This review contains spoilers.
It’s fair to say that Ray Donovan has been a troubled TV show, often full of promise, but too frequently let down by the execution. However, last week’s episode, Golem, was the strongest of the series so far and could well be the turning point for the season, and even the show itself.
We’re now at the half-way stage, and several of the problems of the first half of the season have already been sloughed off. A central plot thread has emerged, sought dominance and is now fending off the distractions of the extraneous side stories pretty well. There’s still some way to go, but there’s enough here to suggest that Ray Donovan isn’t quite the write-off it so nearly could have been.
Several of the details that made Golem work have persisted into Housewarming. Better yet, they’ve expanded as we learn more about the horrible corner into which Ray has backed himself. The delicate dance between him, his father and Agent Miller has trumped everything else as the dominant thread, and each of the other plot lines have been pared back (for the most part) so that they serve this central arc. It provides the show with a solid narrative spine and gives us something to follow. Details of the underworld to which Ray belongs are being teased out gently without the clumsy exposition that dominated the opening episodes.
We learn, for example, that Ray has strong connections to both the FBI and the police and that, in the former case at least, he is the dominant partner, able to bully and cajole his pet G-man into doing his bidding (up to a point, of course). His professional skills at problem solving, manipulation and seizing control of the situation are being deployed, thrillingly in the service of the plot. It’s not all smooth sailing of course, and we had another one of the weekly detours into the day job, which are really getting in the way. The incident with DeAnte this week mirrored that with the cheating wife last week. It’s a distraction because his MO is now fully understood and require simple honing or deployment for excitement. It serves no dramatic function other than as a means of explaining Ray’s income, skills and cynical temperament. With all three of those well established, there is little point in showing him turn up at a hotel to strangle a paternity suit in the cradle, especially when we’ve just seen him and Avi have their little fun with Agent Miller.
Oh, Agent Miller. He’s amusing enough when he’s stone cold sober, but on acid he’s hilarious. Him and his monkey. Ray Donovan has taken itself too seriously at times, but the scene with Miller and the field sobriety test, or rather the failed sobriety test, was brilliant. The vaudevillian wobble in Frank Whaley’s voice was matched by his unsteady gait and his comment that the officer had a ‘really… remarkable voice’ was made by Whaley’s excellent performance. It’s difficult not to feel sorry for him, especially when the hallucinations started, even if they were rather daft, and certainly lighter in tone than Ezra’s horrifying visions.
The shot of Ray and Avi removing the desk to reveal the cowering agent was brilliant, and the seizure of Van Miller’s hair as insurance a better use of his access to forensics than any number of cups of semen.
Equally distracting are Ray’s children, who are underwritten to the point that it’d probably be for the best to relegate them to the background. Their sole function appears to be to get into a mild spot of bother and give their father a headache. Which is odd, because he really doesn’t seem to give that much of a shit about them most of the time.
And are we really to believe that Marvin Gaye Washington, who is, remember, the black Justin Bieber, would be so starved of entertainment that he’d jumped on the opportunity to go to his neighbour’s uncle’s crappy house party? He lives in LA, is reasonably famous and owns a Bentley. He should have better (i.e. worse) things to be getting on with than sticking around simply to provide the motive for the Donovan kids’ moderately bad behaviour and to give their father yet another unwelcome distraction. Bridget and Connor have sufficient motive to misbehave, what with having a father who is only interested in them whenever it’s time to give them an angry telling off.
But, like I said, these distractions are paling in comparison to the central thread, which has had a real shot in the arm from the revelation of the depth of Ezra’s involvement. For the first time, I find myself genuinely intrigued by the backstory, of what the relationship was between Ezra and Mickey, what actually happened to put Mickey away and just how serious a deal was it that Ray would actually entertain the idea of sending his own father to Belize rather than submit to the investigation? All great questions, tantalizing answers and all the better for being hinted at rather than asked outright.
Then of course, most teasingly of all, there were the final moments in the best episode closure of the series so far. Veteran actor and friend of Den of Geek James Woods laughing his ass off on the bed, apparently the only person to hate Mickey even more than Ray does. That’s some serious hate right there. I can’t wait to see it expressed.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, The Golem, here.
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