Let’s hope Ray Donovan keeps this momentum going, because this is the second strong episode in a row in the midsection of season seven. It’s well-acted, beautifully paced, and ties a bunch of tangling plotlines together in a way that should have fans excited for the second half of the season.
This week focused on the dangerous branches of the Donovan family tree (and one on the Sullivan tree too), the ones that have the potential to damage people like Ray and Mickey. There’s Smitty, the broken son-in-law to Ray, who learns from his uncle-in-law Terry that being married to a Donovan has a very specific set of rules. There’s Bunchy, who bounces from working at a drugstore to working with his brother, only to learn devastating news at the end of the episode when the kid he shot dies. And then there’s Daryll, a character who has been used and abused by Mickey for so long that he’s basically lost it, and he does something at the end of the hour from which he may not be able to return.
What’s most remarkable about “Inside Guy” is how the writers bring the characters and subplots into a cohesive whole. It starts right from the beginning, as the plotting drops Ray and Molly Sullivan (literally, in her case) into the drama of Bridget and Bunchy, and then swings back to the saga of Jim Sullivan, which reveals to Ray that his dad is probably still alive. Think about it: In the span of a few minutes, Ray learns that Bridget cheated, Smitty beat up Adam, Bunchy needs money to help the kid he shot, and his dad may still be alive and causing trouble. Looking back on it, the reveals are arguably a little rushed, but this is a show that has often struggled to keep its various plates spinning dramatically, and so it’s nice to have everyone on the same page at the midpoint of the season.
It’s also nice to have an episode pick up almost immediately after the end of the last one. Ray and Molly come home from their date to find Bridget, who asks a mortifying question no father can feel proud to hear: “When you had affairs, what did you do to make it better?” Ray tells her that this is her mess to clean up, not his. And then Bunch comes in for help, too. Bunch is really like a third child for Ray, who was way more of a father figure to him than Mickey.
Ray basically offers Bunchy a job and then flees the drama in his apartment for Molly’s, where he finds Jim Sullivan drinking and waiting again. Jim drops the information that 50 percent of the team that committed a heist in 1977 just ended up dead. He suspects it’s Mickey and reveals that O’Malley’s kids had their dad’s tapes. He also tells Ray that he always liked him because he’s “creative with violence.” Ray has something new to put on his business card.
As Ray tries to determine if his dad ever got on the plane — we know he didn’t, of course — Daryll ends up doing something that amplifies his already weighted trauma. Off-camera (an interesting choice by the show), he kills the O’Malley kid and gets the tapes. He looks shellshocked for the rest of the episode. This isn’t what he wanted. He just turned down a normal life in Palm Springs with his other father because he needed purpose, but is that purpose as a murderer? Ray finds Daryll’s victim and calls Jim with the news. Someone has the tapes, and Jim Sullivan needs to bring in the dangerous branch of his family tree — Declan, a clear sociopath. Later, Declan says he won’t fix anything without Kevin’s job. Mickey isn’t just going to destroy his family, he’s taking down the Sullivans, too.
Before then, Smitty comes to Terry for advice at just the moment that Ray calls because he needs help tracking down Mick. This means some nice scenes between Smitty and Terry, and the best beat among them is when Terry tells the boy that he’s not going to divorce Bridget. Terry can sometimes be a romantic, but he’s also the most likely to tell people the straight truth about their predicaments, and he says what these recaps have hinted at before: “Kid, you married her forever when you killed that cop.” He can’t go anywhere. They have a shared crime that means life could be very dangerous for Smitty if he tried to leave.
Or maybe if he talks to the cops? When Detective Perry picks him up after that scene with Terry, it has to have crossed his mind, and one wonders how Ray will respond when he learns about the interaction. She’s tired of looking longingly at photos of the Donovans on a bulletin board. She knows this whole thing doesn’t make sense, and she tries a “gotcha moment” with Smitty when the kid who reportedly was at a JWH concert doesn’t know the lyrics to his No. 1 song. (You have to love Smitty’s retort of “I’m not really a lyrics guy.”)
While Smitty is getting pressured and Terry is struggling to drive home, Ray learns that Sandy left her credit card at Dusty Bottoms, a bar in the gay community in which Mickey is hiding out. Ray goes there, gets drunk, and waits to see what happens next. He thinks he sees Mickey and chases after him, right in the middle of Rose Beach Pride Fest, and he ends up getting jumped by Daryll. The fight that ensues is vicious, and Ray lights the match on Daryll’s simmering ash pile of a moral center when he calls him a “trained monkey.” That’s it. Daryll punches hard, Ray grabs a bottle. And then, after Ray seems to have won the fight by getting Daryll in a chokehold, his brother brings up old wounds. “You never saw me as a brother,” he says. “Go fuck yourself, Daryll,” Ray responds. And then Daryll grabs the bottle and smashes Ray Donovan over the head with it, leaving him bleeding in an alley. It’s a hell of a way to end the first half of the seventh season.
• John Dahl! I will take every chance to tell readers of these recaps to go rent Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, two legitimately great noirs. He’s primarily moved to TV since, and he always brings a precision to the episodes he directs.
• While Ray is trying to track down Mickey and Sandy in Rose Beach, someone calls him Tab Hunter. If you’re curious about the reference, here’s some more information. I’d totally watch Liev Schreiber play Tab Hunter in a biopic.
• Jim Sullivan has a hell of a nice corner office on a high Manhattan floor, from which you can see Central Park. Last week’s Irish Succession scene made clear the scope of the company, but it’s nice to see it in the production design, too.
• This show often hints at the toxic masculinity seething within the Donovans, but it’s explicit in the great beat in which Terry Donovan tells Smitty that beating up Adam with a bat is a good way of showing someone you love them. Ray really needs to get Terry in to see his therapist too.