This review contains spoilers.
1.10 Fite Nite
You see, it can be done. As I said last week, one of the problems with Ray Donovan, indeed, possibly its defining problem, is its lack of structural tension. It has some solid ideas at its core but they’ve been too easily dismissed by a tendency to add more extraneous details, which are then easily abandoned with scant regard for narrative justification. When it strips things down to its bare bones, it’s a much leaner and far more effective show. I’ve come to believe that Ray Donovan is one of those programmes that would benefit from a massive budget cut for its second season. I mean this not as a punishment, but as a means of focusing the minds of the writers and making them squeeze more out of their core material.
Doing so might just yield more episodes like Fite Nite, the most effective Donovonian hour since The Golem. It removed all the additional nonsense and concentrated on three key plotlines, two of which ran in tight parallel. This is far more effective than the nebulous drift into Bridget-and-Conor-territory or meaningless detours into Lena’s private life. It was the Donovan Clan vs. the World. And vs. each other.
The tightness created space for a little arc trickery, bringing the Sully/Mickey showdown a few episodes in from the end. As the scenes went on, it became obvious that Mickey was going to slither his way out of it, but still, the killing of Linda came as a brutal shock and gave us our first real on-screen hint of what kind of man we’re dealing with in Sully. The killing of Sean Walker in front of his infant son came as the next one, but by then he’d teamed up with Mickey as a sort of Bad Gramps United and all normal ethical considerations had been swept off the table. Teaming two former enemies up isn’t an original conceit, but it is a great move on the part of this show, placing two of its strongest hands together against the lead. Woods and Voight have been among the show’s highlights but they’re both at their best here, with something meaningful to do.
Darryl is back from wherever he’d been hiding for the past few episodes and was ready for his debut in the ring as ‘Black Irish’ Donovan. The fight, sorry ‘fite’, at Terry’s club served two purposes. Firstly, it gives Darryl a chance to connect with his brothers and prove his mettle as a Donovan. Secondly, it gives Ray some neat cover for Operation Kill Mickey. As I mentioned last week, so much of this show’s characters and plots have been treated in isolation, it was refreshing to see two formerly disparate threads working in unison. It showed a stronger economy of writing to fuse these two events together, driving the central plot while retaining their essential and individual meaning.
Ezra also returned, with a bagful of cash to pay Sully. Having raided his late wife’s fund for it may have added a sense of emotional involvement, especially when it was found to have been an utter waste, but it did raise the question of why two obviously wealthy and resourceful guys like Ray and Ezra couldn’t find the cash without hitting the late Mrs Goldman’s piggy bank? Still, it does prove that Ezra is just as desperate to be rid of Mickey as Ray is.
Bunchy’s storyline also appears to be reaching some kind of climax, with his discovery of the abusive priest, who has rather conveniently also relocated to Los Angeles. It is, perhaps, a little too convenient. The priest storyline has been simmering for ten episodes now and although it has given us some poignant moments, as well as a fair few cringeworthy ones, it adds nothing on its own other than a clichéd ‘troubled Irish Catholic’ motif. I get the sense that the thread will be wrapped up and jettisoned by season’s end.
For now though, the episode’s biggest strength was the way that it linked everything to family and the troubled history of the Donovans in Boston. Ray Donovan always works best when it leaves the Hollywood storylines in favour of the family drama and here it proved its worth in that regard. Yes, Sean Walker appeared, but as an old family connection rather than a movie star and indeed. The thawing of relations between Sully and Mickey was prompted by nostalgic reflections and their partnership was sealed by their feelings over the death of Colleen (plus a deft bit of manipulation by Mickey). Creating Colleen and the events surrounding her death as a motivation was a great touch. It mined the central theme of being unable to fully escape your past, no matter how distant or ‘successful’ you believed that you have become. Having Ray call in Sully only to find that he turns against him is a classic but effective plot manoeuvre and far more rewarding than any seedy Hollywood shenanigans.
The pressure of family past, not to mention family present and family yet-to-come illuminated Ray’s personality far more than has been done before. He has continued to smooth relations with his children and his wife, even if it must be through the power of his wallet, but it finally clicked why. The presence of his father has reminded him of the emptiness of their relationship. He’s worried that he may end up becoming a Mickey to Bridget and Conor. As the events of the past catch up with him, that may turn out to be the least of his worries.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Road Trip, here.
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