I've been a little harsh on this season of Ray Donovan for being too transitional, but this episode works, primarily because it puts Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight together for the entirety of the hour and lets them do the character work they do best. And while the Ray-Mickey plot is the foundation of "Get Even Before Leavin,'" we also get some real nice character beats for Abby, Terry, Bridget, and Bunchy. Ray Donovan is at its best when it focuses on the Donovans themselves — which could explain why the writers never quite know what to do with their guest stars — and this week's episode does exactly that.
We open on Donut Manor, a coffee-and-cruller dive in the Nevada desert. As Mickey Donovan (Voight) exits to the sound of his girlfriend Sylvie (Paula Jai Parker) singing "Time of the Season" (she's mixed up her all-ELO set list!), Ray (Schreiber) tries to learn what the casino knows about the recent heist. It turns out they already suspect their former bartender Chip, a.k.a. Mickey. As Ray goes back to the van where Mickey's waiting, he gets a warning from the Russians: He needs to get back to Los Angeles. Time is running out. In the van, Schreiber has the first of several great scenes with Voight. I love Ray's confused annoyance about Mickey pissing in a jar when he went to the doughnut shop, and the way he just laughs when Mickey says, "You think I'm a fucking idiot."
Meanwhile, Abby (Paula Malcomson) is going to the doctor to get a second opinion on her breast-cancer diagnosis, and Conor (Devon Bagby) is going through a bit of a dumb teen crisis. He's understandably rattled after his mother killed an attacker in their house, and he now wants a gun. He even convinces Avi (Steven Bauer) to teach him how to fire a gun by beating him in a first-person shooter, and eventually pries open his parents' lockbox to hold a firearm himself. There's absolutely no way this will end well, and I wish it didn't feel so scripted. Conor isn't much of a character, so making him obsessed with guns feels like it could easily get manipulative. We'll see.
While Mickey and Ray talks about Ray's mother and sister, Bunchy (Dash Mihok) deals with some family problems of his own. It turns out that Teresa (Alyssa Diaz) has left his new daughter Maria with him, then fled to the safety of her own family. While Bunchy tries to fix his daughter's crib, Terry stumbles into some luck with the Fite Club. He's working hard to instill discipline in his new protégé, and things really start to turn when Hector (Ismael Cruz Cordova) comes to detox and train, even picking Daryl (Pooch Hall) as his sparring partner. It's nice to see good things happen to the constantly unlucky Terry.
Before Hector shows up, Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) stops by. It turns out she had a fight with her teacher turned boyfriend after they ran into an ex-student with whom he also had a fling. He was little more than a pedophile, and Bridget's done with him. This season spent so much time and effort on their relationship, so I'm surprised it ended so abruptly between episodes, but Ray Donovan has a habit of writing out characters quickly. Everyone but the Donovans is expendable.
As Ray and Mickey drive through the desert in pursuit of Ed and the stolen casino money, Schreiber and Voight sink their teeth into some fantastic exchanges. One of the best is about the differences between Ray and Bunchy as children. Mickey talks about how Bunchy seemed simple from the day he was born, then he tries to rebuild his completely torched bridge with Ray by saying he was always his favorite. Mickey knows he was a bad father, but he honestly thinks he tried the best he could. "Fatherhood is a riddle, son," he says. "Always has been." This season has been a series of great moments between Donovan characters. I just wish those moments were integrated into a more enticing narrative.
While Ray and Mickey kidnap Ed to get to the money, Teresa isn't answering any calls. Bunchy has to go looking for her, leaving his niece to watch his daughter. Teresa is under a blanket on the couch when Bunchy arrives, seemingly deep in the throes of postpartum depression. She talks about wanting to stab herself, the baby, and Bunchy. Is Bunch able to deal with something this serious? It's also a tough issue for a subplot on such a crowded show. Bunch thinks the answer is as simple as Teresa spending time with Maria, which may be unrealistic, but I like that Bunchy demonstrates the patience to deal with her that other men may not. Nevertheless, when he left, I seriously worried that we'd never see Teresa and Maria again. The episode ends with Maria being dropped off at the Fite Club as a car speeds away. Bunchy might be a single father now.
Before that, Mickey and Ray get Ed to take them to Pinky, the twitchy addict who has the casino heist money. Pinky is a moron, and he does something only a moron would do: He douses the money in gasoline and threatens to burn it all if Ray doesn't leave. Although Ray orders Mickey to stay in the car, his dad doesn't listen. He never listens. While Ray tries to negotiate with Pinky, Mick shoots him, which causes him to drop the lighter, igniting the gas that's leaking out of the can. Poor Pinky goes up like a Roman candle.
Ray Donovan finally has the money he needs to get the Russians off his back, but Mickey goes and screws it up again, calling Sylvie so he can escape with her to Boston. The casino security is listening in, so the cops and Bill Primm (Ted Levine) catch up with the Donovans. Surprisingly, they're not sent to jail. "We're gonna pretend like this never happened," Primm says, so the Feds will keep looking for the money. I guess he can keep his own stolen money and get insurance cash at the same time. Either way, let's give Ted Levine something do on this show! It's starting to really frustrate me.
Voight is really good in Mickey's sad moment of realization: Sylvie probably took the reward and sold him out. The Donovans start talking about Abby's cancer diagnosis, and Mickey explains how his whole life changed when Ray's mom was diagnosed. Ray turns it back on him, reminding his father that he fled, forcing Ray to be the family's caregiver. "I loved your mother, Ray," Mickey says, a little broken again. And he makes a good point when he notes that Conor will need more forgiveness than Ray has given to his father. Ray Donovan is no saint.
In the end, Mickey decides to fall on the sword. He'll turn himself in for the Armenian shoot-out, getting Belikov out of jail and taking the heat off the Donovans. After Ray drops him off at the LAPD station, Ray sees that Sylvie is trying to call. He drives into the night.
- I'm loving the classic-rock soundtrack this season: We got Bob Seger karaoke last week, the ELO lounge-singer set list, and the great use of Warren Zevon's "Desperados Under the Eaves" in tonight's closing montage.
- This episode felt more focused and effective because it clocked in at 49 minutes (with credits included), a little shorter than the average cable drama. Not everything needs to be Game of Thrones. Sometimes you can get it done more effectively in less time.
- We're almost halfway done and it's still hard to tell what this season is about. If there's a theme so far, it's a common one: the way we deal with major life changes, including Bunch's fatherhood and Abby's cancer. Of course, there's also the sacrifices that we make for family. Let's hope the writers tighten things up in the remaining episodes.