[This is a review of Banshee season 3, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
In ‘The Fire Trials,’ the season 3 premiere of Banshee, two things are made immediately clear: 1) the series is not afraid to be totally nuts; it has developed a swagger that comes from being able to sell its utterly off-the-wall antics as its most effective asset, and 2) Matt Servitto is the proud owner of one of television’s fiercest beards. (If Agent Dwight Harris had been knocking on Tony Soprano’s front door with that beard, the search warrant would have been optional.)
In other words, with its twenty-first episode, Cinemax’s pulpy crime drama about a not-so-sleepy little Pennsylvania hamlet has convincingly grown into the show it wanted to be from the get-go: a violent, sex-filled drama whose edge is not dulled by its willingness to also be playful. Instead, the show’s inherent mischievousness makes the entire enterprise feel razor sharp.
Coming off the show’s outstanding sophomore season (which included ‘The Truth About Unicorns,’ one of Screen Rant’s favorite episodes of 2014), Banshee showrunner Greg Yaitanes has set his sights on an examination of just how fine the line between Sheriff Hood (Antony Starr) the lawman and the lawlessness of the nameless hood playing him can be. This time around, that line seems to be one that Hood’s deputies are also willing to cross in the name of their fallen comrade, Emmett Yawners (Demetrius Grosse).
The episode’s cold open is one of few television segments that lives up to the term, as Hondo, the violent neo-Nazi who murdered Yawners and his wife in cold blood at the end of last season, is hunted and eventually gunned down by Hood and deputies Brock Lotus (Servitto) and Siobhan Kelly (Trieste Dunn).
Here, Hood is less the “alleged” sheriff and more like a ringleader, calmly wrangling his prey and waiting until Lotus and Kelly have fired off their salvos before sounding off with his shotgun. It’s a moment that echoes throughout the episode, not only as Lotus comes to grips with having taken part in executing a man, but also as evidence that Hood isn’t just influenced by the badge – as he was for much of last season – but that the badge can be influenced by him.
And for a series where the question of identity has overwhelmingly been its central theme, this assessment of the Banshee sheriff’s department – and especially Brock Lotus, who at long last has been given his own storyline – suggests that season 3 isn’t going to be a return to the status quo.
The same can be said for Ivana Milicevic’s Carrie Hopewell, who, after the death of her father, Rabbit (Ben Cross), in the season 2 finale, must now balance motherhood and her surreptitious career as a master thief with the knowledge that one of her darkest secrets has already been exposed. Much as Hood found himself starting over, trying on a new identity and occasionally finding it an odd fit in seasons 1 and 2, Carrie finds herself stepping back into the identity of the woman she left behind 15 years ago. And, unsurprisingly, being a down-on-her-luck waitress hasn’t quite come full circle to being fashionable again.
All of this is evidence that Banshee is committed to moving forward and examining what will be the result of these characters’ new stasis points. But it also means welcoming the return of Geno Segers as the man-mountain Chayton Littlestone, as well as Langley Kirkwood (Dredd, Dominion) as Col. Douglas Stowe, who may have as much of an axe to grind with the Redbone leader as Hood does.
These twin antagonists present an interesting challenge for Banshee now that Rabbit has been dealt with. What was a seemingly incomprehensible and rarely seen villain, who was often as unknowable as the details of Hood’s identity, has now been replaced by two far more direct adversaries, poised to take on a much larger role in the season’s narrative.
For his part, the daunting Segers seems more than ready, as ‘The Fire Trials’ offers Chayton two bloodstained sequences to establish his enthusiasm for violence and knack for theatricality – demonstrated by Chayton’s dramatic arrival at the titular Fire Trials, and again when he stops a military convoy dead in its tracks with a bow and arrow.
But it’s not all convoy assaults and shady Colonels with stacks of unwashed cash ripe for the taking. ‘The Fire Trials’ also finds time to touch base with Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) and his increasingly unsavory relationship with his niece, Rebecca (Lili Simmons), as Banshee‘s resident crime lord attempts to bounce back from the blow dealt to him by Hood during last season. Proctor is a bit of a mainstay, and his rivalry with Hood is reminiscent of Boyd Crowder’s relationship with Raylan Givens on Justified: they’re two men cut from very much the same cloth, who find themselves walking in one another’s footsteps, despite being on what appears to be ideologically opposing paths.
Meanwhile, Hood’s run-in with his daughter Deva (Ryann Shane) practically puts the young woman on the road to entering the family business. Deva’s been a hit or miss character for the first two seasons, mostly because she was limited by her knowledge of what was going on and her age – which often left her as little more than a plot device.
Now that she knows who her father is, Banshee is ready to explore the character’s motivations and agency a bit more as she becomes embroiled in the narrative’s obsession with identity. The only difference is Deva will be faced with choosing which father she wants to follow in the footsteps of: Hood or the seemingly hopeless Rus Hopewell.
There’s almost too much story packed into the premiere, and yet the episode never feels overstuffed. Instead, ‘The Fire Trials’ is a big, bold, and exciting introduction to season 3. Perhaps that’s because Banshee continues to expand to accommodate the larger and increasingly more confident storytelling it has to offer.
Banshee continues next Friday with ‘Snakes and Whatnot’ @10pm on Cinemax.
Photos: Gregory Shummon/Cinemax