This review contains spoilers.
1.5 The Golem
Golem n [From Hebr. Galmi]
1. A supernatural shapeless form or entity fashioned from clay, often malevolent in nature.
2. A recently released Irish-American convict with a taste for troublemaking and black Cadillacs.
Ezra’s hallucinatory impression of Mickey Donovan came from out of nowhere, both in-universe and out. It felt odd seeing CGI in what is ordinarily a straight-up realist(ish) drama but two things excused it. Number one, that it was the very real result of Ezra’s tumour. Number two, it appeared in the best episode thus far of Ray Donovan and was driven by the very welcome acceleration of momentum.
Before we take a look at the unfortunate Ezra, let’s see what else went right with Golem. The main thing is that the episode got straight down to business. The plot line about Mickey-as-informant has been teased for a couple of weeks, and usually squeezed in towards the end of the episode after three quarters of an hour of familial angst. This week, Mickey ‘Stool Pigeon’ Donovan deservedly became the central thread, with all other things leading off it. This energised the show and helped a few other things drop into place.
It meant, for example that exposition was much more neatly covered by the simple device of having Mickey wear a wire, lending plausibility to his conversation with Ezra, while the nosy life coach (or is she?) probed Abby’s take on her anti-relationship with Ray. Both scenes gave us the chance to examine old wounds without interrupting the flow of the plot and although Abby was as shrill as ever, it at least made a start in illuminating the dog’s breakfast of her marriage to Ray.
Not all of Ray’s relationships are troubled of course. His work with Avi is ramping up nicely and we’re finally seeing some of Ray’s skills and resources intersect with his family troubles. Yes, he’s had Avi rolling things along in Boston, but it’s good to have him back on the West Coast. His relationship with Ray now seems more like a partnership than boss-employee and it was great to see them working together on something that had real import to the season’s main arc.
It also helped that some of the dialogue excesses have been reined in. Mickey is still crass and invasive, but in a subtle manner. ‘My boy’s a millionaire,” he tells the bank teller. “He earned it… the hard way.’ The hard way. That’s all that needed to be said. Accompanied by Jon Voight’s seedy chuckle, it needed no embellishment to do its job of embarrassing Bunchy and revealing Mickey’s cavalier attitude to other people’s feelings. It’s progress from his earlier sledgehammer approach and we, like Bunchy, should be grateful for that.
Bunchy himself has more pressing concerns in any case. Mickey seems to have won the little battle for control of his son and his million dollars, but seems content to let him spend it. For now at least. His purchases, a pedal chopper and a house, revealed much about the nature of his emotional damage. Bunchy is part man, part boy whose development was arrested in the cruellest manner. I liked the scene of him rolling around and around on his bicycle like a bored eleven year-old. It showed that Ray Donovan can tell its story visually when it wants to. The sight of this pathetic man-boy said far more than any amount of forced dialogue could.
Still, some characters are handled better with more words. Terry is in this camp. Having consummated his relationship with Frances, his mood lightened noticeably, and he appeared a more rounded character as a result. That things wouldn’t go entirely smoothly was obvious, but with a more open Terry, there’s more room for the drama to play in. It would be difficult to imagine Terry feeling put out by Frances’ secret family (if, indeed, they are hers) as recently as last week. Now, it comes across as a sucker punch that even boxer Terry cannot handle.
I must also note that without wishing to be cruel to either Eddie Marsan or Brooke Smith that it’s refreshing to see two ordinary-looking bodies on screen. It made an interesting counterpoint to the shrill shallowness of the divorce negotiation and its focus on the manufactured beauty that masked an inner ugliness. This is one of the show’s major themes and it’s nice to see it handled well and again, without being clumsily hammered home.
And then there’s Ezra. Poor old Ezra. His hallucinations were disturbing to him, to his loved ones and to the viewer. The hit and run, and especially the manner in which the truth of the matter was revealed, was appropriately confusing and uncertain. When combined with the golem hallucination, it gave the show a note of uncertainty that added to the general feeling of menace. Again, it helped that it’s all relevant to the Mickey-Ray-FBI plotline, and the circumstances of Mickey’s incarceration. It promises more thrilling twists and turns as Mickey attempts to manipulate both Van Miller and Ray. With Ezra’s testimony in doubt, the game can be spun out for much longer and if further episodes match the quality of this one, it will deserve to be.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Black Cadillac, here.
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