectivity existed, there would be no point in watching anything but the single best series out there. Everything else would be a waste of time, because energy would be spent on an inferior product. But that’s not how these things work. Every viewer has different tastes than the next. Some don’t like Banshee. Some absolutely love it. Instead of expecting or hoping a show to be better compared to everything else around it, all we can expect or hope for is that a show will aim to be the best version of itself. Here at Sound On Sight, we try to highlight major episodes of television each year. Being a great episode of television, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the episode is a great example of what that series has to offer. Often, the oddballs (Breaking Bad‘s “Fly” and Banshee‘s “The Truth About Unicorns”) are the episodes that stand out individually. Being a great episode in context in something else entirely. A couple weeks ago, Banshee dropped “A Fixer of Sorts,” which showcased exactly what makes Banshee the series that it is. This week, “Tribal” reignites the conversation. This week, Banshee pushes its own boundaries and gives its viewers one of the most enthralling, heartbreaking, intense, gorgeous and shocking episodes of television that will air all year. This week, Banshee is the best version of itself.

Lucas Hood:

“Hey, Chayton…fuck off.”

Siobhan knowing the truth about Hood shouldn’t just affect their relationship. It should also affect Hood’s demeanor around anyone while Siobhan is in the same building. He should be worried that his cover will be blown at any moment to people like Brock or Alison Medding and that he’ll be laid bare, exposed as a phony–not a cop, just a criminal. But when push comes to shove and gunfire, Hood does not flinch. In an episode full of great performances, Antony Starr exudes Hood’s reluctant leadership quality so convincingly, I’m half-expecting him to break into a Braveheart-like motivational speech. Banshee is smarter than that, though, and Hood just travels throughout “Tribal” getting things done like the kind of person you would want to have near you during a panic attack. It takes incredible control to be able to perform under these conditions, but Hood’s been in tighter spots, he says. So, calming Brock when he sees a gun in Proctor’s hand is no big deal. It’s just a logical situation that needs to be explained now that everyone is in the middle of a war zone. If “A Fixer of Sorts” showed Hood’s patience with Brantley, capable of taking a beating and waiting until the time was right to make his move, “Tribal” is the other half of the equation; here, Hood has to think and act quickly, leaving no room for error.

And he almost makes all the right decisions, which is an incredible feat in and of itself. I could (and did) yell at the television, hoping that Hood would hear me telling him to just shoot Chayton in the face. He’s a good shot, after all. Yet, he can’t protect his own Achilles’ heel in this case and doesn’t gamble with Siobhan in the crosshairs. He’s not able to fully take in what Chayton meant when he said that they would all pay and that Hood, specifically, would be made to suffer. What follows is something horrific, and that’s not just the murder of Siobhan. Because life has to go on, her death is almost happenstance. What follows is a major loss in the battle for Lucas Hood. Siobhan, a resident of Banshee, is not baggage from Hood’s past. She is a part of his present. She is something new. She is something he’s built for himself to help forget what fifteen years on the inside was like. To lose her now, after being completely comfortable in the role of Lucas Hood, is to reverse all the development he’s undergone. He is back to square one, and the only thing on his mind will be blood. It’s tough to watch in the same way that Carrie being stuck in the past has been. And if that’s not difficult enough, having to hear Antony Starr verbalize that anguish is bone-chilling. As he screams over Siobhan’s body, so much has been lost–for him and for viewers.


Kai Proctor, Leah Proctor and Rebecca Bowman:

“Forgive me, Kai. If I had only been stronger, I could have saved you. Could have saved us both.”

Not wholly a bottle episode, “Tribal” continues the evolution of Proctor while concluding the arc with his mother. Jennifer Griffin’s performance in this role has been stunning, and the series will miss the kind of gravity she brings to these final scenes. As the dementia sets in before Leah’s death, she drops truth bombs that are bound to haunt the characters who overhear them for as long as Siobhan’s death will haunt Hood. “It’s not too late, Rebecca. Leave this house. Find your own way. Find your own way.” The shock on Rebecca’s face is the result of comprehension. It takes someone (usually a family member or close friend) to say something like that to make someone realize that she’s strayed from the path. Rebecca has appeared to enjoy becoming more like how she thinks her uncle is, but her change is superficial. The person she really is still lies within, and Leah’s words take a sledgehammer to the hard exterior that Rebecca has crafted for herself.

That exterior is something that Kai doesn’t actually possess, despite how easy it is to think of him as cold and calculated. He is as emotional a character as anyone else on this show. His pride comes through. His jealousy causes him to make threats. He internalizes sadness and expresses it like any other human being. Like Starr, Ulrich Thomsen rises to the challenge of exuding genuine grief, and his recitation of the prayer for the dead echoes throughout the episode:

“Lord, those who die still live in Your presence. Their lives change, but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives and friends, and for all the dead known to You alone.”

If our lives change, but do not end, that gives us hope. It’s ridiculous to think of hope after watching “Tribal,” but that idea suggests that maybe the motto of “Old habits die hard” is up for debate. Maybe instead of seeing these events unfold and having to weep for the dead, what we see are two men who have historically been at-odds with one another, one nearly killing the other last week, putting old habits to rest to rise against evil as best as they can. Proctor didn’t have to make the call to the police. Just as Hood told Aimee that he’d rather see Proctor and Chayton kill each other and just stay out of it, Proctor could have left Hood and the others to the same fate. That’s malice reserved for someone else, though. Maybe the person that Rebecca thinks she wants to become, but not the person that Kai actually is.

Kurt Bunker and Alison Medding:

“I can feel you looking at me.”

Further evidence that people can change: Bunker’s story of Tank the Nazi and Alison’s internal response. This whole dynamic is wonderfully tricky, and for everyone hoping that Bunker would find his way back in an important way this season, here you go. What initially surprises me is Alison judging Bunker right from the get-go. Of course, she does have experience with people “like” Bunker, but every individual is different. Just because generalizations have some occasional statistical support, they go against our better natures and make hypocrites of those who don’t wish to be the subject of generalizations. “Tribal,” again, succeeds here by sticking these two characters alongside one another and forcing them to confront who they are. Bunker visually represents everything Alison hates, but he’s actually everything she hopes for in a person “like” him. People can change, and if they can find the better versions of themselves, then the rest of us should follow suit.


Siobhan Kelly:

“I don’t want to die tonight.”

How does one approach the impossible task of doing justice to Trieste Kelly Dunn and Siobhan Kelly in “Tribal” and in Banshee as a whole? A bad habit I’ve learned from some of my friends who did philosophy in school is to address the counter-argument before presenting the argument itself. I know for some people, the argument will be that this is a cheap decision–a lazy way of getting rid of the most important person who knows that Hood is not actually Hood. Let’s put that to rest from the outset. Everything about how the events have transpired this season is based in logic (or as much logic as exists in Banshee, where insane things happen before breakfast). Yes, people who find out who Hood is tend to die, although Agent Phillips is out there by Hood’s choice. But this was the right decision for Banshee to make at this time. Hood didn’t want to have a part in the Kinaho war? Now he’s forced in. Hood was finally starting to feel like a real person by being with Siobhan? Nope, we’ll take that back right away, thank you very much. If anyone turns a blind eye to the fact that most of these characters should already be dead a hundred times over, it’s trivial to be bothered by the supposed convenience of Siobhan’s death. Stories require catalysts. This is the catalyst that made sense at this point in the story.

With that out of the way, there’s nothing to do here but to appreciate everything that Dunn has brought to this series. Siobhan’s death is somewhat telegraphed during the cold open, glass shattering everywhere as we see her life with Hood summarized. The beauty of that sequence and the technical prowess of everything in that death scene don’t begin to scratch the surface of how far along Siobhan has come since her “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” take on Lucas Hood. Whether it was beating her ex with a bible or having to watch her house burn to the ground, Siobhan has left permanent imprints on Banshee, with Dunn deserving as much credit as the writers have for bringing that character to life. Losing her in this way at the hands of one of Hood’s greatest foes is the kind of thing reserved for the ends of television seasons, but Banshee continues to defy tradition and surprise us in the most effective of ways. That pain that Hood feels is real and shared by us, because we have grown to love Siobhan, who has been one of the series’ most level-headed and likable characters. The only solace I can take is, to refer back to Kai reciting that prayer, that our lives change, but do not end. This is not the end of Siobhan; it is just a transition. And I am grateful to have experienced every version of her along the way.

Adam Targum, OC Madsen and “Tribal”:

Another thing we always hope for when watching an episode of television is that the final product will be greater than the sum of its parts. There couldn’t be a more accurate description for “Tribal” thanks to the duo of writer Adam Targum and director OC Madsen (who, by the way, is one of Denmark’s leading directors, so if you haven’t seen his films, do that now). Drawing influence from all the right action classics, Targum’s script is full of fist-poundingly good moments: “We gonna have a problem?” “Nope. Not tonight.” It’s also full of comedy, such as Brock’s response to the lights going out: “Well, this sucks.” There are so many different things being juggled with on the page here, and knowing when to transition from one small group of characters to the next takes incredible cinematic understanding.

Similarly, Madsen’s ability to capture the chaotic moments along with the quieter, contemplative ones is remarkable. It’s one thing to make the action stand out in a sequence like Siobhan’s machete fight, but I’m even more impressed with the blocking in the conversation between Hood and Siobhan, when they finally put everything on the table and Hood leans in to tell her his real name. An episode like “Tribal” doesn’t work if the viewer doesn’t feel immersed in the setting, and a huge part of that comes down to the quick movement of the camera in making everything believable.

There’s more that can and should be said about “Tribal,” and we really ought to have a week off to recover from it, but at the end of the day, it should be reiterated that episodic television doesn’t get better than this for a show like Banshee. “Tribal” is Cinemax’s answer to the best Hollywood blockbusters designed for home consumption. This is why I watch television.

– Sean Colletti

Bullet Points and Tears:

– I’m going to skip this section this week, because this is already well beyond the normal length. As a reminder, you can listen to me and Les Chappell talk about this episode in podcast form for the next episode of Under the Hood (usually available by Monday). As a bonus, though, Les and I also got to talk with Trieste Kelly Dunn. That conversation is available here at Sound On Sight in podcast form as well.