Ray Donovan, Ep 1.11 “Bucky F**n’ Dent” pulls out of a slump with a thrilling bottle episode

Photo by Showtime

Ray Donovan, Season 1, Episode 11: “Bucky F**n’ Dent”
Written by: Dan Minahan
Directed by: Ron Nyswaner
Airs Sundays at 10 PM (ET) on Showtime

It’s amazing what a few story limitations can do. When Ray Donovan has a whole city at its disposal, with recurring parts and guest stars galore, it gets sidetracked with alarming frequency. Yet force Ray Donovan into a bottle episode, and its rambling nature starts to fade away. The show is able to play far more to its strengths, and delivers a satisfying gut punch with “Bucky F**n’ Dent.”

Like last week’s “Fite Nite,” the crux of the episode all takes place within the gym, but where last week the characters stayed indoors while the story strayed elsewhere, “Bucky F**n’ Dent’ keeps its dominant storyline contained entirely within that singular location. It’s a beautiful thing. Bunchy’s suicidal cliffhanger last week led him not towards self-harm, but towards harming someone else- specifically, Father O’Connor, the man who molested Bunchy as a boy and caused so much Donovan family strife. In deciding what to do with a gut-shot child molester, the episode allows all four of the Donovan boys to show their true colors. Bunchy is simple and kind, despite the fact that he’s the one who should arguably be the most enraged. Ray is all anger, white-hot and furious. Terry is the moral center, someone who’ll meter out justice when it deserves to be metered out (like violently protecting himself from a priest’s advances), but who genuinely tries to do the right thing. And Daryll, desperate to be one of the Donovans, will do anything Ray asks. In “Bucky F**n’ Dent,” that mostly consists of following Ray’s orders and cleaning up the gym.

What really stresses the brother-to-brother relationships here is the Donovans’ end goal with Father O’Connor. They don’t want to harm him or get any kind of revenge. All they want (Bunchy in particular) is an apology. And seeing all four men join forces to coax an apology out of someone makes them seem more like schoolboys than hardened criminals, gunshot wound or no gunshot wound.

It’s obvious early on that Ray’ll help Bunche get his apology, but he won’t let Father O’Connor walk out of the gym. And to Ray Donovan‘s credit, they’ve played this secret very close to the chest. There may be other childhood traumas that helped to shape Ray, but being sexually assaulted as a child is more than likely the biggest reason why Ray is who Ray is. It’s why he hates his father, why he keeps his family at arm’s length, and why he’s generally a closed-off schmuck. Finally figuring this out doesn’t magically compensate for all those episodes where Ray’s motivation was hindered by this missing piece of information. But at least now we’ve got the missing piece.

“Bucky F**n’ Dent” may have been a high point for Ray Donovan, but don’t expect it to last. Even as the bottle episode rocketed to its bloody end, the show continued to weave together the vastly less interesting elements of its more pressing storyline. The feds know that Van Miller is dead, and now Ray Donovan may finally find himself in a situation he can’t fix. The finale may coast on the high of “Bucky F**n’ Dent” and be a thrilling little piece of TV. Or, it may be bogged down by the lack of any real cohesive story throughout the season. Instead of progressing through a single storyline, the season’s last three episodes have each dealt with their own, unique, unrelated conflict. Last week was Ray killing Mickey, this week is the priest, and next week will be Ray vs. the feds. At the bare minimum, the show could at least go two for three.

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