I’m still watching Ray Donovan — now in its sixth episode on Showtime — even though it has yet to draw me in that profoundly. Something makes me turn it on, assuming it has to get better (it’s on pay cable!) — that the subplots will strengthen, that certain characters will emerge as more compelling. This week’s episode, “Housewarming,” wasn’t a life-changer but offered plenty of fleetingly intense moments, an emotional outpour from someone you might not expect, and some of the creepiest, moodiest, most bizarre visual settings on TV. All in all I say it’s still worth a shot. And not just to see which joyfully racist comment Mickey (Jon Voight) will sputter out next.
Ray’s brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok, pictured) hosted a housewarming party in the ramshackle space he’d bought with part of his settlement from the Catholic church. Really, Ray’s wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) made the party possible by interior-decorating the hovel in a matter of hours — new spare towels and everything. Ray would freak and pull a gun on someone if he knew about this. But not ’til later. Up in his new bedroom, Abby and Bunchy had a surprisingly heavy heart-to-heart. (Bunchy did most of the talking, but Abby suffers too — don’t her facial reactions always speak volumes? — and she didn’t even have to be sobbing on the floor during yoga.) Bunchy blames himself for the sexual abuse he received from a priest as a child. His brother Terry was able to fight off the same priest, Bunchy cried. Why couldn’t he? “Maybe I wanted it to happen,” he said.
And that overwhelming fear/guilt has stuck with him in the bedroom to this day, both as an inability to feel comfortable during sex (crazy, right, because what’s sexier than a hooker nudged upstairs by your own father to “christen the room”?) and in the form of a lone Boston Red Sox pennant, the only decoration that made it from Bunchy’s old living space to this new one. Glaring at it, nearly falling down drunk, Bunchy eagerly set the pennant on fire. No trash can, I guess. More symbolic this way. The whole house did not burn down, but smoke filled the dance party downstairs (surely corrupting the flow of the slow groove between Terry’s married sex partner Frances and Bridget’s maybe boyfriend Marvin Gaye Washington) and the festival of dysfunction had ended.
After a long day of visiting with a bewildered Ezra in a hospital gown, tormenting Agent Miller, and waiting for a call girl to spit semen into a cup, Ray learned his kids are at the party. He raced over and pulled a gun on his father Mickey (Jon Voight). It was chilling (especially with the kids there) but I still wanted more buildup and character investment before something like this. Ray is so detached in general, it’s difficult to feel for him when he barely seems to feel himself. (I’m sorry/you’re welcome for the visual of Liev Schrieber feeling himself.)
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t go to more of your football games” was predictably trite coming out of Mickey. What I did find fascinating was that moment when Ray the mad gunman rushes over to his kids to attempt to drive them home. When he violently raises his hand in front of them, it’s like a combo platter of threat and protection. As Conor and Bridget recoil in fear, there’s this flash where it also looks like they’re longing for him to reach out to them in any way. They have no idea who he is, really, or who he’s becoming. (Do we, either?) And considering how he’s barely home, this is likely the closest they’ve been to their dad in weeks.
The most intriguing plot for me this week was the drugging of Det. Van Miller, the special agent out to get Ray, Avi, Ezra, Lee, etc. even though the focus on Miller felt a little off because we know so little of him as a character — why should we care? Throughout the course of his hallucinatory meltdown, the episode was visually at its best. The guy saw a tiny monkey in a business suit just going about his day in the office bathroom (very well-chorographed on the monkey’s part I might add) and came home to find an army of action figures in his basement, all out to kill him, obviously. My favorite was the scene in which Ray and Avi (the terrifying yet jovial Steven Bauer, who’d slipped LSD into Miller’s coffee cup) entered Miller’s creepy cellar office and wordlessly lifted his desk from opposite sides to reveal the cowering agent. With the dim lighting and druggy perspective, it almost seemed like a stage production. The whole thing had a David Lynchian feel; I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a giant and a dwarf in opposite corners or hear random feminine wailing seeping through a vent.
Once Miller had come down, he called Ray back. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation,” he started. “Go f— yourself.” Well then. New plan: Ray and Ezra and Co. have gotta figure out a way to kill Mickey. Ray can’t do it himself, so who hates Mickey more than they do? Obviously that would be……
James Woods?! Okay, yeah! Totally James Woods, who’s lounging with his wife in luxury, i.e. in the presence of the America’s Funniest Home Videos theme song. (From the ’90s? I wondered, having only heard it back then. But no, that’s fairly current. It’s so awful!)
America, America. This is you.
Are you still keeping up with Ray Donovan? If you weren’t able to watch, will you eventually catch up or let it go?