A third strong episode in a row keeps the seventh season of Ray Donovan humming in a way that makes it feel like it could ultimately be the best in years. Solid direction by Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick, crisp pacing, and a clever flashback structure combine in “The Transfer Agent” to make for a tense hour that doesn’t skimp on character. Once again, Ray Donovan returns to the central relationship that has always defined the show, Ray and his awful father Mickey, with a final scene that hints at something this show has been building to for years: Ray is going to have to kill Mick.
Before that, we get to actually see a moment that Ray has mentioned a couple times this season: the day he was taking care of his sick mother and caught his father stealing from the family. Let’s talk a minute about why this memory has been so important this season and for Ray in general. It’s formative for the way he sees himself and his father. He’s the caretaker; his father is the thief. It’s also a moment in which he’s faced with true monstrosity, but unable to do anything about it because the face of evil is his father’s. Ray tries to fix the problems of the world and right the wrongs because he couldn’t do anything about one of the worst things he ever witnessed. It’s the turning point that defined his personality. Mickey Donovan did a lot of awful things after that night, but this is the moment that Ray can never forgive.
The flashbacks continue, setting up the coin heist that has become the defining plot of the season. It turns out that young Mickey was actually trying to cut Jim Sullivan out of the deal in the first place, using his men to hijack a truck and not give him a share. The men went to Jim, who turned the tables on Mickey, getting the coins and letting Donovan go down for the job, but Mickey didn’t realize that he was set up from the beginning and that the cops didn’t get the haul back when he was arrested. It’s also clearer than ever that Mickey knows everything now, as O’Malley taped the conversation about setting him up (after showing off his new stereo with Alice Cooper).
After those excellent, tone-setting flashbacks, the episode blazes back to the present. The pace quickens as Ray wakes up in the alley in which Daryll left him, Smitty is being questioned at the station, and Mickey makes contact with Jim, offering to sell him the tapes that would destroy a very powerful empire if they were ever released to the press.
Jim goes to meet Mickey at McSorley’s Old Ale House, where he’s kidnapped and taken to a place called the Plantation Motel. Tied to a chair, Mickey gets a chance to deliver a few villainous monologues, but Jim isn’t having any of his garbage. Jon Voight has always excelled at capturing what Jim knows is his two-faced nonsense. No one has ever quite nailed Mickey’s personality than when Jim calls him “a piece of shit who’s righteous.” Mickey is always claiming that his hare-brained schemes are for his family or his legacy, but the truth is what Ray later tells Sandy: His legacy is death and destruction. It is littered with dead bodies and broken promises.
As Jim and Mickey negotiate what it’s going to cost to keep Sullivan alive, Ray is trying to track them down. Sadly, Molly ends up getting involved with the job, which allows her to see a violent side of her new boyfriend that she’ll never be able to unsee. Before then, she works with Ray to try to track down her dad. In one of the episode’s best schemes, Ray uses Sandy’s credit card to get her attention. He buys everyone at McSorley’s a round, which leads to an alert on Sandy’s card and a call to the bar. It’s very clever. But Sandy isn’t scared of Ray. She should be. When she ignores his plea for information on Mick’s whereabouts, Ray goes to her house and lights it on fire. He’s not messing around.
Meanwhile, Jim and Mick seem to come to terms. Mickey starts by wanting half of the Sullivan empire, but settles closer to 20 percent. Can we talk for a minute about how much this year’s plot illustrates about Mickey’s deluded view of life? He’s convinced that if he had a haul of coins in 1977, he would be a billionaire today. As Jim says, he didn’t just plant the coins and grow a money tree. But Mickey blames everyone else for his failures. Watching Daryll and Mickey do “compounded interest” math on what Mick would be worth today is almost tragic. We all know Mickey would have spent the money by the end of 1978 on stupid schemes. And this one is especially foolish. What does he think will happen when he gets shares of Sullivan’s company? Are they going to give him a corner office?
He may never know because Mickey makes yet another dumb mistake when he tells Sullivan to sign the papers over to Terry instead of Daryll. The son who’s done everything for him, including killing people on this particular job, feels justly ignored again, and he speeds off with the papers instead of bringing them to the hotel. Moments later, Ray bursts down the door to find his father pointing a gun to Jim’s head. For a second, it actually looks like they might all start shooting, but Mickey flees and Ray lets Jim go. Jim says what everyone is thinking: “Ray-Ray” should have killed his dad years ago.
• I hate to punch a plot hole in a solid episode, but wouldn’t the transfer agent suspect that this payment was a ransom? I like the idea that he’s not allowed to say anything, even to Molly, but especially after his guards are attacked by Ray, don’t you think he might bring in an authority?
• In case you’re wondering: McSorley’s Old Ale House is a real New York institution, established in the mid-19th century.
• Bill Heck is spectacular as young Mickey, even getting some Voight mannerisms down. My favorite is how their faces drop from that faux chipper thing Mickey does to once again realizing their place in the pecking order. Heck was great last year in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and will star in Netflix’s Locke and Key in February. He’s excellent here.
• Do you think Smitty said anything he shouldn’t have said to the cops? Terry and Bridget seem a little worried, but he seems to be sticking to his story. It will be interesting to see where this goes. Bridget has been sidelined lately, but I bet that changes soon.
If you’re curious, Kyra Sedgwick — the excellent star of The Closer — has been directing consistently after getting her start with a TV movie in 2017. She helmed episodes of Grace and Frankie, God Friended Me, In the Dark, and City on a Hill prior to Ray Donovan.