The Donovan brothers come together to help Bunchy get his money back
Episode 510
Credit: Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME

After dealing with Abby’s death across numerous episodes this season, Ray Donovan is moving on…to another death. “Bob the Builder” picks up in the aftermath of Natalie James’ murder. Ray sits in a chair across from her dead body while the police work the scene. He sees visions of the crime taking place, as Natalie is strangled and beaten by the husband she was trying to escape. Is Ray wracked with guilt? Does he see himself as somehow responsible for this? All we know is that yet another woman’s dead body is being used to further the story of a man’s descent into emotional oblivion.

I won’t spend too long digging into the death of Natalie James, as it’s really just a small plot point in this episode, but I’d be remiss to not suggest that it’s rather frustrating to see see James, who’s been a prominent character throughout this season, used as the “woman in a refrigerator.” She exists solely to be brutalized. We get no real sense of who she is beyond her relation to Ray and her affair with Doug Landry, whose baby she was carrying. On top of that, her murder just sort of happens. There’s no time given to exploring her relationship, or any nuanced look at how domestic abuse has affected her, and that’s because the sole focus is on Ray. Unceremoniously killing Natalie James is not a great look.

“Bob the Builder” doesn’t linger long on the death of Natalie James. The episode quickly shifts gears, as we see Doug Landry and Sam Winslow meeting. That pesky box of evidence sits on Landry’s desk as he lays out his blackmail pitch. He says he knows Winslow hired someone to kill Tom, and now he wants to push her out. He essentially takes everything from her; the studio and the network are all his, though she gets “news” and “New York.” Then, Winslow makes a call to Ray and says that when the police question him about Natalie, he should keep Landry’s name out of it.

Of course, Ray is no longer taking orders from Winslow. His life is in shambles and he has a dead woman in his apartment, which means that he’s setting the terms now. So, when the LAPD questions him about his relationship with Natalie, he immediately mentions that she was pregnant and that the baby belonged to Doug Landry. After that, Ray gets called away to deal with Bunchy bleeding out, and that’s pretty much it for the Winslow-Landry story.

It’s hard to see where all of this is going and why it matters to us. The box of evidence has been passed around all season long, and the storytelling has been so muddled that it’s nearly impossible to follow the plot thread and get invested in the story. For a story line involving a dead daughter, bribery, the Oscars, and more than a few cronies ending up dead, it sure has been a nonstarter all season.

All of that muddled storytelling comes to a head in the episode’s final moment. It’s the only other time we see Winslow in this episode, and she’s angry. She can’t believe that Ray disobeyed her orders and mentioned Landry to the LAPD. Now she feels like she has to clean up the mess, or rather order Ray to do so. She tells Ray to kill Landry and says she’ll pay any price to have it done. It should be a meaningful, explosive moment, but it doesn’t feel like it. We have little sense of Winslow’s motivation beyond keeping her vaguely defined empire, or of the potential consequences of Landry being questioned by the LAPD. It’s a formless story line, and with only two episodes left in the season, there’s not much time to provide some necessary clarity. (Recap continues on the next page)

Look, it’s no secret that I’ve been very critical of this season of Ray Donovan — and judging by the comments, I’m not alone in feeling largely underwhelmed and frustrated — so it’s with great joy that I can say this: When “Bob the Builder” isn’t focused on the Winslow story, it’s a fun, chaotic episode that feels more like the show of previous seasons. Gone is the melodrama and the sluggish pacing. Instead, we have Mickey Donovan dealing with a boner that won’t go away, and Terry, Ray, and Bunchy all coming together to get Bunchy’s settlement money back.

This is the kind of stuff this season has been missing: brothers coming together despite their differences, Mickey causing all sorts of trouble, and Darryl getting himself way in over his head. It’s so refreshing, after dealing with all the trauma of Abby’s death, to see an episode that’s rather lighthearted. Of course there’s still plenty of brutality to go around, but the show contrasts that with lighter moments.

Mickey’s whole subplot this week sees him dealing with an erection that just won’t quit, which is one of the most Mickey Donovan subplots ever. The pills he took for his coke-fueled orgy aren’t wearing off, so Darryl takes him to the hospital. They share quite a few laughs along the way, even rattling off various names for the kinds of pills Mickey took; there’s Bob the Builder, inspiring the episode’s title, and Triceratops 5, among many others.

When Mickey is all finished with his brief operation, which includes plenty of flirtation with the doctor, he finds that Darryl’s left him behind. He figures out that Darryl must be visiting Jay White, trying to backtrack on Mickey’s blackmailing of the movie star. Mickey shows up at the studio lot to confront his son, but he’s turned away by security.

That’s probably for the best though, as Darryl is getting himself in some potentially serious trouble. When Jay calls him in to talk about the movie, Darryl sees it as an innocent chat. In fact, Jay’s lawyers, and the Los Angeles District Attorney, are listening in. Now, the story of the dead sensei is out, and the DA is going to be looking for someone to pin it on. Darryl tries to tell Mickey that they need to lay off for a while, but he’s not having any of it. He says that Jay was at fault and that they can’t prove anything without a body anyway.

While Darryl and Mickey deal with their various issues, Ray and Terry finally come back together to help out their brother. After Ray gets Bunchy all fixed up, using the veterinarian he relies on for cases he needs to keep hush-hush, the three of them set off to get Bunchy’s money. In a brutal, violent scene, Ray tussles with the crazed man who’s in possession of the diaper bag. As Terry and Bunchy search the home, Ray and the man are beating the hell out of each other outside.

Once Ray has his attacker, he picks up an axe to finish the job. But when he turns around, the man has a gun pulled on him. He’s about to pull the trigger when Terry shows up, firing off a single round, killing the man, and saving Ray’s life. After all they’ve been through, it’s a big moment. It should signal some sort of redemption for Terry in his brother’s eyes, but that’s not the case. Even after Bunchy tells them they have to find a way to mend their relationship, Ray can’t forgive his brother. He says that nothing’s changed.

With any luck though, this season is changing its tune just in time for the final few episodes. Bridget is on a path of destruction, arrested after pointing a gun at the doctor who saved Emily, threatening to shoot her if she doesn’t operate on Smitty and save him as well. Bunchy has his money and his family back, Natalie James is no longer in the picture, and Ray has been offered a job that he perhaps can’t turn down. Ray Donovan is moving some significant pieces into place, and that bodes well for the season’s final two episodes.

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