After last week's excellent showcase for Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan falls back to Earth with a solid-but-forgettable hour that mostly just pushes the plot forward. I'd be less concerned about this if Ray Donovan didn't have a bad habit of building to nothing. My hope is that all the various subplots — Hector/Marisol, Sonia, Mickey in jail, Terry/Damon, Bunchy's daughter, Abby's cancer — coalesce into something dramatically engaging in the closing half of the season. For now, each story line inches forward a little bit.
The week's main story belongs to Ray (Schreiber), as he tries to get Mickey (Jon Voight) out of jail as soon as possible. We also spend more time with Ed Cochran (Hank Azaria) than the show really needs — Azaria is entertaining, but his character is aggressively annoying — as Ray works multiple angles to protect the father he tried to have killed not too long ago. Life sure is unpredictable.
In the opening scene, Ed is recording a horrendous cover of the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" as we catch up a bit with our characters and see the Russians pay a tough-guy assassin to go after Mickey. We learn Ed is working on his own cover album — "Underneath the Covers" is a nice dig at the lack of creativity on Ed's part — that Ray is essentially bankrolling. In exchange, he'll give Ray blackmail material on the district attorney to get his dad out of jail. Will he do so before the assassin finishes him off?
Meanwhile, Hector (Ismael Cruz de Córdova) has decided he likes the low-key charms of the Donovan Family's Fite Club. He wants to train there before a rematch with Whitaker, which should be good for Terry's (Eddie Marsan) business. Daryll (Pooch Hall) seems a little star-struck, but he does what he's told when Hector orders him to pick up Marisol (Lisa Bonet), who was just kicked out of rehab. In typical Daryll fashion, he doesn't quite think things through when the junkie asks to make a quick stop, and she shows up high to the Fite Club. So far, we've only seen Marisol in relation to Hector, who himself isn't much of a character yet. This subplot really needs some development.
Back to the Ray and Ed Show. After Cochran gets his money, he wants another $100,000 given the degree of difficulty in freeing a man like Mickey. While he schemes, Ray meets with his father in the best scene of the episode. (Notice a pattern? The season's best scenes are between Schreiber and Voight or Schreiber and Malcomson.) Ray breaks the news that the Russians won't protect Mick, so he needs to be moved. The plan is to buy some time by telling the guards that Mickey is gay, which will apparently prompt a move to a new ward.
Mickey gets to work, yelling at a guard about how he doesn't feel safe because of his sexuality. Ray tells Terry that he's going to get a call confirming the story, and Terry passes the news to Bunchy (Dash Mihok). I love how casually they all handle this information. Sure, cool, let's just lie about dad's sexuality to save his life. This is far from the most unusual thing that's happened to the Donovans. It probably doesn't even rank in the top three this week.
Then, we learn Ed's game plan. He knows that a sitcom actor named Sherman Radley (played by real-life sitcom legend Reginald VelJohnson) killed a female co-star years ago. It was covered up by a number of people, but Ed has the murder weapon. Radley hired someone else to get rid of the body. They have to figure out who did it, get the body, and then deliver this gloriously high-profile package to the DA in exchange for Mickey. Would that really work? Would a district attorney free a guy who confessed to killing a dozen Armenians, solely because it'd give him a headline-grabbing case?
While Mickey is grilled about his sexuality and the assassin sent to kill him digs a vial of poison out of his own shit, Ed and Ray go to meet with D.A. Holt. He agrees to the deal. Get him Radley, and Mickey goes free. Avi (Stephen Bauer) warns Ray that Ed cannot be trusted. They can't get into bed with someone who has tried to ruin them so many times. How will Ray get his father out of prison without owing something to Ed Cochran?
One of the reasons "Donovan Family Adventures" feels a little slight is the lack of Paula Malcomson, who only gets one scene as she brings Maria to the Fite Club, only to be asked by Bunchy to watch her more often. Bunch is sweet — "You're the best mother I know" — but Abby may not be in the right physical or emotional place to take care of a baby, even though Maria is darn cute.
As the Donovan boys lie to the authorities regarding the "gay audit" of their father, Ray meets with Sherman Radley's agent, a shark named Nick (Eric Balfour of 24). Mickey dodges the Grim Reaper when his cellmate eats poisoned slop, and Ray brings Nick to his place under the guise of a meeting with actor Tommy Wheeler. Tommy is just a pawn, of course. Nick knows who got rid of the body in the Radley case, and they'll do whatever it takes to get him to talk. Ed headbutts him. Ray punches him. They even waterboard the poor guy. He finally relents, revealing that Ezra (Elliott Gould) was involved. It turns out that Ezra had a guy known as the Texan (Stacy Keach), whom he used for jobs that were too dangerous for Ray. They know what to do: Find the Texan, find the body, get Mickey out of jail.
After dumb Conor (Devon Bagby) nearly blows the lid off Mickey's ruse, the eldest Donovan recovers by pretending to have sex with his dying cellmate. It seals the deal for his transfer, though Mickey probably thought his buddy just had a bad stomachache. Poor guy is a goner.
While Ray tracks down the Texan, Ed goes into Sherman's trailer. He's working both sides. Typical Ed. He's trying to blackmail Sherman to make Ray disappear. He learns that the body is in the freezer at Sherman's defunct Englewood restaurant. And that's where our transitional episode ends. As Ed goes to find the body, the Texan follows him. A shootout ensues, and Ed wins. They find the body in the wall, just as we learn that Mickey's transfer has gone through, likely moments before his new cellmate — the assassin — would have killed him. The Donovans may have their share of tragedy, but they're also remarkably lucky. When will that luck run out?
- I wish they did a bit more with the idea of the Texan being a potential glimpse of Ray Donovan's future. He's an older version of the Cleaner that Ray D. has been so many times, and he could easily end up like him, shot by a blackmailer in an empty building.
- It was very clever to cast the star of Family Matters as a father on an awful family sitcom, although I wish they had given VelJohnson a bit more to do. It's odd how often the producers of this show "over-cast" small roles, bringing in actors like Diane Ladd, Ted Levine, and VelJohnson but giving them virtually no time to make an impact.
- The main reason this episode feels thin is because of the time it spends with non-Donovans. Even Ray is a victim of the plotting, as Ed gets way more dialogue. You can almost graph the quality of an episode based on the time we get with the Donovans.