In one way or another, Ray Donovan has always been about family. Across two seasons the show has explored what it means to be part of a family, how those blood ties can make us stronger or more vulnerable, or in the worst case scenario—and let’s be honest, Ray Donovan is all worst case scenario—lead us into oblivion. “Breakfast of Champions” has a lot going on in terms of plot, but it all boils down to that one theme: family.
We’re thrust right into that theme as Abby, having left her children behind like any other responsible mother who’s just lost their stray dog, heads back to her hometown of Boston. She hits up Kelly’s, a bar owned and operated by her family. It’s her brother Dave who’s running it now, with Abby’s father living in an assisted care home.
Abby’s entire storyline in this episode is about letting us know where she comes from and perhaps how she’s gotten to where she is. We learn that nobody in the family really liked Ray, and her sister certainly didn’t. Abby comes from a pretty tumultuous and dysfunctional place.
Her family argues non-stop and then acts like family is all they have. It’s a pretty typical depiction of the working class in fiction, where the family members are often toxic towards each other but have this unbreakable bond.
Abby broke that bond though and left for a life with Ray, running back now when things get rough. Lucky for her, her sister takes her in, even after Abby basically lets her niece miss a deadline on a college paper.
Abby tries to tell her sister that it’s not a big deal, which is hilarious because she just put her daughter in a fancy private school in order to give her the best possible opportunity to succeed. Abby, like Ray, can be very selfish. Still, the sister tells her she can have her old room and stay for a while to rest up.
Nobody does dysfunctional like the Donovans though: Terry’s out of prison now and the first thing on his mind is what he owes Ray. He’s convinced Ray must have agreed to something terrible in order to get him out of prison, but Ray keeps deflecting, refusing to offer up the truth.
Eventually, Terry is persistent enough that Ray tells him about agreeing to work for Finney. As he says though, he’s not sure what that entails yet. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to his brother, but there’s nothing he can do; this is Ray’s situation now and they just have to hope it works out for the best.
Still, Terry is pissed at the Donovans. He’s angry when Mickey, Darryl, and Bunchy throw him a “coming home party.” He’s especially mad at Mickey, his dad, who left him at the scene of the crime, abandoning his kid once again.
Then there’s Ray, who he berates for throwing his life away. Terry sees Ray as the only Donovan who truly has a chance to make a decent life for himself, and here he is, letting his family slip away. Considering that Ray goes back (to an empty) home at the end of the episode, maybe things are starting to sink in for him.
NEXT: Immensely well-adjusted or seriously messed up…[pagebreak]
A few other Donovans are getting into their own trouble in “Breakfast of Champions.” Conor “C-Money” Donovan, with his parents out of the house and access to a car, picks up his friend from school, where three girls end up inviting themselves over. Noted mattress humper C-Money can’t turn down their invitation, so he plays it cool and lets them come over.
Once there, they invite their boyfriends over and take over the house, finding their way to various bedrooms in the Donovan mansion. Conor tries to get them to leave once he realizes he won’t be getting any action, but those confrontations lead to him getting punched in the stomach.
C-Money doesn’t stand for such abuse though. He picks up a baseball bat and turns off all the breakers in the house, flushing out his unwanted guests and putting a beating on one of them. Bridget, who’s been off trying to get her teacher (Mad Men‘s Aaron Staton) to sympathize with her transition to the new school, comes home before Conor can do any real damage to the guy, and the partygoers flee.
As if that family drama wasn’t enough, Ray is getting sucked into the tension that permeates the Finney family. They’re at each other’s throats over a possible deal that would see Finney sell his movie studio to a Chinese buyer named Mr. Liu. Paige and her husband/Finney’s Chief of Staff want to sell, but Finney is reconsidering.
With the negotiations on hold then, Ray is in charge of babysitting everyone. He picks up Casey and brings him to the studio, where he listens to him go on and on about a movie pitch that involves cereal characters like the Trix rabbit. Ray also runs into Tommy, who wants to marry Chloe but can’t because Casey might ruin his life because of some “moral” standard in his contract.
He needs Ray to talk with Casey to make sure that he can marry Chloe without any issues. So Ray goes to see Casey and basically tells him, “Hey, remember when I saved your life? Leave Tommy alone.” And that’s that. As always, Ray can deal with the problems in other families, just not within his own.
Then, because Ray Donovan is struggling to find a narrative throughline right now and is just throwing things at Ray in the hopes of something sticking and becoming interesting, Ray is sent to talk to Tina, the co-host of a game show called Spin Cycle. She’s refusing to come out of her trailer unless she gets to host the show for once.
Ray, after slapping the traditional host a number of times in front of Paige, negotiates for Tina to host the show. She’s a favorite of Mr. Liu’s, and considering he might be President of the studio soon, it’s natural that she should get a shot at hosting.
All of this is to say that “Breakfast of Champions” is completely overstuffed with plot. Ray wandering around the studio doing one menial task after another is frustrating not just because it’s the most boring version of Ray Donovan, but also because it exemplifies how empty this season has been. Where’s the momentum driving the narrative? Where’s the intrigue? What’s keeping us hooked?
“Breakfast of Champions” concludes with Finney deciding to not sell the studio, then having Paige change his mind, but what reason do we have to care at this point? Ray Donovan is throwing around storylines like they don’t matter, never taking the time to explore them more thoroughly, and it makes the most interesting aspects of this season (i.e.: Who the Finneys really are; Ray’s relationship with Abby; the divide between Mickey and his kids) feel meaningless.