On Terry's wedding day, Ray looks back on his 21st anniversary with Abby
“Las Vegas,” the second episode of Ray Donovan‘s fifth season, continues this season’s trend of non-linear storytelling. It’s an odd episode when compared to so many others in the series’ run; after the events of last week left us wondering where Ray was at in terms of his family and his potential business with Sam Winslow, “Las Vegas” begins by not answering those questions.
Instead, the episode kicks off by flashing back to Ray and Abby’s 21st anniversary, which would have fallen somewhere in the time span between last season’s finale and this season’s premiere: in other words, after the Donovans successfully screwed over the Russians but before Abby’s illness truly took its toll. It’s the morning of their anniversary, and, as usual, things are a bit chaotic in the Donovan house. Mickey is working on his movie script, Ray is packing for a trip, and Abby is showing a worker around, pointing out all the places where she’s hearing things in the walls.
This is where the non-linear structure really adds something to the season. In the season premiere, we saw Ray staring at the hole in the wall in his foyer, but we had no understanding of what it meant. Now we know why the wall was torn apart, and due to events later on in the episode, we truly understand just how haunting that image must be for Ray.
“Las Vegas” reveals much more than the season premiere did, filling in a lot of the gaps and answering a number of questions. For instance, while Ray and Abby are on their way to Las Vegas to celebrate their anniversary, Ray gets a call from Terry, who says he’s done something stupid and needs to be bailed out of jail. When they go to pick up Terry, it’s revealed that he was at a brothel when he was arrested for getting in a fight after a hooker stole the ring he was going to use to propose to Maureen. On top of that, it’s his mother’s ring, a prized possession in the Donovan family. Now we know exactly what Maureen’s brother meant when he said his sister likely didn’t know about “what happened in Vegas.” It’s like her brother doesn’t even know the city’s slogan!
All of this happens in the first 13 minutes of the episode. It takes that long to transition to the present day — once again, an interesting structural and storytelling choice — when Terry is prepared to get married. It looks like he’s convinced Maureen that the incident in Vegas wasn’t what everyone assumed it was, and that he never slept with the hooker who stole the ring. No matter what their conversation entailed, the wedding is on. After Mickey begs Ray to help him turn his paper script into a PDF and Ray offers to just hand it to a guy he knows, the whole gang meets at Abby’s for a pre-wedding drink. They toast the women they’ve lost and look ahead to the future. And yet, the past lingers. (Recap continues on page 2)
At the end of last season, Abby was more involved in Ray’s business than ever before. Where she previously turned a blind eye to his dealings, the job with the Russians found her fully in the loop. “Nobody can touch us,” she said, and the flashbacks in this episode show that before she died, Abby was becoming more and more complicit in Ray’s violence.
It’s an intriguing move for the show, shifting our perspective of the character. Abby’s always been mostly innocent, but here, she’s fully involved in helping Ray get Terry’s ring back. They head to the brothel — inconspicuously named Sheri’s Ranch — and Abby jumps right into role-playing as a couple looking for a threesome on their anniversary. Before long, Ray and Abby have the alleged thief in a private room, and after some S&M teasing, they tie the woman up and threaten her until she gives up the ring.
“That was fun,” Abby says once they’re at their hotel in Vegas, to which Ray replies with the usual, “Sure.” But was it fun? There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between Ray and Abby. Abby seems like she’s grasping for adventure as her life potentially reaches its end, and Ray seems unsure about his wife’s sudden involvement in everything. On top of that, it’s becoming clear to Ray that Abby is not okay. She’s hearing noises in the hotel as well, and we the viewers recognize that she’s hallucinating, seeing raccoons eating garbage inside a gas station dumpster despite the fact that nothing is actually there.
All of this flashback drama with Abby, Ray, Terry, and the rest of the Donovans is some of the strongest material Ray Donovan has ever dug into. There’s a shifting dynamic that’s pushing these characters in new directions; Abby is upset about Terry’s proposal, and there’s a general fluctuating malaise in her marriage with Ray. That makes it all the more frustrating that, back in the present day, Ray is basically being put through the same old stories. This episode sees Natalie James, the actress Ray and Abby nearly hit on their drive home, asking Ray to help her leave her husband.
She needs his protection when she goes back to her house to collect her things. It’s clear her husband is abusive and manipulative, and Ray is there to step in when needed. But all is not rosy for those two just yet. As the episode comes to a close, Natalie is once again at Ray’s door. She’s beaten, covered in blood, and holding a gun. She says she went back for her dog, and when her husband started beating her, she shot him. Now she wants Ray’s help covering it up. It’s a story that’s been told numerous times before on this show, and it’s hard to muster up any enthusiasm about Ray Donovan going down the same narrative path again this season.
That said, at least the family drama remains interesting. Maureen’s brother causes quite a scene at the intimate wedding held at Abby’s, leading Bunchy to attack him, and the families nearly come to blows. Plus, there’s the ever-present drama of Abby’s slow crawl toward death. Near the end of the episode, Ray finds her on the floor of their hotel room, convulsing from a seizure. Later, a doctor’s look suggests that this isn’t a small thing. We know Abby dies, and yet it’s still excruciating to watch as Ray slowly loses the woman he loves. That’s enough to keep this episode moving in intriguing directions, even if some of the story lines are overly familiar.