At what point does Ray Donovan sink too far into its bleak universe and just become an unpleasant show to watch? That’s the question I was asking myself while watching the third episode of this season, “Come and Knock on Our Door.” This season has been a depressing one in general, more so than the two previous seasons by far. All the Donovans are going through tough times; the question remains, is all the overwhelming sadness adding anything to the show or serving a dramatic purpose?
It’s a question without an easy answer. On the one hand, more of the season needs to play out before we see what the show has planned after taking its characters through hell and back. On the other hand, this season has lacked the punch and humor that added levity to the previous season. Even Conor ‘C-Money’ Donovan, always a source of stupid humor, is a shell of his former self.
“Come and Knock on Our Door” opens on Ray sitting at Bridget’s bedside, which is fine and totally not creepy at all, Dad. He’s taking swigs of whiskey and having visions of his dead sister, also named Bridget, which is also fine and not creepy at all. Ray is losing it, and his family is the only thing he really still has, but he can’t seem to find his way back to them.
Bridget (the alive one) does her best to soothe him, but it’s pointless. He can’t come back now, and maybe never. Maybe he’s too far-gone. In fact, he’s so far gone that he’s lashing out at everyone who’s ever meant something to him. When Bunchy comes by the office to ask for $20,000 from his settlement fund so that he can put on a Luchadore event at the Fite Club, Ray laughs him off and tells him how stupid he is.
Now, admittedly, the Luchadores may be trying to screw Bunchy out of the money, but the event isn’t a half bad idea! Considering the life Bunchy has had up until this point, and how he’s always been dependent on other people, you’d think that Ray could give him a bit of support for trying to grow the business. But no, he just walks away and leaves him there.
It’s interesting how he’s just abandoned Bunchy because not moments later he’s doing everything he can to get Terry out of prison. After killing an Aryan, Terry is a dead man. It’s only a matter of time before they get to him, as the Aryan’s have most of the prison in their pocket.
Sure, Bunchy’s situation isn’t life and death, but the way Ray jumps to action to save Terry suggests that Ray really only finds comfort in his work. He’s only “at home” when he’s working back-door deals and trying to intimidate people into doing what he wants. Fixing his family or letting Lena know that she’s needed? Nope, no time for that.
Part of this season’s lack of momentum is its sheer bleakness, but it’s also in part due to the season’s lack of an overarching narrative. The first season was dominated by the return of Mickey Donovan, while the second drew tension from Ray’s crumbling marriage and the Donovan’s abusive past.
This season hasn’t had anything really driving the narrative. Finney has hardly played much of a role, and the lone threat to the Donovans, the “chaplain” Romero, is hardly a concern in this episode. What’s Ray Donovan building towards this season? It’s unclear, and it’s hurting the show every single week.
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It’s good then that, at least for one episode, there’s some solid character motivation. Both Ray and Mickey are working to get Terry out of prison, each in their own unique ways, while Bunchy gets wrapped up in the pimping and coke-selling business with Darryl.
When Ray tries to buy off a judge and get Terry a compassionate release based on his deteriorating health and is denied, he turns to the only place he can. He goes back to Finney, whose contract offer he’s refused time and again, and asks him for a favor. He asks him to use his influence to get Terry out.
Finney doesn’t hesitate. He pays a visit, with Ray in tow, to Governor Tom Verona. He tells Verona what he needs, but the Governor balks at the idea. He can’t just get a man out of prison, especially while he’s running for re-election on a tough-on-crime platform. He’ll do it in three weeks, but not tonight.
“This is taking far longer than I thought it would,” Finney says in reply, and that’s it; Verona immediately gets Terry out of prison, which is a good thing, because Mickey’s attempts to do so result in a dead judge.
That scene is the first sign that this season has something else going on, as it’s clear that Finney is a very powerful man who has a lot of people either in his pocket or completely afraid of him. Ray’s the one used to being in power—here he blackmails Agent Barnes again—so to give that up to Finney is hard for him.
Still, he knows that he’s now in Finney’s debt. In fact, nothing needs to be said. Finney just tells him he’d do anything for a friend and then leaves Ray standing in the hallway of his house. Finney’s lawyer and assistant then offer Ray the contract, which he signs. “Whatever Mr. Finney wants” he says, perhaps one of the most truthful statements he’s uttered in three seasons.
This contract represents the first signs of life for this season, but it’s not the episodes best moment. That comes in the form of Mickey finding out that Terry is out of prison. Mickey has all but accepted that Terry is dead, Ray accusing him of killing another one of his kids (harsh!).
Ray gives him a call though and only says the words that need to be said. “I got him out.” Mickey, who’s surrounded by the success of his first day in the hookers and coke business, can only thank God that his son is still alive.
Jon Voight does wonderful work in the brief moment here; the mix of pain and relief on his face is absolutely devastating. It’s a truly emotional moment in a season that hasn’t found a lot to latch on to, and tells us a lot about Mickey. For all his flaws, he’s always cared deeply about his family. Thus, there’s an interesting parallel to be made, and a big question is raised: is Ray following in the footsteps of his father, alienating his family and going further down a rabbit hole of morally dubious work?
The episode closes with Ray picking up Terry at the prison and telling him how much he loves him, Sufjan Stevens’ mournful “Seven Swans” scoring the scene. It’s bleak, but maybe there’s hope.