Ray Donovan season 1 episode 11 review: Bucky Fuckin’ Dent

The penultimate episode of the season tackles a big issue that's been hanging over the show since the beginning. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers

1.11 Bucky Fuckin’ Dent

In his latest review of Breaking Bad, our own Paul Martinovic noted the use of death as a narrative short cut, a simple device that can be used to adjust the audience’s sympathy towards a character. There is another, somewhat troublesome, shortcut that is occasionally deployed for similar purposes. It works in exactly the same manner but with one tiny exception. Some fictional deaths occur through accident or unavoidable disaster. There isn’t always a villain involved. That is not the case with sexual abuse.

The shadow of child abuse has hung over Ray Donovan from the outset. We’ve primarily seen the after-effects through the situation of Bunchy, his alcoholism and self-hatred, his abortive attempts at seeking meaningful help from support groups (he can thank his Pa for ruining that one), his inability to engage in proper adult relationships (this week he rather sweetly self-diagnoses as ‘sexual anorexic) and the sheer inadequacy of pecuniary compensation. Although Dash Mihok has been excellent as Bunch, delivering a quivering, busted out performance, his eyes, to borrow a line from Fight Club, ‘shrink-wrapped in tears’, the storyline has bumbled along with little interference in the main thread. Bunchy’s troubles have been ticking over in scenes sometimes ham-fisted and sometimes among the best moments in all the season (Bunchy as a broken man-child, wheeling about on his chopper was a particular highlight).

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Given the show’s occasionally clumsy treatment of the issue so far (yes, I know some of this was due to Mickey’s characterisation, but that itself is a form of mis-handling), the care with which it handles it here is a welcome surprise. It acknowledges, with some sensitivity, the extent of the fallout of abuse and the misdirection of blame. All three of the elder Donovan brothers were victims, or potential victims (Terry was better able to fight the seedy old sod off) and all three bear the scars. We now see how far their adult relationships have been affected by it, how it seeps into Ray’s marriage and Terry’s nascent affair with Frances. Above all, we learn that some of Ray’s antipathy towards his father is the result of blaming him for abandoning his sons to the Father Danny’s hideous ministrations. Bunchy, like far too many victims of abuse, blames himself. He quite liked it and misinterpreted it as love. ‘There must be something in me. Something he saw’ he says, ‘And he was nice to me’.

In truth, there is one person responsible for it and he spends most of the episode lying bleeding on the floor of Terry’s gym, a Mr Orange in cassock and dog collar. The agonised decision making over what to do with him -take him to the hospital or finish the job, made for some of the best drama that the series has yet presented. It made a bold contrast with the casual violence and easy killings that have peppered this show for ten episodes. For the Donovans, it’s more than simply putting a bullet in a man’s brain and cleaning up afterwards, ‘fixing’ it, if you will. It requires them to face up to what they’ve all been through and where it has left them. Ultimately, when Ray is provoked into shooting the priest, it feels like a relief, the catharsis of the tension that has been built up over the preceding forty-odd minutes and for the Donovans, for most of their lives.

I suggested last week that Ray Donovan would benefit from a reduction in budget. Bucky Fuckin’ Dent, the nearest the show has come to a bottle episode, seems to confirm it. Stripping out all unnecessary flash, it gave itself more time to focus on the minutiae of its three separate, but connected stories. The Brothers Donovan vs Father Danny, Avi babysitting Ray’s family and Mickey covering his ass in the aftermath of Sean Walker’s killing. It works brilliantly. The show’s biggest strength, by far, is its cast and by leaving them space to perform and interact with one another, it plays its best hand.

The additional room meant that we could learn a little bit more about Avi, who, most of all the characters, leaves you wanting to find out more. With the references to Shabbat, kibbutzes and Mossad, and uses of putz and yid (by Conor) it was a little Jewish-by-numbers, and an obvious attempt to paint a slightly more benign view of religion than the one created by the piece of filth on Terry’s floor. Conor’s pointed questions about his father ‘hating religion’ felt a little forced, but they were dealt with in a flash.

The lightest storyline, which is an odd thing to write about the aftermath of a murder, concerned Old Man Donvan’s instinct for self-preservation, and had a curious connection to the central thread. Mickey’s slipperiness reached new depths this week as he oiled his way into a handy alibi for the night that Sean Walker was killed. I’m still puzzled as to why he seems to have such magnetic charisma with the women he meets, but somehow it all works in-universe and Claudette is only too willing to offer him her protection, which is more than he could ever do for his poor kids.Poor, poor kids.

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