[This is a review of the Banshee season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]

If you’ve been keeping up with Cinemax’s pulpy crime drama Banshee in season 2 (and hopefully you have), you’ve likely noticed that episode-to-episode, the show looked, sounded, and even felt different from the series that may or may not have hooked you as a viewer in season 1. It’s only March, but as its second season comes to a close, with the pivotal and potentially game-changing ‘Bullets and Tears,’ Banshee has easily found itself at the top of the most dramatically improved series of 2014.

In order to climb those heights, season 2 had to be different from its predecessor in many ways, but noticeably, those differences really couldn’t bring around a drastic change with regard to the narrative. The show hasn’t suddenly gone off the deep end or forgotten it was intended to display a dizzying succession of outrageous fights, shootouts, and action set pieces. Instead, under the stewardship of showrunner Greg Yaitanes, the series has gone from straightforward, pulp-driven excess, to a nuanced, beguilingly layered, and progressively more substantial series that has consistently delivered meatier characterizations, storylines, and performances from which it may pull back its frequently bloodied knuckles.

All season long, Banshee has been dealing with the question of just who the show’s unnamed protagonist really is – meaning: who does the man playing Lucas Hood want to be, now that he can ostensibly become anyone? He’s free to be himself, but why does he persist at being Lucas Hood? The answer to that question is more than the show can answer in a single season, and it’s more than perhaps the show should want to answer, given the quality of the stories that have emerged from such an inquiry. The questions swirling around Hood’s true nature have easily usurped the questions regarding Hood’s true identity. All season long, he’s been doing the sheriff thing to nearly everyone’s surprise (whether they know his secret or not). But his time playing lawman is more than the clichéd “rogue cop who still gets results”; it’s a genuine question digging at the fundamental uncertainty of identity, and the malleable nature of the self, given the appropriate circumstances.

Early on in ‘Bullets and Tears,’ Carrie (operating in Ana mode) discovers some information about Hood’s past that even she didn’t know, prompting her to ask the question: “How many lives have you lived?” Hood’s answer: “None, really.” The fact that Hood has had significant experiences worthy of being owed a debt by a man called Fat Al, prior to spending 15 years in prison, along with the intimation that he does not regard such experiences as noteworthy enough to warrant being called “living” is a significant finding for the increasingly complex puzzle this character is rapidly becoming.

Such remarks just add to the growing legend of the man currently behind the sheriff’s badge in Banshee. The idea that the reality of Lucas Hood is – in his own eyes, anyway – something of non-entity, a person in possession of myriad backstories, is one definitely worth investigating. While his identity shifts between two polar extremes, seemingly destined to be at odds with one another, the series has proven, episode in and episode out, there’s a balance to be struck, a mechanism put to use that incorporates those extremes and find that the middle, for once, is the most interesting place to be.

And as the season rolled on, it became obvious that Hood’s biggest concern wasn’t finding a way to get Carrie/Ana back into this life, or to become a father to the child he’d never known, but rather, how to reconcile his complicated past with the person he’s gradually becoming more comfortable being. In one sense, Hood is Don Draper with a killer right hook, but he’s also Raylan Givens with a serious identity complex. He’s a man who has became so good at living a lie, he’s unsure where the lie ends and the truth begins. And tellingly, Hood’s not the only one struggling with a fractured persona.

At the season’s halfway point, Banshee took an aesthetically thrilling detour thanks in large part to director Babak Najafi, in the episode ‘The Truth About Unicorns.’ The episode spent an entire hour detailing the complicated relationship between Carrie/Ana and Lucas Hood. The couple ventured deep into a “What If…?” situation, only to be pulled out by the assassination of Agent Racine (Zeljko Ivanek) and the realization that with Rabbit still alive, they’ll never have any life worth living. This, of course, became the path on which the season would eventually find itself, despite Hood’s contentious dealings with Kai Proctor, and the deal he made with Alex Longshadow.

To that end, closing the book on Rabbit and, in many ways, Carrie and Hood, is the best thing Banshee could have done to progress the story into season 3. Rabbit has always serves as a major fixture in the Hood/Carrie relationship, as well as their individual pre-Banshee identities; but as all good television programs demonstrate, the key to keeping the story alive is: constant progression. Banshee could have easily milked a few more seasons out of Hood’s secret and his undying love for Ana, but rather than force the audience into another long, drawn out confrontation with the same problem, Yaitanes and series co-creator Jonathan Tropper decided to make ‘Bullets and Tears’ the entry point into a new storyline that has resolved the past as well as it possibly could, and simultaneously set its sights on the future.

The duo convincingly wraps things up by focusing on Carrie and Hood storming the church Rabbit’s been holed up in with his brother (Julian Sands). But rather than turn the suicide mission into a long, drawn-out exercise in violence, the episode effectively reveals the circumstances that put the protagonists in their current predicament – which reads more like the end of one massive chapter than anything else. And thanks to the intervention of Job and Fat Al, all those opposing Hood and Carrie perish – including Rabbit – but as the episode’s many epilogues suggest, Rabbit’s death and the closure that comes from that isn’t anywhere near the end of the story.

Instead, Banshee looks to the future, by continuing to turn the pages where Rabbit’s story ends. When Hood and Carrie enter Banshee city limits, the camera lingers on his hand leaving hers in the space between them, which happens to be the front seat of the real Lucas Hood’s pick-up truck. Carrie returns home to Gordon, while Hood attempts to find solace in Siobhan and later by returning to his job as sheriff – which eventually gets blown up by Deva marching into his office and addressing him as “dad.”

Meanwhile, the season ends with the tragic and bloody deaths of Emmett and his wife Meg, but also with Rebecca’s murder of would-be Thunder Man, Alex Longshadow. Longshadow’s futile insistence that he’s the Thunder Man not only affords Kai Proctor his release from prison, it also welcomes the series’ newest primary antagonist, Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers) – whose impending return to Banshee is enough to make anyone want to tune in for season 3.

In the end, ‘Bullets and Tears’ certainly lived up to its namesake, but it also propelled a dramatically improved series into a new frontier that looks far more promising than where things left off just one season ago.

Banshee will return for season 3 in 2015 on Cinemax.