Can a second episode of a season be considered transitional? "Marisol" introduces new characters who will clearly have important roles, while also tying up a few loose ends still hanging around from season three. Out with the old, it seems: Two major characters might not even be seen again, while Ray Donovan shifts to new subplots.
It's not uncommon for Ray Donovan to plot its episodes so heavily that there isn't much time left for character or thematic development. "Marisol" continues that trend, pushing forward two major arcs and a few minor ones with such aggression that the writing feels a little shallow. The cast simply doesn't have room to do what they do best. Hopefully, it's just a short-term consequence of clearing the table to set up the new season.
"Marisol" is about two people with dark pasts: the title character (Lisa Bonet) and Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight). The troublesome Marisol is ready to ruin Hector's (Ismael Cruz Cordova) career, and threatens to spill all about her boxer brother on the day of his big fight. She's waiting backstage at the ASC Network to do just that when Ray (Liev Schreiber) gets a request from Hector: He needs Donovan to take care of Marisol. When money doesn't sway Ray, Hector plays his emotional card, noting that Marisol and Hector started sleeping together when he was only 13 (and she was 25). That's child abuse. He knows Ray's past with child abuse, and how this will force him to act.
While Muncie (Michael Hyatt) brings Mickey back from Nevada, Lena (Katherine Moennig) catches up with Marisol backstage. (Either Ray moved incredibly quickly, or Lena was already waiting for her boss to make a decision. The editing in this episode is weird.) Lena gets Marisol to follow her, but when she sees Ray in the elevator, she punches Lena. Ray chases after, grabs her on the stairs, and she fights back before Lena tasers her. Ray Donovan and his partner in crime just kidnapped a woman. This won't end well.
While Mickey makes chit-chat with Muncie, Ray brings Marisol to the arena where Hector is going to fight. She gets an awful speech about how Hector is an icon to his people, and how they're checking her into rehab before she ruins her brother's life. They're also going to pay her $25,000 a month to shut up. Would any junkie really say no to that? I guess so, because it's more important to keep Hector wrapped around her finger. He won't speak to her; he can't even look at her. There's an interesting sound design in this season, as drill noises and the clattering construction of the boxing ring echoes throughout the arena. Marisol is given her choices: "You get the money or you get Ray Donovan."
Finally, we get some time with Brendan (Dash Mihok), who's feeling nervous about becoming a father. Teresa (Alyssa Diaz) is tired of the inattention that comes with Bunchy's nerves, so she tells him she needs sex and she needs it now. This is a poorly written scene. I don't buy that Teresa would throw something as wantonly cruel as "That SNAP shit doesn't cure you?" to the man she was so supportive of just a few episodes ago. The writers are looking to create tension in this new marriage, but this scene feels cheap, sacrificing character for conflict.
After learning that Mickey has been taken in by the cops, Avi (Stephen Bauer) panics that Daddy Donovan will sell out Ray and his team for the massacre at the Minassians. It's just another problem for Ray to handle, which he does in a remarkably quick and unbelievable way: In less than a day, Ray kidnaps Ivan Belikov (Pasha D. Lychnikoff), gets the guns from the Armenian assault from Avi, and frames the Russian head of the sex trafficking ring for the murders, essentially trading him (and the eight murder charges that Muncie wants to file) for his father. And Muncie plays along. Could this be the end of both Muncie and the Armenian subplot? It's never really worked as a story, but it's a bit odd to spend so much time with characters and write them off so quickly. Perhaps that's a theme of the show: There's no problem that Ray Donovan can't fix.
During all of this, another major character from last season, Father Romero (Leland Orser), hangs around Ray like a guilty conscience, saying things like, "Are you doing the right thing today?" He thinks that Hector needs to forgive Marisol, just as he forgave the priest that abused him. Marisol doesn't seem like a problem that'll go away with forgiveness.
Two other subplots involve Abby (Paula Malcomson) and the fact that she spends more time with Ray's brothers than she does with her husband. First, her purse is stolen as she's arriving to the club with Terry (Eddie Marsan). The Parkinson's-afflicted hero chases the thief down an alley, finding him behind a dumpster. He punches Terry a few times with such acuity that the fight coach ends up taking him on as a client — only after they get the purse back, of course, and after Terry meets a cute cop who might be into him. If you're keeping track, that's two new characters, and I like that both are in Terry's stratosphere. Marsan is a great actor. Let's hope that a new protégé and a new love interest give him a better platform on the show.
At the same time, Brendan brings his concerns about his marriage to Abby, who's still reeling over her stage-zero breast-cancer diagnosis. After an emotional call with Ray in which she talks about getting away, she offers romantic advice to Brendan that results in them going dildo shopping. It's nice to see Mihok and Malcomson laughing — their characters don't get to do that much — although the beat where Abby sees a porno cover called "Pretty Titties" and thinks about her breast cancer seems a bit overwritten. As does the scene where Brendan mistakes Teresa's cousin for a potential suitor and drops the King Kong Dildo he bought in the middle of the club.
As for the key questions about Marisol and Mickey, the answer seems to be the same for both: Get them out of the way. First, Ray tries to put his dad on a bus again, sending him out of town. Then we learn that Marisol will recant her salacious story on national television, telling everyone she's going to rehab. On the way to the fight, she jumps out of Ray's moving car, fleeing into the L.A. night. Hector is torn apart that Marisol isn't with him on fight night and learns that she's planning to kill herself. As Ray and Romero argue about men who leave trails of broken souls — and Romero, possibly for the last time, says there's nothing he can do to help Ray — Mr. Donovan watches Hector get his ass kicked in the ring.
- How do we feel about Lisa Bonet's performance? It may just be the way to introduce the character but it feels a little overplayed to me now with all the ticks and head twirls to indicate a troubled, addicted soul.
- John Dahl directed this episode. John Dahl rules. Go rent Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, two of his best flicks.
- Despite my clear problems with the writing this week, I did like how much Schreiber played the "same old shit" weight of Ray's problems. Schreiber really conveyed the sense that Ray is getting tired of his life as everyone's protector.
- If you're curious, the closing credits were set to the appropriately named "Holy Holy" by Evangelist. With forgiveness failing, what does Ray Donovan consider "holy" anymore?