Tonight’s episode is the first time I didn’t see a twist coming a mile away in Ray Donovan, and I’m impressed with the show for patiently drawing out the reveal. Unfortunately, the episode stumbles a bit in the final scene, trying to give its audience a scene of emotional relevance with Ray that instead comes off as maudlin and overwrought, as is often the case with this show. But no matter; the rest of “Bucky Fuckn’ Dent” is admirably restrained, and it has the added benefit of cashing in on the work the show has done over the last 10 episodes in building up Bunchy as a broken abuse survivor who desperately needs closure. In fact, though Bunchy’s pain is at first the focal point of the story, all three Donovan brothers reach a climax of sorts in this episode, one that seems to dredge up the same struggle from the past and brings it to bear on the present.
The reveal is that Ray himself was also one of Father O’Connor’s victims, yet another boy to suffer at the hands of a pedophile. Father Danny is what they called him. He targeted all three of the boys, then, under the guise of being friends with their mother and taking an active role in the boys’ upbringing. All of Ray Donovan’s flaws aside, there’s no way for this story to be anything but heartbreaking, and for once the show’s typical bluntness and violence seems suited to the emotional tenor of the scene. Bunchy tracks down Father Danny and shoots him before the episode starts; he comes back with the wounded man, tracking blood all over Terry’s boxing studio. Apparently no one saw Bunchy drag a bloody man into the studio (hard to believe) but it’s fine; what really matters is the ordeal of the brothers questioning the priest, attempting to get him to confess his sins.
I was not expecting Ray Donovan to become a show primarily about the effects of childhood sexual abuse, but this is the arena in which it’s the most original and the most relevant. It explains Ray’s seething rage and near-fanatical devotion to his family; it even explains his irrational, misplaced rage at his father, a figure who he believes should have been able to protect him from another, far more sinister father figure. Ray also tells Bunchy he feels he let it happen to his younger brother—he knew what Father Danny was doing, but he still left Bunchy alone with the man. Ray has been wracked with guilt and anxiety for the security of everyone in his care ever since.
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The brothers haul Father Danny to a couch and leave him there over the course of the day. He’s numb and beginning to go into shock, but he’s alert and responsive. So what follows is an interrogation-slash-confession, a cross-examination of everyone’s own personal guilt. Terry is honestly worried he’s going to hell; Bunchy is erratic, seeking either revenge or closure. Ray more than anything just seems to want the cruel scene to be over. More than any other character, he’s unable to accept the reality of the abuse. The episode ends with Father Danny dead, shot through the eyes by a Ray who is so frenzied by trying to escape his demons that he keeps making more.
Despite all of this drama around the brothers, the finest acting of “Bucky Fuckn’ Dent” undoubtedly goes to Paula Malcomson, for just one minute-long scene, when she marches into the boxing gym and sees the bleeding priest on the couch and the brothers arranged guiltily around him. As with many of the emotional arcs on Ray Donovan, I haven’t quite bought the shrill bluster of Abby Donovan. But the look on her face as she takes in the scene is powerful. She knows, immediately, what’s happening (as she would say herself: “I’m not an idiot, Ray.”), and her expression is one of comprehension and also tacit approval. Probably the reason Abby is so eager to crack into Ray’s secret life is because she’s just as bloody-minded as the rest of them.
I’m still not totally sold on Ray Donovan—the show has not, up until now, merited this kind of focused viewing, and too many of the good elements are buried under rather boring, drawn-out melodrama. But the characters are well thought-out and well-acted, which is keeping the show afloat. Let’s see how the season finale sets us up for season two.
- Are you ready for my crazy theory for the finale, titled “Same Exactly”? I think Mickey’s going to go to prison again, to take the rap for his sons’ murder of the priest. It’s such an available conclusion, and it would bring Ray’s guilt and obsession with his father full circle.
- Speaking of Mickey, he is in this episode, though peripherally. He’s turned into a sweet old man who is occasionally uncomfortably blunt. I don’t know what to do with this new soft Mickey, who slow-dances with his old flames.
- Mickey, to the cops at his door: “What are you, Jehovah’s Witnesses?”