This review contains spoilers.
Fun Fact: Del Boy and Rodney’s mum, gawd bless ‘er, was deliberately written as a deceased character after writer John Sullivan observed that many cockney families had a tendency to venerate a dead female family member. A similar thing occurs in many Irish families and it’s certainly true of the Donovans, formerly of Boston, Massachusetts. Bridget Donovan, by whom I mean Ray’s sister, not his daughter, has hung deathly over this entire series. Finally, she gets an episode named for her. Or is it her namesake niece?
Whoever it is, (both, actually) Bridget is an episode concerned with families and relationships. It’s a full-cast diversion. Lena, who has been given very little to do so far, is given her own storyline to address her relationship problems. Even relative newbie Sully has a moment that focuses on the family implications of his leaving Boston on his Marlowesque mission to terminate Mickey Donovan with extreme prejudice.
For all that, Bridget is concerned with the relationship between the Donovan men and the women in their lives. Naturally, given the show’s bleak and pessimistic tone, these relationships are invariably poor. Whether between husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and sister or as lover to lover, the relationships presented here are all broken and dysfunctional.
Tenderness is saved for the dead, and even then, prone to interruption by a sudden case of male territorialism. Bridget Donovan (the other Bridget), Mickey’s sole daughter, is given an annual Irish wake by the three brothers who knew her. The sense of mawkishness at the occasion is lightened by the touching manner of all three Donovans. These men are not comfortable with expressing emotion, especially not in a shared manner. Leiv Schreiber maintains his stoic silence as Ray, but it’s Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok who excel here, portraying broken men who find any acknowledgement of emotion physically agonising. For Terry and Bunchy, feelings of any kind are indistinguishable from pain.
If pain must be felt, far better that someone else feels it. The Donovan brothers, particularly Terry and Ray, respond to emotional need with the inflicting of violence. Thus, the reappearance of Frances, sporting a black eye, finally provides Terry with an emotional response framework that he can understand and the Donovans Three set off to issue her husband with his punishment beating.
“You can’t go from his bed to mine. You just can’t”, says Terry. Before we even look at the imprecation, just look at those possessive pronouns. ‘His bed’. ‘Mine’. Terry’s ultimate reason for breaking things off is not that he fears that it won’t work, or even jealousy at the division in Frances’ affections, but that she would be cheating on her husband. Terry may have given him a severe beating, but his emotional response is to defend him. Frances is to him, a chattel of disputed ownership and her husband simply has the strongest claim. There isn’t even any question of Terry helping Frances escape from an obviously abusive relationship. Either Terry has no interest in her emotional and physical wellbeing or he’s too confused by his role in her life and falls back on the simplicity of property. It’s a sad little vignette, but one that unfortunately rings true.
Eschewing the offer of comfort to the injured party in favour of attacking the aggressor is a very Donovian trait. It’s there in Ray’s response to Bunchy’s house problem (even Ray and Avi’s two-man A Team routine is family-oriented this week) and in his treatment of his daughter.
‘You got a family that cares about you’ says a newly-wise Marvin to Bridget Donovan (the younger). We take his point, he’s trying to convince her to go back home, but his statement jars a little bit. It’s not that Ma and Pa Donovan don’t care about their daughter, they undoubtedly do, it’s just that they’ve got a funny way of showing it. Even their closest moments are riven with conflict – Ray is certainly more animated when he has to ‘think up a good punishment’ for her than he ever is when she needs a gentle fatherly arm. Even the incident that prompted this bout of fighting – Marvin’s near assault on her – causes precious little attempt at comfort from either parent. Abby takes her to a counsellor, whose recommendation, a navel piercing, hardly seems the best path to recovery. No wonder these people are so damaged.
Speaking of damaged goods, B-story Detour of the Week comes from Mickey’s predictably hideous visit to the spa and his hateful ‘seduction’ of Rosanna Arquette. She feels a natural instant attraction to the seventysomething drunkard (he’s a man, how can she not?) but it goes south pretty quickly and we have another instance of the show’s now trademark Appalling Fellatio Attempts, which are now coming in at a rate of one a week. It’s obviously another signal of Mickey’s sheer awfulness, but I’m at a loss to say what else it added to the character or the show. It’s a shame, as most of the horrible-for-horrible’s-sake elements of Ray Donovan have been cast aside in favour of meaningful character moments.
What it did do was make the final moments of the episode come as even more of a relief than they otherwise would. The scene between Ray and Bridget provided a welcome tonal shift not merely for this week, but for the entire series so far. Finally, we see Ray express some tenderness towards his daughter and act like a father instead of a stern and emotionally distant bodyguard. With his manner softened, he’s able to approach Bridget with a sweetness of which he previously seemed incapable and offers us a clue as to what actually holds the family together. He’s gentle. He’s warm. He’s… drunk.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, New Birthday, here.
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