This review contains spoilers.
1.9 Road Trip
OK. You’ve spent the day with a guy who has impulsively married a transvestite in Las Vegas. You’ve seen him walk around shirtless and have dealt with the surprisingly minor aftermath of placing his, ahem, tallywhacker, in the hand of a woman he’s just met at a bar. Finally, you’ve had this same man receive a medically induced drug comedown at the hands of a doctor on your payroll. Now, who are you going to choose to take your beloved son to the Teen Choice Awards that very evening?
It says something that it is the Ray Donovan who has rediscovered his parenting impulses who does this. Remember, he was even worse a few weeks back. After last week’s touching reconciliation with Bridget (who is, like several other top-billed characters, AWOL again this week) it’s Conor’s turn. His request to go to the Teen Choice Awards is indulged without hesitation, even when it requires the tailoring of a brand new tuxedo, complete with phoned-in Ray style tips (no turn ups, son). Oh, and it’s a date with the biggest flake on Ray’s flake-heavy rolodex.
But this is LA, remember? Everything is permissible if fame is involved. Just look at Lena’s credibility-torturing ploy about being a photographer. Jaguar, was it? Hmm… best not to ask too many questions, we’ll just take it at face value and take my teenage daughter along to the ‘studio’. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll gladly accept a poodle in compensation. It all sounds rather like a bad dream when you read it back, doesn’t it?
Also living life like a bad dream, albeit of a rather different stripe, is poor old Avi. Always rather put-upon, he has the worst mission of his life this week, bringing Sully and his girlfriend Catherine across country to complete his act of Mickeycide. After impulsively killing Catherine of course. Naturally, it’s Avi who gets the job of burying her in the New Mexican desert.
The episode is called Road Trip, which is obviously a reference to the unhappy journey Sully makes out of Boston. It’s a neat little motif for the impending climax of the season and the showdown that is now just a couple of episodes away. The incongruity of the seasoned killer being driven around like a needy child (another pee pee break, Sully?) actually worked quite well as a metaphor for the delayed satisfaction and interrupted momentum that the season has given us. Mickey and Ray have been dancing around each other at arm’s length for several episodes, and, going by this edition, have still got quite a bit of entertaining filler to get through yet.
We’re waiting for the inevitable, but it feels like the show is unwilling to commit to it just yet. Mickey spends quite a long time being spun out by Sean Walker and spinning Van Miller out in turn before bringing things to a swift, dramatic end. A sudden change in plot direction can work brilliantly, as can the unexpected death of a character, but only as long as the switch has been earned. Without this, it can feel as though the change was the result of a sudden spark of realisation in the writers’ room, or worse still, that the preceding few hours of plot have been wasted.
It’s difficult to see how, for example, the Tommy Wheeler storyline that dominated Road Trip is going to form part of the larger whole (unless it places Conor in some danger that Mickey can exploit). It provided some of the best visuals of the whole series, (Ray with gas mask and baseball bat was a particular highlight) but it felt a little bit like the writers had remembered that Ray is a ‘fixer’ and they hadn’t shown him doing any actual fixing for a while and used his extended day out with Tommy and his tabloid nemesis as compensation. The few asides about Tommy’s sexual proclivities and his involvement with a certain popular cult fell rather flat, as did the presentation of Mr Stalker-razzi, who I assume was intended to be another Crazy Deskbound Guy like Lee Drexler but was, like him, simply not funny.
I wasn’t really surprised when Frank’s near-mute wife and daughter fell asleep on the couch at the ‘photography studio’. Their utterly implausible minor plot had been dragged out beyond interest and they had probably grown bored of having nothing to do or say (though their utter lack of curious scepticism is probably how Frank has got away with bigamy for so long). In any case, their usefulness, indeed Frank’s entire relationship to the plot came to a blood-spattered full stop when Mickey put a bullet in Van Miller’s head.
It’s this looseness in plotting that is the remaining problem with Ray Donovan. Characters are introduced and threads are started and then abruptly ended or put on hiatus without explanation or indeed, having contributed anything to the show. Frances drifts in and out at whim, Ezra is presented as being either of incredible importance or simply not there at all and the activities of Ray’s crew start and stop whenever it seems convenient to do so. It drifts from set-piece to set-piece which work individually but not in unison.
I still believe in Ray Donovan. All the pieces are there, they just need to be sewn together more tightly and more plausibly. The show can be funny, it can be entertaining, it can, when it wants to, focus on an ongoing season arc, it can even offer moments of touching emotion or laugh-out-loud hilarity, but it can’t seem to apply any of these things to a single track of momentum that drives everything forward at once. For now, it is, like Sully and Avi’s road trip, a meandering journey punctuated by too many toilet breaks.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Bridget, here.
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