Easily the best episode of the sixth season of Ray Donovan and one of the best episodes in the show’s history, “The Dead” smoothly ties up a lot of the threads of this year while leaving enough dangling for the next. Executive producer and showrunner David Hollander has really been the MVP of this season, writing five episodes, including the two-part premiere, and both penning and directing this final chapter. He knows these characters inside and out, and not only pulls some of the best work to date from the ensemble, but smoothly ties together the two worlds of Ray Donovan: the world of family and the world of violence. As the season ends with a slight smile from its title character and a toast from the reunited family, it’s clearer to see how this whole season flowed from beginning to end without many of the distracting, rocky subplots of seasons past.
A lot of “The Dead” is about clean-up from the violent chaos of last week. Mickey, Daryll, Sandy, and Smitty have some bodies to dispose of, and Ray has to right some wrongs done to his family by Sam Winslow, Anita Novak, and Mayor Ed Ferrati. The episode opens with a fantastic unbroken shot through the “operation” currently going down at Aunt Sandy’s house in Long Island. There are bathtubs full of blood, a dead raccoon, and some wicked chainsaw action — most of it seen through the startled eyes of Smitty, who doesn’t quite have the hardened shell of his soon-to-be bride and is still rattled after killing a man last night.
There’s an interesting contrast drawn between Smitty and Bridget as he pukes on the lawn while she makes sandwiches and offers to wield a chainsaw. As Mickey says, “Once you done a thing, it’s done.” The Donovans speak a lot about their troubled childhoods — and that will come up again this week — but they very quickly move past the problems of their adult lives, even the ones that were solved with murder. It’s the only way they could possibly sleep at night. But will Smitty be able to do the same? Mickey looks a little nervous in one shot that Smitty will be a loose end to tie up, but he probably wouldn’t break Bridget’s heart that way, would he? It could be a classic Ray Donovan conundrum in season seven — choosing family or jail time.
Mickey doesn’t take the time to consider Smitty’s conscience because he gets an upsetting call from Ray, asking if he ever loved Ray’s mother. They argue over whether or not Mick was ever there for him, and Ray hangs up. It feels like a beat in which Ray needed to say something and move on, but it gets under Mickey’s skin, someone who has convinced himself, true or false, that he was there for his kids when they needed him.
Terry Donovan gets to Sandy’s House of Body Parts and is understandably rattled. Terry is a sweet guy but not the best when it comes to timing, and he yells at a blood-soaked, exhausted Mickey about the Bunchy situation. He tells his dad he has to take Bunchy’s place, but Mick is convinced that they’ll just take them both in if he goes down to the station. He might be right.
Ray has some scores to settle with Sam Winslow. Remember, she put Bridget’s life in jeopardy by releasing that audio. How far will Ray go to get his form of justice? He arrives at her condo and Sam’s new enforcer, Vinny, goes down to meet him. Bad idea. The elevator door opens for Sam to find a bloody and knocked-out Vinny. And Ray has gloves on. Will Ray kill both of them? Sam gives a speech about apologies and how tired Ray looks, offering him anything. Hollander is clever in the way he allows this subplot to reveal itself, cutting to Ray slamming his trunk after the next scene. We don’t know what happened to either Sam or Vinny … yet.
Meanwhile, Bridget and Smitty are getting married! As Terry points out later, they’ll never forget their anniversary. Bridget puts on the dress that Smitty wants her to wear and goes to talk to Terry, who they ask to be their witness. The relationship between Terry and Bridget has always been one of the purest on the show. At city hall, Terry suggests they call Ray, but Bridget refuses, telling her uncle that Ray tried to kill himself. Terry looks a bit rattled. It’s been a day.
While Smitty is becoming a Donovan, the clean-up continues around New York. Mickey and Daryll are on a boat, disposing of evidence, and Ray gives Lena an address. He’s going to let her get justice against the man who killed Justine, her girlfriend. And Lena really does. A few scenes later, she finds Vinny in an abandoned warehouse, ties a noose around his neck, holds the other end of the rope, and jumps out a window. Brutal.
At the same time, Ray confronts the final power player, Mayor Ferrati. His plan here is unclear. Was he really thinking he could walk in and shoot the mayor on his bowling alley throne? He gets past the first couple security guards, but three more get the drop on him. Ferrati gives a speech not unlike Sam’s. He can help keep Ray’s family safe, and he suggests they work together. Could Ray become the Mayoral enforcer next year? How does he avoid just becoming the monstrous cops that kidnapped his daughter if he does?
Dominoes fall as Ray reveals that the Central Park incident a few weeks ago was staged and tells the press that the recent audio leak was too. Anita Novak is done. She concedes.
A few nice, believable Donovan family beats follow. Terry sings “Molly Malone,” Mickey looks rattled about what Ray said to him earlier, Terry dances, and Bridget even sings “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes. And we learn that part of the deal was for Ferrati to spring Bunchy (questions as to whether or not he would have the power to do so can be reasonably ignored). And Ray and his brother get to Aunt Sandy’s house in time for a full Donovan reunion! It’s been a long time since the whole clan was together, and it looks good for Ray. Terry tells a story about Ray that’s really about Terry, and then Mickey Donovan recites The Dead, something he reportedly recited to his children, proving, if only to himself, that he was there when they were kids.
Then Ray Donovan steps outside and gets a call from his doctor. It’s a wonderfully written epilogue to the season, implying that Ray is finally ready to change. It starts to snow in New York, much like the passage that Mickey reads from James Joyce. We see Ferrati celebrate his win as Anita Novak walks off into the New York night. We see Lena go to the funeral home with her hands bloody from the rope that killed Justine’s murderer. We see Vinny’s dead body and even cut to Sam’s apartment, where she’s hanging. Sam Winslow is dead. And there’s a hint of a smile on Ray’s face as the camera pans to a toast. Mickey Donovan is hesitant, but he raises his glass.
• Please bring Alan Alda back next year. That’s all.
• Great music cues this week include the opening to “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem and “Ghosts” by Trampled by Turtles. And, if you’re unfamiliar, Bright Eyes penned the song that Bridget sings at the table.
• This was the best year yet for Kerris Dorsey, as Bridget was a much more prominent character than ever before. She’s kind of been a device for Abby and Ray in the past but feels like her own character now.
• Dorsey is an MVP. Who else? Eddie Marsan, Liev Schreiber, and Jon Voight are always the solid acting foundation of this show, but I’d like to give some props to the casting director for the extended ensemble this year. Domenick Lombardozzi was excellent, and Susan Sarandon looked more comfortable in NY than in L.A. And I’m curious to see where Zach Grenier’s corrupt mayor goes next season. He’s always a strong character actor.
• Thanks for reading all year. See you for season seven.