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Banshee: “Snakes And Whatnot”

A (relatively) quiet episode sees all sides consolidating their position

B+
Lili Simmons, Ulrich Thomsen (Cinemax)
Lili Simmons, Ulrich Thomsen (Cinemax)
B+

Banshee

"Snakes And Whatnot"

Season 3 , Episode 2

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It’s a testament to the energy and spectacle delivered by Banshee that an episode like “Snakes And Whatnot” can have a botched kidnapping /knife-fight, a shootout between rival drug dealers, and a brawl at a Native American reservation bar, and still classify as a quieter installment of the series. As good as the show’s writers are at delivering chaos, their careful construction of said chaos means there’s always the awareness of the need to replenish its reserves. “The Fire Trials” clearly delineated the sides in the looming wars sure to sweep over the town of Banshee this season, and “Snakes And Whatnot” is an episode where all three sides are busy fortifying their positions.

Fittingly, the episode spends a good deal of time setting up the newest side, Colonel Douglas Stowe and the men of Fort Genoa. Hood’s identification of ex-military commandos around the base turns out to be the tip of the iceberg, as not only does Job identify $6 million unaccounted for in the military records, the background of both Stowe and his henchman Captain Murphy includes multiple black ops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Banshee traffics in moral ambiguity to the degree that no one on the show can be neatly classified as good guys or bad guys, and it’s smart that they don’t try to paint the base’s soldiers as only well-intentioned patriots before they truly start locking horns with the other players.

Even more important, “Snakes And Whatnot” does an excellent job of characterizing Stowe—or as Job neatly describes him, “the guy they send in to clean out all the other bad motherfuckers.” Langley Kirkwood invests Stowe with a frightening level of unblinking intensity in each scene, portraying him both as a man of rigid discipline and vicious temper in a scene where he beats a thieving soldier within an inch of his life. (The motion of turning his West Point ring into his palm is every bit as terrifying as Burton removing his glasses, a simple gesture that augurs brutality to follow.) Yet there’s also plenty of instability, and the character’s moments of silence are heightened by distant combat noises that indicate unhealthy levels of PTSD brewing below the surface. Carrie’s clearly making a smart choice getting away from him—even if it’s just to remove a complication for the big heist—but a man who’ll ambush his fuck-buddy for some public oral sex doesn’t seem like a man who’ll take well to being left on the side of the road.

Proctor is similarly having trouble keeping things under control, as the power void created by his arrest last season led to some competition from Ohio gangsters. The meeting between the two factions sees Rebecca and the rival boss’s son Martin exchanging sexy stares, which looks like it will set up a Jason Hood-style dynamic—at least until Martin throws out one insult too many, Rebecca draws her gun and kneecaps him, and a slaughterhouse shootout ensues. It’s a welcome fast-forward through what could have been a repetitive plot and provides a stylistically impressive gunfight, as well as furthering the unpredictability that is Rebecca. Burton’s noticed this before, and now it’s startlingly clear to Proctor: he’s spent so much effort to control over his surroundings, can he control what he’s unleashed in her?

The desire to control his surroundings also comes up in the matter of his mother, who reentered his life last season and now appears to be snatched out of it by advanced pancreatic cancer. What makes Proctor a fascinating villain is that in addition to his ruthlessness and the incestuous vibe with Rebecca, since the very beginning there’s been the pain of his banishment, a banishment that cut him off from a culture and family he can’t bring himself to abandon. The scenes where he carries her from the family home over his father’s impotent protests and then gets the bad news at the hospital is legitimately poignant, and the fact that she’s now at his house full-time should only intensify his desire to protect what’s his. (And adding Brock’s ex-wife Emily to the mix as his mother’s hospice nurse is just one more complication that’s sure to pay dividends in future episodes.)

As for Chayton, he’s flush with the success of his heist and decides to turn up the heat with an attempted kidnapping of Proctor and Rebecca. Here’s where the episode stumbles slightly, as the move is such an abrupt escalation after Chayton seemed to have more interest last week in playing the long game. It’s possible he wanted to merely send a message and didn’t expect his Redbones to pull it off, or possible the writers wanted an excuse to introduce a scene that could cross-cut between Rebecca nearly drowning and Chayton engaging in a faux vision quest as he’s serviced by two Redbone women. There’s plenty of exciting moments there, but it feels much less organic than other schemes—especially given this is now the second season in a row where someone affiliated with the Kinaho tribe trying to kidnap Rebecca, after Nola snatched her in season two’s “The Thunder Man.”

Speaking of Nola, she’s back in Banshee, out for revenge and eminently comfortable in the role of wild card. Odette Annable adds an electric energy to Banshee whenever she’s part of the action, showing both a lust for life and a disregard for business as usual that acts as a tonic to the show’s more traditionalist villains. She refuses Chayton’s overtures to join the Redbones—and brief flashbacks hint at a dark past between the two—opting instead for the company of Carrie over a glass of Scotch and some girl talk about semiautomatics. This is a pairing that could pay major dividends for Banshee, both in terms of bad-assery and character development. Stowe said to Carrie last week post-coitus that she looked like she could use a friend, and certainly her interactions with Nola are the most unguarded we’ve seen her in a long while.

Even more badly in need of a friend is Gordon, who’s skipping just over the surface of rock bottom at this point. It’s interesting that Banshee continues to pay attention to this character—indeed, he gets about as much screen time as Chayton this week—given how he’s one of the least violent or least dynamic characters the show has. And there’s a lot happening for him this week, as he’s trying his hardest to put his life back together: backing down from a fight with Proctor, quitting pills and prostitutes, and (awkward pass at the DA aside) trying to make himself a home. He’s still the show’s blandest figure, but he’s also the closest Banshee has to a legitimate authority figure, and it’s important that the town maintain at least a semblance of structure with all these armed gangs trying to tear it apart.

By these standards, Hood’s activities this episode are down to a comfortable routine. Brushing off ex-white supremacist applications for the deputy position, picking fist-fights with the Redbones on unfriendly territory, trying to identify a point of entry in the tunnels under Fort Stowe: all in a day’s work for the sheriff. It’s interesting how Hood has moved into more of a reactive role in Banshee, stepping back from any side in the Proctor/Chayton war and willing to let them tear each other apart if it solves his problems. Even with Siobhan he’s allowing himself to be casual, giving her carte blanche to gently press the issue of the two moving in together. He gives the odd impression of being a man at peace with the current status quo, even as that status quo largely involves getting involved in events he’d be better off avoiding.

“Do I look like someone that knows what’s good for him?” he asks a Kinaho deputy at one point, smirking all the way. No, he does not, and with everything that’s building up in “Snakes And Whatnot” there’s a whole mess of things that aren’t good for him just over the horizon.

Stray observations:

  • If you enjoy these reviews, you might also enjoy the weekly podcast “Under The Hood” I’m doing with Sean Colletti of Sound On Sight where we break down each episode of Banshee. You can listen to the first episode here.
  • The Banshee opening credits are always slightly different week to week, mixing up the photographs to offer hints on the narrative progression, but “Snakes And Whatnot” featured the first major departure from the format as the titles rolled over the life of a skull-shaped pill in Proctor’s drug operation. It’s effectively shot and directed, a Breaking Bad meets Fight Club vibe that livens things up nicely.
  • “Snakes And Whatnot” expands the Kinaho population with a visit to the Kinaho Police Department, meeting Sheriff Yazzie (Carlos Guerro) and Deputy Aimee King (Meaghan Rath, of the U.S. version of Being Human.) Yaz is treated as dead weight, but given how well Banshee handles its female characters I’m expecting good things from Aimee in the future.
  • Chayton’s brother Tommy from season two’s “The Warrior Class” returns, hungry for an opportunity to prove himself and get out from under his brother’s shadow. Over/under on how many episodes it takes before he makes a bad call and gets killed for his troubles? I’m going to call episode six.
  • I hope that jackass trucker who’s got a grudge against Carrie gets his nose broken every episode for the rest of the season. It would make for a wonderful recurring bit of dark comedy.
  • So good to see Sugar and Job bantering again. “I’ll pull the door off the hinges, the old-fashioned way.” “Like you got any other motherfucking way.”
  • “Finish what you started.”
  • “This is a bubble. This isn’t anything.”
  • “Baby, this whole fake sheriff bullshit is getting in the way of your real job.”
  • “Sorry about your brother.” “Sorry about your life.”