Ray is being pulled in a lot of different directions. He’s trying to truly take his therapy to heart and become a better person while separating himself from Ferrati, but he’s also stuck in the Donovan family, where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. When Daryll asked Bunchy about moving back with his mom and maybe getting a real job in the movie business, saying he didn’t think he could do it because he was more like a “Donovan” than the other part of his family, Bunchy had the perfect response: complete dismay at how anyone could want to be part of this family. All that the Donovan name brings is destruction.
“An Irish Lullaby” might be the best episode of the season. Maybe that’s not saying much because this has been a meandering, listless season, but credit where it’s due: “An Irish Lullaby” does a good job of digging into character psyche and motivations in a way that’s often been absent from the show. Last season’s move to New York didn’t offer the fresh start the show was looking for, but perhaps this episode can be a turning point, one where two of the Donovan men go down different paths in an attempt to reckon with their past.
I’m talking about Ray and Mickey, who seem to both be looking for the same thing but are going about it in different ways. What I mean is that both men are trying to start over. They’re hoping that something can change for them; Ray’s attempts at change have been spurred on by therapy, and Mickey’s near-death experience has left him with a new perspective. But that’s about where the similarities end. While Ray is actively trying to make decisions that go against his old habits, Mickey is out here doubling down on his past mistakes, and he’s coming very close to truly screwing himself over once and for all.
Ray’s growth comes in the form of maybe trying to connect with someone romantically again. At the end of the previous episode, Ray forced himself to stay with Molly. At the beginning of this episode, he’s taking off first thing in the morning. It’s exactly what the old Ray would do, running away from any potential joy or complicated emotions. Molly calls him on it too: “You think you’re the only one with intimacy issues?” she quips. Ray’s arc in this episode is all about confronting that fear of intimacy and trying to get to a place where he can be with Molly without feeling guilty or doing anything self-destructive. He tells his therapist he’s not sure what Molly sees in a guy like him, and it’s that thought process that he’s attempting to overcome.
While Ray is trying to learn from his past and move forward, Mickey is stuck in reverse. He’s focused on the ’77 heist that sent him to prison, and in “An Irish Lullaby” he starts racking up a body count in an attempt to get his revenge and perhaps start a new life with the riches of that heist. But here’s the thing: this is all fruitless. It was all so long ago. Jim Sullivan (played by the always wonderful Peter Gerety) is already a rich, powerful man, and there’s no way Mickey is going to change that. Mickey sees Jim Sullivan as the man he should have been, but everything in the universe is trying to tell him that he was never destined for that kind of life. Sure, Mickey may have gotten screwed in 1977, but as Sandy subtly notes, even if he’d made off with the money Mickey would have found a way to squander it.
What’s interesting about “An Irish Lullaby” is the way it positions Mickey to have his own emotional revelation. It’s done slowly, subtly. As Mickey tortures one man after another in the hopes of learning more about the heist that put him behind bars, you can see the desperation on his face. When Sandy kills one of the men and Mickey electrocutes another, there’s the sense that this is all out of control, like an oil tanker barrelling down a hill. Mickey had his chance to get out. He had the cleanest slate a guy like him could hope for: everyone thought he was dead, and he could have disappeared and lived out his life on a beach somewhere. Instead, he’s Mickey Donovan, which means he can’t escape his own self-destructive behavior.
Maybe Ray won’t be like his father though. There’s still time for him. By the end of the episode, he’s apologized to Molly for the morning, and agreed to meet her at night for a drink. He shows up, and he’s beaming. He’s really, really trying. Maybe Molly is his ticket out of the curse that plagues the Donovans.
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