Ray Donovan Recap: A Crooked Tree

Ray Donovan

Little Bill Primm's Green Horseshoe
Season 4 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Episode 403
Devon Bagby as Conor. Photo: Michael Desmond/Showtime

Where do we go from here? The third episode of a prestige drama like Ray Donovan often defines the season, setting the course for what’s to come. Sadly, “Little Bill Primm’s Green Horseshoe” doesn’t tell us enough. We’re still cleaning up from last season, although the writers have now tied in those issues in an unexpected way. More essentially, the episode is helmed by Michael Apted, the great director behind Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, and the Up documentaries, who helps guide the underutilized Paula Malcomson to one of her best performances. It’s a slower hour that raises the stakes, giving the cast plenty of moments to show their range.

To remind us exactly where we are, “Green Horseshoe” gives us shots of Muncie (Michael Hyatt) busting the Russian sex-trafficking ring, plus footage of Hector (Ismael Cruz Cordova) losing his big fight from last week’s episode. Though the latter will have to wait, the former is the focus of the episode, alongside an entertaining subplot that involves Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) trying to rob the Nevada casino at which he briefly worked.

Let’s start there. While something far more intense embroils the rest of his brood, the dumbest Donovan works with a couple guys — Ed and Pinky — and his ELO-crooning nightclub-singer girlfriend to rob Little Bill Primm’s Casino. In predictable ways, Mickey’s plan goes awry. Ignoring warnings that he is a “crooked tree,” he buys night-vision goggles and hires a hyperactive fellow to cut the power during a Primm’s Casino event that puts $4 million on display. Just before they’re about to get the cash out the door, Pinky turns the power back on, blinding Mickey. As his cohorts speed off with the money, Mickey realizes he’s been screwed again.

Meanwhile, Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Abby (Malcomson) are in bed. Mrs. Donovan is feeling nostalgic: Her daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) is turning 18, though there’s something deeper to Malcomson’s performance. Abby must deal with her recent diagnosis of stage-zero cancer and the doctor’s orders to have a mastectomy, and start radiation — which she has yet to reveal to Ray. She’s melancholy about losing her daughter, a feeling that’s heightened when Bridget comes home and screws her teacher/boyfriend (Aaron Staton) in the parked car in the Donovan driveway. Did she just assume her parents would be asleep, or is she trying to get attention? The writing verges on soapy here, skipping right past a line the show often walks, especially as Bridget angrily mocks her mother and proclaims her love for her 34-year-old boyfriend.

After Bridget storms off into the night, a food truck driven by a hired assassin stops by the Donovan residence. Yes, the Russian mob has sent one lonely killer in a ridiculously conspicuous vehicle to take out Ray and whoever else might be in the mansion. This doesn’t work, of course: Abby actually fires the shot that takes out the hitman, Terry (Eddie Marsan) runs outside to see if he was alone, Ray calls Avi (Steven Bauer), and dumb Conor (Devon Bagby) thinks it was the loudest TV in the world. (I don’t care how good your sound system is, you can tell the difference between actual gunfire in your foyer and an action movie.)

The next morning, Avi cleans up the mess while Ray does damage control. He’s realized that putting Belikov (Pasha D. Lychnikoff) away has slapped a target on his entire family, and he reveals why the Russians are after them. Conor won’t go to school that day, and they have to find Bridget to protect her. Meanwhile, Abby isn’t taking the murder well, even though she saved Ray’s life. She’s on the verge of tears, talking in whispers and lying on the floor with her dog. I like the heightened stakes here, the sense of real danger facing the Donovan clan. The show often traffics in melodrama, but these actors are talented enough to make their characters’ fear feel genuine in moments like this one.

After getting Bridget from Donellen, who now says he’s in love with her, they bring her to Abby, who is still spiraling. She was already facing the reality of death (and her daughter becoming an adult), and now she’s committed a mortal sin. Bridget has a really soapy exchange about love, but it ends brutally when she tells her mother that she doesn’t want to have kids because she doesn’t want to pass her “crazy genes” to another generation. Malcomson sells Abby’s hurt so well, underplaying the line, “You don’t want to have kids because you don’t want them to wind up like me.” It’s always devastating to hear, but especially when surrounded by the reminders of her mortality.

Terry refuses to leave the fight club, sitting with Daryll (Pooch Hall) and waiting for the Russians to come. While they amusingly quote Blazing Saddles, Ray learns that the bad guys already found Muncie; he sees her beaten and murdered on the kitchen floor. This is Ray’s fault. Sure, it’s more Mickey’s fault, but Ray could have let his father sleep in the bed he made. Now, Ray has another body to weigh on his guilty conscience. He needs to talk to Belikov. He need to ensure his family’s safety.

That conversation doesn’t go well. Belikov pisses on the window between them in the prison visiting room, but Ray soon learns that he can go above the angry Russian. It turns out that Belikov has been working with Sonia (Embeth Davidtz), the suspicious art dealer from the season premiere. Remember how she needed some art moved through the port? Yeah, that’s not all she moves. She’s a broker for Belikov; she also ran drugs and girls until Donovan destroyed her operation. Ray will now have to get the Russian out of jail and pay off a debt to Sonia. It’s an appropriate development: Ray Donovan has always focused on the cyclical nature of debt. To get out of one, you often create another.

While Ray tries to solve a problem he (partially) created, Bunchy (Dash Mihok) and Teresa (Alyssa Diaz) have some angry sex, which leads to contractions. As they rush off to the hospital, Ray finds Abby sitting in a grocery store, where they have a great scene together. She doesn’t care about money. “I just want to be with you,” she says. “That’s it. Always have. Still do.” She decides that it’s time to tell Ray about the mammogram. When it rains, it pours. Ray’s first response is his go-to line: “We’ll fix it.” She won’t let him. And she’s not going back to the doctor, either. He fights at first, but relents. She seems relieved at having told him, and smiles.

As Ray and Abby get closer, Maria Donovan is born. Mickey gets a baby photo texted to him and holds it up to the stars. Maybe this Donovan won’t be a crooked tree.

Other Notes:

  • Three episodes into the new season, it still feels like we’re tying up loose ends from season three. With the new intensity of Davidtz’s character, hopefully we can move forward with that arc and the one with Marisol and Hector.
  • For three seasons now, I’ve said that Paula Malcomson, so amazing on Deadwood, wasn’t being given enough to do on Ray Donovan. She sure got her fill tonight, taking some melodramatic writing and grounding it with emotion. It likely helps to have an actor’s director like Apted helming things, too.
  • I loved the scene between Terry and Daryl about Westerns. The show should take those kind of narrative diversions more often. It’s great to see these often-serious characters get playful every now and then.
  • Let’s get Ted Levine involved more often! He’s a great character actor, and I can’t wait to see how they use him as Bill Primm.

Ray Donovan Recap: A Crooked Tree