Ray Donovan episode 7 review: New Birthday

Ray Donovan hits a nice groove with an episode about the impossibility of personal change. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.7 New Birthday

Ray Donovan wears its themes rather lightly, but it is possible to detect a broad motif in every episode. For New Birthday, it is of the possibility of making a fresh start and beginning life anew.

No. Scratch that. It’s about the impossibility of doing that, which is rather unintentionally ironic, given that the show itself has successfully begun again. The problems of the first few episodes have been jettisoned and it’s hitting a nice groove now. It has removed the distracting detours into celeb-world and retains the connections to the seamier side of Hollywood only where they serve the central plot. It feels leaner and more focused and is all the more enjoyable for that. It also means that it is able to attend to its thematic concerns more carefully.

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Ray’s trip to Boston, less a detour than a necessary sidestep, was a solid touch. Mickey has been such a fish out of water, too vivid even for LA, that it’ll take a Bostonian to stop him. And what a Bostonian. Sully is a difficult man to find, several bruised ribs off the beaten track, and it’s not hard to see why. Go to any post office, he says, still FBI’s most wanted. He’s a desperate man who really needs an exit. He’s also the only person who hates Mickey more than Ray and Ezra, which presumably makes him the head of another very long list.

As payment, Ray offers him a one-way ticket to anywhere he likes, preferably somewhere that doesn’t extradite to the United States. A chance to live his life in daylight once again and no longer have to hid behind the firewall of his mother (and what a treasure she is) and her fist-happy thug. Will it work? Well, can anyone else here escape? Some kind of showdown is inevitable, but I wouldn’t bet against Mickey slithering his way out of danger. There may indeed soon be a vacant spot at the top of that FBI list, but not for the reasons that Sully, and Ray, may hope. Remember, there is no walking away. 

Abby may have thought she’d escaped. Her comments on seeing the expensive private school a couple of episodes ago revealed that she felt that she’d come a long way since her Massachusetts childhood, and shopping trips for five thousand dollar shoes are certainly beyond the purview of tearaway delinquents. The boozing, shoplifiting and laughing while Deb pisses on the sidewalk are not.  She, like her husband, cannot dress up in designer clothing and pretend to be something she isn’t.

Abby has been a difficult character to deal with, and not merely because of her abrasive personality. The writers have found too little to do with her, other than yell at Ray in an appalling accent. She’s been a character in a single dimension but here she takes her first tentative steps towards doing something for herself. Even if she has to be rescued by her knight in shining Mercedes.

Speaking of which, Ray has to double-down on his gallantry duties this week and step in when Marvin takes an inexcusable step too far in his relationship with Bridget. Having already seen her father point a loaded gun at her grandfather’s head, she’s in little doubt that he’s capable of killing the boy, but will he? I doubt it. If he was going to do that, he wouldn’t bundle him in the car first, but he will do something. Marvin’s weak protestations that today is his ‘new birthday’ fall on deaf ears and deservedly so. His first act in his ‘new life’ is to sexually assault the girl next door, he’s as poor at taking second chances as any of his neighbours. The character is an interesting counterpoint to the Donovan family. Like them, he’s stepped out of his background to live a privileged existence in an LA McMansion and, like them, he’s unable to completely let go of where he’s from. The attempt by Recon to divorce the youngster from his family, first legally then emotionally, has been a failure. It’s always a failure. I commented a few weeks ago that Ray Donovan was keen to show that money cannot solve problems, erase mistakes or change a person’s essential self. This episode mirrors that theme and expands it. There is no escape. Ray Donovan, it has to be said, is a deeply pessimistic show.

There was only a brief appearance from Bunchy this week, but it was enough to serve the needs of the episode, proving that the show no longer feels it needs to labour its points. He’s taken to sleeping on a sofa at Terry’s gym, unable to face living in the house his payoff money, sorry compensation, bought him. Other storylines, such as Terry’s not-quite-burgeoning relationship with Frances are dismissed with a nod and a grunt (admittedly, for Terry a nod and a grunt are what passes for articulate disquisition), while even Mickey’s trademark brashness had a purpose in exposing a little more of what happened twenty years ago. Things are definitely working now. Fresh starts may be impossible for the characters, but fortunately, the show itself is capable of change.

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Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Housewarming, here.

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