Above all else, Ray Donovan is a show that continually asks questions about status. There’s not a single scene where power dynamics are not directly at the forefront of events. Ray’s machinations tirelessly build up and break down everyone around him, sometimes several times in an episode. Never is that more apparent this week than in Conor, who shockingly gets the most nuanced and thoughtful storyline of the week. Conor’s unrelenting “bad boy” aspirations have grated with me, since they seem so heavy-handed and been-there. “The Texan” wraps up that particular route with, dare I say, emotional elegance. After being caught by Larry, the neighbor who’s bounce house he shot up (and who waited several days before confronting Ray, I guess?) Ray takes Conor on a road trip down town to teach him a lesson about being a tough man, but not before Conor gets in his own shots. He’s sick of his father, the legendary Hollywood enforcer. He’s sick of being surrounded by the old-school Irish brotherhood his father, and mother belong to. Directly because of Ray’s work, and his effectiveness at protecting his family, Conor has grown soft, privileged. How can he ever truly be a Donovan when he’s spend his whole life in a Calabasas mansion?
This week’s episode is called “The Texan”, and while he only appears in one scene in the entire episode (and his hat later on, once he’s died. Texans love hats! It’s a metaphor!) his presence looms over the episode in many forms. There are parallels drawn between Ray’s relationship with Ezra and Ray’s with his son. “He protected you from the darker matter, kid.” The Texan chokes. “The really bleak shit: that was my domain.” Ray’s beginning to learn more and more that being at the top of the pile doesn’t remove you from the dark matter, it just means you can delegate it.
It’s true that, as obsessed as the Donovans are with this idea of protection and togetherness, there have to be divides in who exactly enforces it, and who benefits. For the second time in two weeks, Daryl is forced to undertake a dangerous, thankless task to hold things together. This time, his job is to take Joxy Maguire (sp?) off the card in the fight against Archie Whittaker. Joxy’s replaced Hector Campos in the fight since Marisol finally got on television to reveal her incestuous relationship with her brother. Daryl finds the bar Maguire is celebrating in, and after giving an appropriately suave Pseudonym, “Frank… uhh… Guinness”, he befriends Maguire, follows him outside, and bonks him real good with a brass knuckle. It’s an ugly little scene, and reflects far less on Daryl than it does on the people who put him in that situation. If Ray’s the fixer, Daryl is the handyman, and his eagerness to play ANY part in the family business is going to spell trouble sooner rather than later.
At least, I can only hope so. Ray Donovan is so staunchly episodic that any loose threads left hanging in the previous episode just… disappear by the time the next episode rolls around. At the beginning of the episode this week, both Cochran and The Texan are being treated for their gunshot wounds (and are subject to absolutely zero police questioning?) and Mickey’s out of jail. Both of these developments require a little more than just the show telling us “it’s all done now! Lets move on!” It’s a move the show employs a lot, and while it’s good for moving forward. It’s bad for accountable storytelling.
Our B-story this time around is a rather delightful Mickey road trip 2.0, this time he’s riding with Bunchy to go rescue Theresa from a mental hospital. A place, we find out via Marco, she’s been to many times before she “settled down”. The show’s ability to deftly balance capers with its mostly solemn tone is one of its core strengths, and that’s never more apparent or delightful than during Bunchy’s tearful pleading with Theresa to return home, right next to a sequence in which Mickey becomes transfixed by another patient at the institution. The two bond over Albino massacres before Mickey is pulled away, protesting “It was just gettin’ good!”
Bunchy’s attempts to free his wife, both literally and metaphorically (woooaaahhhh) are most successful later on. For all the unevenness of this show’s week-to-week storytelling, its handling of Bunchy’s deeply-ingrained Irish-American, reductive attitude to mental illness, and his determination to empathize with and win back his wife, is pitch-perfect. He’s no budding therapist, but his childhood story of jerking off to Wonder Woman does the trick. To him, Theresa is his Wonder Woman, and despite that, he’s willing to take her as she is right now. Theresa’s near-imperceptible smile as he leaves the room is a wonderful cap to a wonderful bit of acting. Back on the road, Mickey remembers Sylvie and recites a poem from someone he remembers as “E.Z. Cummings. No capitals, no periods… any of that shit.” Of course Mickey loves E.E. Cummings. Inspired by his father’s newfound emotional maturity, he makes a turn off the freeway. “I got my girl, he says, let’s go get yours.”
Speaking of wonderful acting, Eddie Marsan actually has stuff to do this episode! What a treat. Terry’s charged with keeping an eye on Hector while Ray tries to get him back on the card, and his transformation early in the episode from childlike glee at the prospect of having one of the biggest names in boxing adopt his gym as his training center, to crushing disappointment at Hector’s fall from grace, hands Marsan the range he’s more than capable of. Still, the highlight here is the sight of both terry and Hector getting wasted and having a pushup competition. The Donovans know better than any other TV family: when the going gets tough, pound some liquor and do something dumb.
Ray’s journey this week, once he’s taken care of Conor, isn’t short of levity either. His convoluted plan to get Hector back in the fight first involves convincing Stu Feldman that the feds are onto him for watching child porn (he isn’t, and they aren’t). As soon as Lena spoofs an FBI warning to his computer during the video of what his search bar describes as “shemale solo handjobs”, he pulls his pants up, throws open his door and screams “Get me Ray Donovan!” Ray agrees to make the “problem” go away as long as Stu does him a solid: take Randall Dyckman, the organizer of the fight, golfing. Seems easy enough, right? Stu’s nonplussed. “Child porn’s pretty big, too,” Ray reminds him, leading to my now-traditional favorite exchange of the episode segment:
“She had tits and a dick! When’s the last time you saw a kid with tits and a dick?!”
“Not sure how to answer that one, Stu.”
Stu’s mission proves successful, and thanks to some cartoon-level high-tech sunglasses that effortlessly record HD video and sound, he gets a blackmail-worthy video clip of Dyckman suggesting that they build a wall around his wife’s vagina to keep the “spicks” out. Yikes. That’ll do it.
And so Hector’s back on the card, Joxy is lying bleeding in an alleyway, and Terry has a new job as part of Hector’s training team. I honestly don’t know where this story is going, but it was nice to get Ray finally involved in the Hector storyline, which was growing more stale and more pointless by the week.
As I said at the beginning, status is everything on Ray Donovan. It’s also fleeting, subjective, and entirely arbitrary. You can be the biggest agent in Hollywood, the biggest boxing promoter. You can be Ray Donovan, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Ray would never wish his livelihood on his children, but it’s also what’s given them the luxury to resent him (Conor, at least. Bridget once again remains absent #wheresbridget). The episode ends with something I’ve been screaming for for weeks: a real, communicative, human moment for both Ray and Conor. Ray was a bad kid, too. He says. And got into some trouble, “the kind of trouble it;s hard to come back from”.
Does Ray Donovan like what he does? Who he is? The episode ends abruptly after a line from Ray that might be my favorite moment of the season. It’s a comfort. It’s a chilling warning. It’s, perhaps, an admission of guilt. “Your mother and I, we’re different from you guys. We’re trying out best to keep it that way.” We have a few episodes left of season four, and we know a fifth is on its way, but perhaps it’s time to start asking: Who’s going to survive Ray Donovan, and who’s going to survive Ray Donovan?