No matter what Ray does, he can’t seem to change his relationship with his kids. He’s basically ruined it for time eternal by being both a bad father and completely shutting down while Abby was dying last season. Ray’s never had a good relationship with them, but after his fall/jump into the river and the subsequent near-death experience, he’s rethinking things. After months of binge drinking with Mac, he’s now trying to clean himself up so he can engage in Bridget’s life (he even asks Lena about her romantic partners). In the words of Jules Winnfield, he’s trying real hard to be the shepherd.
The thing is, Ray is just a toxic presence, and everyone knows that. At the top of the episode, he uses Mac to get Chalky arrested, therefore stymieing the threat of any payback for their attack (at least for now). When they get back to the apartment though, Bridget is waiting and she isn’t happy. She’s pissed off that her father is roping Smitty into his life of violence, and she’s done with it. She wants Ray to stay out of their life. Never mind that Smitty was pretty much dead if Ray hadn’t stepped in.
The presence of family drama looms large over much of this episode. After all, the title “Ellis Island” evokes family and immigration and new beginnings, and it’s a feeling Ray gets wrapped up in when Smitty asks about the Donovan family. Ray, having never been to the place where his grandparents came through to America, suddenly gets the need to cross that off his bucket list. He’s grasping for some sort of concrete essence of family, which makes sense when you consider his wife’s dead, his brother and father are on the lam, and his kids pretty much can’t stand him.
Speaking of Mickey and Bunchy, things aren’t going so well. Mickey is being his usual chipper, nonchalant self — he calls Sandy stealing their $3 million a “bump in the road” — and his son is tired of it. He sees no way out of this mess. He might be right because Mickey’s best plan is to rob a bus that’s filled with rich people. “It’s a solid plan,” he says, seemingly unaware of how his last solid plan turned out. Bunchy sees no other option though, so he brings Maria to Terry and says that if he’s not back in 48 hours, he should call Teresa. As Mickey and Bunchy hole up in a seedy motel the night before their robbery, you get the sense this isn’t going to end well.
Terry doesn’t think it’s going to end well either, and he lays into Ray for not doing enough to keep Bunchy out of this mess with Mickey. “You couldn’t talk any sense into him?” he says, and when Ray shrugs off the question, Terry senses that Ray’s basically given up on the family in general. Even if that’s true, can you blame him? He’s got his own major issues, yes, but he’s also been the glue of the Donovan clan for a long time. The two trade one jab after another — Ray gives him hell for fighting because of the wires in his head that control his Parkinson’s, and Terry tells him he didn’t handle Bunchy right because “he’s always been afraid of you” — and once more this family seems splintered.
Things only get worse for Ray when Conor, who’s visiting New York before he ships off to Germany to be a full-fledged marine, shows up drunk and irritable at the airport. Ray tries to convince his son to go to Ellis Island with him, but Conor only wants to see the movie set Daryll works on. That visit doesn’t go so well; Daryll’s been banned from the set at Jay White’s request, and his replacement is Stu Feldman. It’s an awkward visit to say the least, especially when Jay wants Ray to leave the set as well. Like I said, the Donovans are toxic, and people know it. Anyways, that visit being a bust just puts Conor into an even whinier mood, so he ditches his dad and goes to visit Bridget and Smitty instead because at least they have booze and weed.
Since Ray’s family day is ruined, he might as well get back to his job with Winslow, which involves coming up with a way to give Novak a huge bump in the polls. The election is just two weeks out, so when Ray comes up with a plan and wants to keep Winslow out of it, for the time being, she agrees but insists it gets done immediately. So, Ray gets to work. He calls Lena and tells her he needs Justine to do another job. He calls Daryll and says he needs him to work a job and that if he does he’ll get back on the set of “Mister Lucky.” He sets everything up perfectly.
Here’s how it all unfolds: Lena punches Justine in the face because she needs her to look roughed up, and then she makes her put on some torn up clothes. She tells her to go near a certain bridge. Once there, Daryll fakes an attack, just as Novak is jogging by, allowing her to save the day. “I don’t want to talk about it right now,” she says to the media, “I just did what any New Yorker would do.” Her heroism and her humble nature play well, presumably giving her the bump she needs. But Ed, the current mayor and seemingly former friend or colleague of Winslow’s, promises he’s going to go blow for blow in this fight. Retaliation could be on the way.
Despite the fact that Conor doesn’t show up for their Ellis Island visit, and Ray has a run-in with an Irish woman who may or may not be a hallucination, everything seems to go well for Ray. The plan works perfectly, Daryll gets his job back, and it’s clear that Winslow thinks Ray is pretty indispensable in all of this. By the end of the episode though, Ray is filled with regret.
When he picks up Conor from Bridget’s — Smitty would offer him a bong hit, “but I’m assuming you don’t get high” — and takes him to the airport, he tells his son he doesn’t have to do this, that he has other choices he could make. Conor doesn’t want to hear it, but he also does seem worried about what he’s signing up for. Conor storms into the airport and Ray goes off to drink with Mac. “I should have made him stay,” he laments. Mac notes that a lot of the guys in the bar went into the service as if that’s some sort of comfort. Again, Ray sees his family pulling away, and there’s seemingly nothing he can do about it.
In fact, all he can do about it is get drunk and then have very rough sex with Novak after she shows up at his place in the middle of the night. Is Ray going off the deep end again, and at a time when it could ruin everything he has going with Winslow? It sure seems like it.