The end feels closer than it should. In this bear of a ninth episode, written by Jonathan Glatzer, Danny slithered through the Rayburn’s garden of paradise like a serpent, continuing to tempt and toy with everyone in his reach. A few people snapped back as a result. But never mind that the DEA began building a case against his bait boss’s trafficking ring. Never mind that John dug into his past. Never mind that Kevin flew off the handle or that Meg shut big brother’s threats down. It was Danny’s most inactive victim who finally made an episode her own: Sally.
“Part 9” opens with Sally on a bus, looking distraught or anxious (or both) about something. Her hair’s a mess, and her eyes look like they’ve recorded something awful that they can’t stop rewinding. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a picture. She stares and her eyes pause, spellbound. Maybe this scene would’ve led you to believe, at first, that she was leaving home and heading to Robert (a story she tells Danny about midway through the episode). Sally’s hands tell us another story — she’s married and she’s tried to weather a storm that will ultimately never come to pass. This was Sally’s escape during all the Sarah-Danny drama. Although not much is said in her flashback scenes, her watery eyes and the tears she sheds when she’s a slave to her own nostalgia reveal a tremendous amount about her character, as well as what family means to the Rayburns.
So let’s play a game: It’s called Guess Who Sally’s Tears Are For. Our contestants are Robert, Danny, John, Kevin, Meg, and Sarah.
Sarah? In the most immediate sense, sure. Although Sarah was Daddy’s girl, Sally would’ve been crushed to lose one of her own. She’s the ultimate mother in that sense, she loves all of her children no matter what. She definitely would’ve been hurting for Sarah’s tragedy. But even while most of the family reacts like bugs flailing on insect glue when they remember what Danny did, Sally can put the past aside, and, in a way that would make John Keating proud. Carpe diem! She misses Sarah as much as the next person in her family, but if she can enjoy the present and have everybody involved be happy, that’s paradise. Even if it’s fake. She always reminds her children, You know how important family was to your father — you get the sense she took it upon herself to mend things on the home front, post-accident. Who else would’ve? Robert and the kids? Nope.
What about tears for Meg? No, not even close. Meg has somehow gone decades without even realizing that Robert beat Danny and permanently scarred him for life. The saddest part about the Sarah-Danny tragedy involving the baby sister is the fact that it meant Robert would never give Meg the validation and attention she required. Sally might’ve been sad that that was irreversible, but look at Meg now: She’s got a great job, a great family supporting her, and a great groom-to-be. Her biggest worries are those invisible to Mama Ray: the threat of Danny spilling her infidelity beans and the possibility that Danny could destroy their family’s finances with his sketchy vendor racketeering.
When it comes to the boys, things are muddier. I don’t think Sally feels particularly bad for Kevin or John on that bus ride, or when she’s remembering the past, because I think she loops them in with Meg. Her kids are on the younger side, and what’s most important for Sally is that they need to be told that life can go on as normal. (You could argue that maybe Sally is crying for all her children, because she knows that life will never go on as normal for them. But I think she feels a particular sadness for Danny and Robert.)
It’s unclear whether Sally would’ve been around to hear Robert proliferate his lies. Although she might not have known the source, she surely would’ve been familiar with the aftermath: Danny was badly injured, and it was thanks to a drunk driver. While she’s sitting on the bus, looking at that picture of all the Rayburns, the thought that’s running through Sally’s mind is that things, from here on, will never be like they are in the picture. Robert will never forgive Danny. And now she’ll have to endure losing not just one child, but two.
I also think a lot of the tears we saw this episode were actually for herself. She ran away, and that’s been her motto for almost every train wreck we’ve seen this series. I thought Sissy Spacek was incredible this episode — the sadness that you see her portray on the porch after the first flashback made me think that if she could’ve gotten off that bus in time she would have. Up until this point, her character has always functioned more as a plot device than any kind of three-dimensional character. But thanks to “Part 9,” I think we’re finally able to believe that her character is much more nuanced. Sure, she has been the epitome of that whole the-buck-doesn’t-stop-here problem the family has, but as frustrated as I am with Sally, I think she’s still inherently a good person. She might not be the most courageous character on the show, but she, as much as any other character on this show, would love to erase the past. And maybe now, with Danny at home, and all the drama that seems to be cropping up around her, she might be thinking, I wish I could’ve been there for my son. For whatever reason — maybe it’s because she’s been doing it her whole life — her solution was to run.
She’s not alone. Whether it’s John and his brother’s past, Meg and her affair, Kevin and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, or Danny and his money trouble, in some way or another, it feels like all these characters are on the run from something. They’d all like some sort of perfect life, but it’s never for themselves. In a kind of spooky way, everybody seems permanently hung up on the idea of family that Robert put on a pedestal too high for anyone to reach. It’s a gold standard that might’ve existed — or they might’ve thought existed — when Sarah was alive. But now it’s become, for them, some abstract ideal. Danny, either purposefully or inadvertently, has made reaching it impossible. Recall: Kevin wrecks that Stanford douchebag’s beautiful sports car — that’s what this episode did to everyone’s heart. Danny effectively took a baseball bat to his family members. The only difference is he didn’t wince like Kevin when he was swinging. Everybody’s fears and doubts about their brother, especially John’s, were more or less confirmed to be true. When Sally walks out to smoke the joint with Danny, you get the feeling she might even know too. She might be aware of more than everyone thinks, but she still might feel paralyzed by what she did (or didn’t do) on that bus trip.
Most of the scenes felt like no-nonsense ones this episode, and the action felt like it had revved up. Simon Cellan Jones’s direction lent “Part 9” a nice, uneasy feel. We were inundated with wobbly shots that made everyone look as if they were teetering on a tightrope. They are. Everything’s going to come crashing down one way another; right now, we’re just waiting for the shove. The frames also did a good job this episode of showing the emotional states of these characters. I loved the shot of John standing in Danny’s apartment, transfixed by what he’s seeing and by what’s been unknown for the last two years (at least). He looked trapped and claustrophobic, like he could burst right out of that shot. And then when you see the final frame, he has. This episode didn’t feel as enticing as the others — because there were lots of odds and ends to tie up and set up — but, as is always the case with this show, it ended with a bulldozer of a cliffhanger.
It’s a jungle at Chez Rayburn. Danny owes the wrong kind of people money, he’s about to butt up against the DEA, and one by one he’s getting dirt on his siblings that could ruin their lives. The writers have excelled at making Danny feel like a virus that has to go. Would you blame one of these characters if they snuffed out Danny? As for Sally’s game, there are no winners yet, for there will be plenty more tears.
- Meg truly doesn’t remember what happened. Cool, I can buy that. But why the hell would that conversation with Kevin (or anybody else, for that matter) not have happened earlier? Like, years earlier.
- We’ve received confirmation that ghost lady is Sarah.
- Danny has to have gone clothes shopping at this point.
- Would’ve been great if that car Carlos dumped the drugs in was not the pickup car.
- Smoking with Mama Ray?! C’mon, Danny.
- “This shit’s paper-thin, and you know it.” Try again.
- Danny’s non-apology to Diana was a pretty dumb move. What made him think she wasn’t gonna tattle on him again?
- Eric vs. Danny. Here we go.
- Judging by Danny’s sense of hygiene, I don’t know if I’d eat at his restaurant. Maybe that’s why it closed.
- In all seriousness, though, the scene where he shows Jane how to fillet a fish is sad — mostly because we see that at one time in his life, Danny was actually passionate about something. He’s just never had the support to get where he needs to be.
- Weird update: In case you were wondering, Danny’s sending all that money to himself … so he can pay off the guys he owes money to for his restaurant … that doesn’t exist anymore. Would these people not be hunting him down?
- John and Diana are getting to a point where they can’t really talk to each other anymore, and it’s making me FREAK OUT. Knock it off, Danny. The show is most terrifying to me in the way it shows Danny manipulating family members against each other. He’s kind of like Penguin from Gotham.
- Danny and Robert shared one thing: They were both ravenous.