Having praised the tight, fluid editing in last week’s episode, it seems only fair to start by saying this week’s chapter of Ray Donovan feels a bit choppy at times, jumping subplots in a way that sometimes felt unfocused. A minute with Terry, a minute with Bunchy, a minute with Ray, etc. — the format this week is sometimes hyperactive as the writers push forward several narratives simultaneously, almost as if they’re in a hurry to get the meat of the season. The speed and choppiness of the storytelling put something of a drain on a show that often works best when it’s more deliberate and focused. Having said that, there are great moments within this episode, including Terry Donovan finally getting something of an arc, and a bit of family bonding with Ray Donovan and his new son-in-law at the end of a wood baseball bat.
“Pudge” picks up right where we left off last week, panning back up to Mickey talking to Ray on the phone. We soon learn that the bloody body in the backseat of Mick’s car isn’t Daryll, but movie star Jay White. Mickey’s grand plan for vengeance against his sons is to hold the star of their film for ransom. It’s an interesting, arguably stupid move, but Mickey often resorts to criminal behavior when he feels betrayed, so it makes a bit of sense. The idea is that Mickey will get $3 million for the return of Jay White, as well as the passports to get Mick, Bunchy, and Maria over the border. What could go wrong?
While Sandy is doing awful open mic for Bunchy about pigeon sex, we catch up with two supporting characters on the periphery of the Donovan family and in some trouble. Ray’s new cop buddy Mac is approached by Internal Affairs and told he’ll have to wear a wire or get arrested. This subplot disappears in the second half of the episode, but will certainly return. One wonders if Mac might get something incriminating on Ray or Anita on that wire. Meanwhile, Smitty owes some dangerous Albanians money. They later toss his apartment and we learn that Smitty kind of lived like there was no tomorrow when he thought that was literally the case, and he’s in the hole to the tune of $80k.
Before that subplot is wrapped up, we check in on Terry Donovan, having Guinness for breakfast and lamenting being a “never-was” more than a has-been. Terry needs to fight. And so he jumps into the Underground Fight Club he learned about last week with both feet. At first, it looks like he’s going to literally be killed by a massive fighter named “Tony the Pony,” but Terry turns the tables, landing a few punches, body blows, and an uppercut that knocks out his opponent. It’s a really well-choreographed and directed fight scene with some excellent makeup work as well.
Back in this week’s A plot, the kidnapping of Jay White, Ray, Lena, and Daryll get the money and passports together and Ray goes to meet with Bunchy. The best scene of the week features Ray trying to talk Bunchy out of what he’s about to do. Teresa, his ex, hasn’t even called the cops about Maria yet. Take her across the border and run, and she surely will. What kind of life is that? And then Ray drops the big hammer — if Bunch takes the money, he’s as dead to Ray as Mickey is. Bunchy walks away with the duffel bag, severing the tie with his brother.
Back at the house, it looks like Mickey may screw the whole thing up by killing Jay first anyway. Bunchy saves Jay, and the handoff goes relatively smoothly. Ray finds Jay in a trunk and takes him right to set?!?! The quick cut from Jay in the car, smelling of his own urine, to being on set again that night is a bit brisk, but Hollywood waits for no one, not even traumatized kidnapping victims. And it does allow for a good scene of Jay nearly killing the character who looks a lot like Mickey Donovan on set. Method acting can be dangerous.
Sam and Anita introduce a subplot about a garbage strike that will clearly matter more in future episodes, but the closing scenes that matter here involve Smitty and Sandy. First, after drinking too much, Smitty wakes up to find Sandy and the $3 million gone. Bunchy comes into the room to see the barren table and panicking Mickey and just starts saying, “No, no, no, no.” They don’t have any money, Bunchy is dead to his brother, and they’re more stuck than ever. Mickey Donovan has f-ed up again.
As Sandy drives off into the sunset to the tune of Ice Cube, Ray and Smitty are playing tough guys with the Albanians. Ray kicks down their door, offers a deal, and then shit gets wild. A baseball bat is swung, blood flies, and Ray Donovan and his son-in-law bond the way all Donovans do: over violence.
• Wondering what Sandy is drinking and driving to with all that money? It’s Drink the Kool-Aid by Ice Cube from 2010’s I Am the West. The repeated phrase is a perfect one for the show, “Always know who you f**king with.”
• The Cube choice is an interesting contrast to Mickey’s choice of music earlier in the episode, It’s the Same Old Song by The Four Tops. Mickey is so old-fashioned that he never thought his sister-in-law would betray him. He didn’t, as Cube says, know who he was f**king with.
• Wonder what Ray was talking about in the last scene with Smitty when they discuss wood vs. aluminum bats? Ray says, “Did Carlton Fisk use f**king aluminum when he won Game 6? No. F**king wood.” This. One of the most beloved sports moments in Boston history.
• Big love for the scene when Mickey says to his son, who just had his hands around his throat, in that great Jon Voight Boston accent: “You don’t know nuthin’ about art.”
• Finally, a show that has always deserved props for its supporting character casting adds another recognizable face in Max Casella as the new IA guy. A TV vet from his days on Doogie Howser, M.D., he’s become an arthouse staple in recent years, appearing in films by Woody Allen, the Coen brothers, Spike Lee, and Pablo Larrain. He’s an always-welcome presence and it will be interesting to see how Ray Donovan uses him.