It’s so great when a show with a talented cast can play with similar themes across subplots. Look across the stories in this week’s episode and you’ll see an idea that’s essential to Ray Donovan: Family is both a blessing and a curse.
Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) looks into the dying eyes of a future version of himself and realizes he needs to be more open with his son Conor (Devon Bagby). Hector (Ismael Cruz Córdova) has his particular family tie exposed to the world. Bunchy (Dash Mihok) refuses to give up on his wife Teresa (Alyssa Diaz), the newest branch of the Donovan family tree. I know I’m a bit of a broken record here, but the quality of a Ray Donovan episode is directly related to how much time we spend with the core members of the Donovan family. “The Texan” allows some great time for almost all of them.
In the hospital, Ray meets the Texan (Stacy Keach), whom I didn’t expect to see alive after last week’s shoot-out. We get a bit of the Texan’s backstory, too: He was a stuntman, just back from Vietnam and too violent for the normal world when Ezra found him and turned him into a cleaner. (By the way, I’d totally watch a spin-off about the ’70s Hollywood scene. Let’s make The Texan happen, Showtime.) The Texan’s daughter, who’s also at the hospital, never learned what her father did. In just a few beats, Keach captures the regret of a man who’s made mistakes, and Schreiber conveys Ray’s realization that he doesn’t want to meet the same fate. It inspires Ray to rebuild the emotional bridges between his family members. First, Mickey (Jon Voight) gets out of jail and Ray tries to give him some money to get back on his feet. Of course, Papa Donovan is too proud to take it.
When Ray gets home, Conor is playing some goofy Just Dance game. Ray gives him a sideways look at first — as he should — but does something he probably wouldn’t have before he met the Texan: He jumps in and plays. (I love his line to Conor: “I’m pretty sure I can handle whatever you’re into.”) Inevitably, Abby (Paula Malcomson) joins, dancing along to the silly “Chiwawa” number. Let’s hope GIFs are made from this very fun, light scene in what is often a very un-fun, dark show. Just in time to kill the fun, the neighbor who owned the bounce house that Conor shot up a few weeks ago arrives to narc on him. Ray finds the gun in Conor’s room, and gets a little intense, although it’s hard to blame him, given what could have happened. Conor needs to be scared straight.
Out from jail, Mickey goes back to the Fite Club, where he finds a sad Bunchy. Before Mickey can go back to Primm, he decides to help Bunchy get Teresa out of the mental hospital in which she’s been admitted for postpartum depression. This is a complex, emotionally charged issue, but I like that the writers take it seriously. They’re not just using it as a device. How the Donovans work to keep their family together has always been a thematic bedrock of the show.
While Hector’s family life turns into a public nightmare after Marisol (Lisa Bonet) goes on national television to reveal she’s her brother’s lover, Ray tries to teach Conor a lesson. He takes him to a bad neighborhood and shows him a few pictures of gunshot victims before pushing him out of the car with a gun. Really? I’m not sure Ray would do that, although I guess Avi (Steven Bauer) could have been on a roof with a sniper rifle in case things went bad as fast as they could have. Ray lets Conor fear for his life for a few seconds, then stops the car and lets him catch up.
Bunchy finds Maria and Teresa at the hospital. While Mickey makes small talk in the waiting room, Bunchy does what he can to connect with his wife, but she’s somewhere else, glossy-eyed and silent. Mickey encourages his son not to give up: “These beautiful creatures get put in a place like this and these fuckers make sure they never leave.” The Donovans get each other out of bad situations all the time. To them, this is just another rescue mission.
Abby gets a turn at teaching Conor a lesson, and does a much better job than Ray did. Conor has a brief, rare moment of character development when he reveals that he doesn’t really know who he is. He comes from a family of tough guys, but he’s never even been to Boston. “My dad’s a Hollywood legend and I’m just a little prick from Calabasas.” Most of this is Conor’s own making, but it’s true that he would likely have some identity issues. Abby takes him shooting at a gun range, and he’s got some natural ability at it. She reveals her cancer diagnosis to him. Conor actually gets my favorite line of the episode when he says, “Sometimes I think you’re scarier than dad.” Damn straight, kid.
Meanwhile, Ray sets up Stu Feldman (Josh Pais) to get Hector back in the ring. After the public controversy, they canceled Hector’s rematch with Whitaker. Framing Feldman with a false charge of child pornography, Ray then swoops in to clean it up, telling Stu that he’ll fix his problem if he’ll help Hector to fight again. Ray also uses Daryll (Pooch Hall) in his scheme, which is a nice development. I’d love to see Daryll given something notable to do narratively, and he could be an interesting part of the Donovan team.
While Ray works to make the match happen, Terry (Eddie Marsan) is connecting with Hector. He wants to be Hector’s trainer, and asks Ray to make it happen so he’ll have one last stab at greatness. After Feldman records the man in charge of the fight saying something racist — and after Daryll assaults the man scheduled to fill in for Hector — Ray has what he needs to get the fight back on. At the same time, Bunchy rescues Teresa, telling her family, “We don’t throw nobody away.” He has a cute scene (or as cute as Bunchy gets) in which he admits to jerking off to Wonder Woman when he was a kid and how Teresa reminds him of her. This is a Bunchy Motivational Speech. It might work, though. And it’s actually sweet the way Mihok says, “You’re my Wonder Woman.”
In a bookend scene, we go back to the hospital, where Ray learns that the Texan died. He runs into his daughter, who reveals she knew her father wasn’t an insurance salesman. He tells her, “Everything he did, he did for you,” and it’s easy to see that Ray is talking about himself, not a man he barely knew. He wants to be honest and open with Conor in ways that the Texan never was with his daughter. But is it too late?
- Did someone send Bridget to summer camp? We haven’t seen her in a few episodes.
- This is a really strong episode, second only to “Fish and Bird” this season. It’s dramatically tight and thematically coherent in ways that we don’t always see on Ray Donovan, while also allowing for a nice variety of tones, from the silly Just Dance scene to Teresa’s more serious story line.
- It helps to have a confident hand like Tucker Gates’s in the director’s chair. He’s done a few episodes of this show, along with some great chapters of Bates Motel, House of Cards, and Homeland.
- Pay attention to the titles of episodes. This one doesn’t refer to Hector and Marisol, or Conor’s arc, or Bunchy and Teresa. It’s named after a character who only has a few lines of dialogue in the opening scene. And yet, he might be one of the most important in the show’s current arc. He’s an omen for Ray Donovan: a man who doesn’t want to die alone, shot by a stranger, with a daughter who doesn’t trust him. The ghost of the Texan could linger for some time.