As this season rolls into its final episodes, Ray Donovan has killed two of its newest supporting characters. These characters were just recently introduced, and barely given time to register as anything but plot devices. Why? The answer lies at the core of why this Emmy-nominated show hasn't become a breakout hit: the writing. I almost wish the writers would just stop trying to create non-Donovan characters, because they're just not very good at it.
Last week's episode ended in a cliffhanger: Dmitry (Raymond J. Barry), the angry Russian, had kidnapped Avi (Steven Bauer), then offered to exchange him for Sonia (Embeth Davidtz), who he believes betrayed him. Sonia had just boarded a private plane bound for safety, though, after Ray chose to let her live. Will he regret that mercy?
As "Lake Hollywood" begins, Ray, Lena (Katherine Moennig), and Daryll (Pooch Hall) are on the prowl, watching an art gallery being unloaded by Sonia's toadie, Waller (Gabriel Mann), and two of his Russian buddies. As Daryll and Lena sneak around back, Ray goes in the front and smashes Waller in the groin with a baseball bat. Ray's partners-in-crime steal the truckful of art, planning to use it to barter for Avi's life. I like Daryll being on the team with Ray and Lena — maybe this will finally give his character an arc. They come home to find Abby (Paula Malcomson) sitting on her staircase with a gun in her lap. She's scared that the Russians are coming, and drops some knowledge on Ray: "You should have killed her."
Also, remember that cop who Terry (Eddie Marsan) finally asked out in last week's episode? They already slept together. Terry moves quickly! It's nice to see Terry happy, but I was hoping to see him on a date. He's in full-on "Sweet Donovan" mode, telling her, "I just think you're fucking beautiful." He even tells her about being in jail and how he got shot when he was out. He says he heard a voice when he was near-death that told him, "After the pain, there's love." It's a line that taps into the themes of the show, the idea that people like the Donovans are doing everything they can to get through the painful past to find happiness in their future. Has Terry finally found his?
Meanwhile, Hector (Ismael Cruz Córdova) is on the phone with Marisol (Lisa Bonet), his sister/lover/dealer/enabler. He shouldn't do that. She's nothing but serious trouble. Terry tells him to focus on the fight coming up. Ignore Marisol. If only he had listened. Instead, he sulks. Not long after, his wife comes to tell him that she's leaving and taking their daughter with her. Terry, sensing that Hector is on the verge of doing something stupid, encourages him to work it out in the ring, but he takes off. We all know where he's going — back to Marisol.
Before that, Abby gets a call from the doctor's office and tells them that she's not coming back. Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) overhears and expresses concern for her mother. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this season is how much it teased us with a dramatically rich subplot for Malcomson, then dragged it out without much payoff. That's the Donovan way.
Ray learns that Sonia took off in another plane right after she landed, so getting her back doesn't seem like a feasible plan. He goes to meet with the power player, and catches him watching the latest Hollywood hit, The Kremlin Bleeds, starring one of Ray's clients, Butch Kramer. Dmitry is having a house party and wants Donovan to bring Kramer to his shindig. "You want Avi, I want to meet Butch Kramer," he says. Ray finds Butch doing an interview about the sequel, The Taj Mahal Bleeds, which made me wonder if these weren't a riff on Gerard Butler's Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, and if Mr. Kramer weren't a play on Mr. 300 himself. It makes the following scene, in which Dmitry forces Kramer to fight his Russian thug, a little more fun. Just imagine Butler in the role.
While this odd bit of pugilism goes down, Hector visits Marisol. She's his drug; she's his safety net; he runs to her when he's in pain. And she knows it. She starts running him a bath, seducing him along the way. As Terry tries to track down his prize fighter, Hector is alone with Marisol. He grabs her, then shoves her head underwater. It's not long before she stops fighting back. Hector just murdered his sister. This is tricky moral ground. Marisol was undeniably abusive, but are we supposed to be happy that she's dead? Ray often covers up mistakes of his clients, but will he cover up a murder? Should he? Although I'm not sure how we're supposed to feel about this turn of events, I'm curious to see how it develops over the final two episodes.
Terry shows up to see Hector at the door. The boxer says that Marisol committed suicide; Terry believes him. Ray shows up not much later and sees what his kind-hearted brother does not — this was no suicide. When Hector offers to give him anything he wants, Ray leaves. At first, it seems like he won't cover up a murder, but he returns at the end of the episode to do just that. What made him change his mind? Marisol was an abuser, an adult who took advantage of Hector at a young age, and Ray Donovan has no issue dispatching child abusers when the justice system fails to do so. Or maybe the Sonia/Russian narrative is thematically related? He saved her — another person who was part of horrible crimes and murders — so why not save Hector, too? Or, and I think this may be the truth above all: Does Ray realize that Terry needs Hector? Is he saving the murderer, or saving his brother's shot at boxing fame?
Oh, I almost forgot about Waller. Yeah, he's dead. After Dmitry's dude beats up Butch Kramer, he brings Ray into an office. He has Waller tied up, and he shoots him. Waller was playing both sides by selling forgeries, something Ray had called him out on earlier, and schemers always end up dead in Ray Donovan. Ray may not be a good man, but he is a straightforward one; he protects those who pay him and those he loves. Men like Waller, who always choose the best option available to them, are doomed in the world of this show. The Donovans stay alive because they have a moral code. But how much longer can that last?
- The best scene of the week is a bit of reminiscing between Abby and Mickey (Jon Voight). Mick feels responsible for everything that's happened, so Abby reminds him that he didn't give her cancer, then tells him a story about the first time she slept with his son. They laid in bed together, listening to "Layla." As the piano chords kick in, he realized life probably would never be better. I can relate to loving that song. There's a reason my dog's name is Layla.
- Also, great music cue on the closing credits: "All In" by Metis featuring Aynzli Jones.
- Did Kerris Dorsey make the writers angry or something? They're giving her character nothing to do this season.
- Where will Ray Donovan go in the last two episode? A number of the subplots are surprisingly closed out, including Sonia/Waller and Mickey/Primm. Will the final pair focus on Hector/Marisol? Abby's cancer? Or will the show start laying groundwork for next season?
- What do you want from the remaining episodes? It feels like this so-so season is unlikely to be salvaged, but I'm still hopeful that they end strongly. There's still time to lead us into a more-focused season five, with a stronger thematic purpose and a true nemesis for Ray.