As Ray cleans up Natalie James' mess, we learn more about their relationship and Abby's death
As is often the case with Ray Donovan, last week’s episode ended with a few eruptions of violence. At Maureen and Terry’s wedding, the Donovans and Doughertys ended up throwing fists rather than toasting the happy couple. Okay, “happy couple” may be a bit of a misnomer, but still, nobody was really on their best behavior. Then there was Natalie James, who showed up at Ray’s door and asked him to clean up one seriously big mess. She went back to her house to get her dog away from her abusive husband, and their confrontation ended with Rob getting shot.
“Dogwalker” opens in the immediate aftermath of those incidents. Natalie James is sitting at Ray’s kitchen table recounting how her husband Rob came after her and she shot him. “Is he dead?” asks Ray, to which she doesn’t reply. Eventually, when she snaps out of her stupor, she says, “Yes, he’s dead.” Just then, Mickey comes home from the wedding, drunk as a skunk. Ray asks him to look after Natalie while he goes to work, which basically means Mickey is going to pour himself a drink and talk about how all the Irish got into a fight at Terry’s wedding.
At the James’ house, Ray is in for a mean surprise: It turns out Rob isn’t dead at all. Sure, he’s shot and bleeding, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking Ray, stabbing him with scissors when he walks into the bathroom. More often than not, Ray is a quiet badass, but here he gets to be a full-on, complete badass. With the scissors still lodged in his chest, he fights off Rob and pushes him down the stairs before throwing him in the trunk of his car. Just another day on the job.
Much of “Dogwalker” is spent showing just how deep Ray and Natalie’s relationship runs. This isn’t just a case of Ray looking after the woman who happened to cause him and Abby to crash their car oh so long ago. It’s so much more. While Ray takes Rob to an animal hospital in order to get that bullet out of him, Natalie makes herself at home in Ray’s house, using his shower, donning one of Abby’s Celtics jerseys, and then sleeping in their bed.
Ray may be pissed when he gets home, but that quickly subsides, and he tells Natalie about Abby’s passing. It’s the first sign that they’re closer to each other than we maybe assumed. This is the M.O. of this season, though: leaking out small bits of information every single episode. Here, we learn that Rob was actually dating Natalie’s mom, but he eventually transitioned to dating her daughter because everyone on this show is a huge creep. We also learn that Ray and Natalie met after the accident while out walking their dogs, but more on that — and its importance to the story — later.
For now, let’s catch up with the other characters, despite the fact that “Dogwalkers” is largely about Ray and Natalie. While Bunchy says goodbye to Teresa as she sets out for a tour with her lucha buddies, Mickey’s still peddling his script and hoping to hit it big in Hollywood. His dreams take a hit when he has a meeting with an agency rep and his script is ripped to shreds. The notes are vicious, calling Mickey’s script “saccharine and cliché.”
On the plus side, Mickey and Bunchy get to connect as father and son, drowning their sorrows together while trying to look ahead to the future. For Bunchy, that’s an opportunity to buy a storage unit and make some money. For Mickey, it’s a meeting with FBI Agent Frank, who may just want Mickey to do something violent to Avi. We can say this for the Donovans: No matter what, they’re always busy. (Recap continues on page 2)
The way this season is shaping up, it looks like Ray is going to get a lot of time to sort through some things while the rest of the family spins its wheels. This is often the case with Ray Donovan, as it usually struggles to balance all the necessary story lines. Take Terry, for instance. We’ve learned a lot about his current situation this season, from the pacemaker to his romp with a hooker before proposing to Maureen, but there’s no sense of why we should care about any of it. Terry’s story is just sort of…sitting there.
This week, in the episode’s most tedious subplot, Terry goes to see Conor at the Ventura Military Academy. He watches as Conor gets violent and head-butts his opponent during his first wrestling match before listening to the kid talk about how he’s going to join the Marines once he’s graduated. All of this is fine as far as moving the characters into new situations, but the story is lacking some substance. Where’s Ray in all of this? And where has Bridget been? Ray Donovan is holding back a lot of information, and it’s becoming a bit frustrating.
One of the more obvious examples of the show holding back is its treatment of Abby’s death and how it impacted the Donovans. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Ray and Terry came to blows after something was said about Abby. We learn that Ray was arrested on the day she died; coupled with a shot that sees Terry staring longingly at a picture of Abby, plus his thinly veiled feelings for her in previous seasons, it’s safe to assume that the two brothers are mixed up in something very emotionally complex.
The problem with holding back on the details, though, is that the show can’t really dive into the conflict. It’d be nice to understand more about how Terry and Ray ended up where they are, but instead we’re stuck with vague gestures at conflict rather than a true exploration of the meaty details. “I’ve lost every woman I’ve ever loved,” says Terry to an unforgiving Maureen. We can assume Abby is included in that statement, but some clarification on what Terry’s feelings are, and how Ray has responded, would add a lot of stakes and drama to the story.
For now, Ray Donovan continues to move very slowly. “Dogwalker” may boast some revealing moments, but it’s still an episode that underscores the show’s sluggish pacing. As the episode comes to a close, we haven’t learned all that much, and the story hasn’t exactly started to take off. Bunchy is driving drunk in the middle of the night so he can see his potential future purchase; a flashback shows us Abby deteriorating and Ray being unable to deal with it; and finally, we get to the outcome of Ray’s inability to deal with it, as Ray sleeps with Natalie James after they meet in the neighborhood while walking their dogs. All of this amounts to a big “So what?” The pieces are in place; it’s time for Ray Donovan to start moving them around the board.