Maybe it’s not the most nuanced musical cue, but the fact that tonight’s episode boasts a montage near the start of the episode set to Nas’ “N.Y. State Of Mind” is a great choice. The two-part season premiere wallowed in Abby’s death and Ray’s suicide/not really suicide attempt, and the result was a welcome change of pace, but something too morose to be sustained. This episode moves in the right direction, even if it’s just Ray getting back to being Ray. After failing to get a hold of Bunchy, and hitting up Mac to see if he can find out if the FBI knows anything about Mickey’s whereabouts, Ray calls Winslow and says that he’s back on the job. He lists his demands: a good car, an apartment, and Lena needs to be moved from L.A. “That’s it?” asks Winslow. “For now,” says Ray.
So, as the beat of “N.Y. State Of Mind” loops, Ray is renewed. He gets back to being the man he was before Abby died. He works out with Terry to get back in shape, and he finds a new suit. It’s like putting on new skin, though this is, of course, the old skin, just transplanted to New York. Either way, Ray is back, and that gives the episode some necessary propulsive energy. At the same time that Ray is putting himself back together, Bunchy is going further off the deep end. He’s kidnapped Maria, and he’s on the run with Mickey, staying in Long Island with someone who used to be married to a Donovan. Her name’s Sandy, and to say she’s eccentric would be an understatement, but she has a knack for giving people new identities.
Ray’s new apartment doesn’t cure everything though. Bridget pops by to see the place, but it’s not like their relationship is instantly restored. What is restored is Ray’s ability to get work done, efficiently and brutally. The pieces here come together slowly, and they might even reveal a new side of Ray, one that’s softer and more caring (seriously!). At the outset of the episode, all we know is that Ray has paid a woman to have sex with some guy in a hotel and film the whole thing. The hired woman is an ex of Lena’s, and one who apparently misses her and their relationship. When she asks Ray if they ever talk personally, he seems to think about it for a second before realizing that they’ve simply been all business in all the years they’ve known each other.
That bit of reflection leads to a short but truly funny and surreal scene. Ray, having paid for the video, gets back in the car and starts asking about this woman, Justine. He then tells Lena that she should take her out for dinner or something because Justine “seems nice,” a phrase he repeats a few times. He hands over a wad of cash for the date; “on me,” he says. “Who are you?” is all Lena can say about this sudden interest in her personal life. Like I said, maybe Ray has changed! Maybe he’s starting to think about other people in a way that’s not simple transactional! Or, you know, this is all temporary.
While Ray begins the next part of his plan, Darryl shows up on the set of Mister Lucky breathless with excitement. They’re shooting a violent scene outside and Darryl is enthralled. Nobody else is excited though because Jay White has been holed up in his trailer for hours, refusing to do the scene because he says the gun he’s using doesn’t make sense to the story. Darryl, being a producer, has to handle him, but that doesn’t go over so well, mostly because White doesn’t want to be handled. In fact, he doesn’t have an issue with the gun at all, it’s a few lines of cocaine that he wants.
His “guy” eventually shows up, White gets his coke, and he films the scene. That coke habit is bad news though; his nose bleeds profusely during the take, which sends Jay back to his trailer again. Darryl tries to intervene, flushing his stash down the toilet, but that hardly solves the problem. All of this is basically a setup for a big moment later in the episode, but in the immediate, it’s a lesson about Hollywood for Darryl. One of the actors on set tells him he has to be Jay’s “enabler” because that’s what a producer has to do to get the job done. So, after the day has wrapped, Darryl comes to the trailer with conciliatory coke, but their more jovial relationship doesn’t last long, as Mickey shows up with a gun, knocks them both out, and then kidnaps Jay.
As the episode rolls on, the use of that secret sex tape becomes clear. With Novak still 10 points behind in the mayoral race, Winslow needs to make a substantial move. Again, the pieces come together slowly, only making sense once the moment of blackmail has come and gone. Ray and Lena get a man to record a message on his phone saying that he’s fleeing the country because of the threats he’s been getting ever since he spoke up. What does this have to do with the sex tape, and how does it all help Novak?
Well, Ray shows up at a televised debate and it turns out the moderator is the guy on the tape. Ray blackmails him with the video and tells him that halfway through the debate he needs to switch the topic to racism and call on a man in the audience for a question. That man is Cesar Martinez, from the recorded cell phone message. Cesar was the personal driver for Novak’s opponent, and in front of the audience and on live television he says he often heard the candidate talk about minorities in a derogatory fashion. He details a list of complaints, and that gives Novak an opportunity to jump in and defend New York’s diversity. It’s a win for now, but who knows if it’s enough to push Novak into office. Something tells me there are more moves to come.
After Ray has a seemingly flirty drink with Novak, he’s back to trying to help Mac. Mac’s livid because his wife kept his son from him on his birthday, so he does what he always does: heads down to the fire station to scrap with his ex’s boyfriend. Mac’s getting pummeled by three guys when Ray shows up and evens the odds with a baseball bat. When he takes Mac home though, you can tell something’s changed. The first time they fought together there was a certain camaraderie; they were two guys down on their luck finding some sort of comfort in their shared misery. Now though, Ray’s pulled himself together and Mac is still going downhill. Mac’s comment about Ray’s “fancy new suit” comes across like a joke, but it’s hiding something deeper, something more painful.
But Ray has bigger problems than Mac’s continuing life spiral. When he’s heading home he gets a call from Mickey. “Hello Ray,” Mickey says, as Jay White, tied up and with a hood over his head, struggles in the back seat. As always, just as Ray is getting back on track his father comes into the picture to ruin everything.