The strong season premiere of the seventh season of Showtime’s Ray Donovan is about people trying to break patterns. Most of all, it features a kinder, gentler Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) working on his anger, but everyone feels like they’re working toward a better version of themselves this episode. Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight) is doing what’s right for his son, Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is finding happiness in a normal job, Terry (Eddie Marsan) is open to a new way to a healthy life, and even Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) snaps at her father about infidelity but then walks it back and apologizes. This is the better, happier Donovan family. We all know that can’t last.
As deep cut “I Promise I’ll Never Break Your Heart” by Dennis Day plays over a montage of violence from last year, we get caught up. A lot more than just a relocation to New York City happened in season six — gunshots, beatings, kidnappings, decapitations — although it ended with Ray calling his new therapist, played by the always wonderful Alan Alda, and a wistful Mickey Donovan. The next morning, Ray takes Mickey to the FBI office to turn himself in. It’s the cost for Bunchy’s freedom, and it allows for a strong scene to open the season between two actors who weren’t together a lot last year. It also allows for a question from Ray’s shrink that not only plays into a later scene but will likely be a major underpinning of this season: “What would happen if you put all this anger aside and just forgave your father?”
Cut to four months later as some fishermen accidentally hook a bag containing the severed head of one of the corrupt cops that the Donovans took care of last season. Uh-oh. That didn’t stay underwater long. In fact, we soon learn that this poor schmuck still has a bullet that can be tested by ballistics lodged in his skull. Ray is going to have to come up with a cover story.
Like he doesn’t have enough to worry about already. It’s not like a Ray Donovan in therapy isn’t going to have to still do an often annoying job. He still has to deal with Stu Feldman (Josh Pais), one of the slimiest guys on TV, who is disappointed after Ray doesn’t take a bat to his target, and even apologizes to the stalker after knocking him around a bit. And he has to take orders from Mayor Ferrati (Zach Grenier), who tasks him and Lena with getting blackmail material on someone in his way. And do they ever get that material, snapping photos of their target, Kevin Donovan (Josh Hamilton), in the middle of a midday blow job.
As if those two assignments weren’t enough to illustrate why it’s so hard for Ray Donovan to find inner peace, he also has a stomach-turning meeting with a young star, perfectly named Jonathan Walker Hansen. The little jerk tells Ray about how he has a habit of sleeping with the mothers of his fans. They ask ’NSync Jr. to go to their daughter’s birthday party, but there’s a sexual price to pay. Well, one of the moms has some photos of Hansen and is threatening blackmail. When Ray points out that this is unlikely because the Insta-star is only 17 and she’d be tried for statutory rape, the kid is downright excited that now he has a way to blackmail her instead. It’s no wonder Ray needs to take a bat to things every now and then.
Meanwhile, Terry Donovan’s Parkinson’s Disease is getting worse. While at the drugstore at which Bunchy now works, he meets a woman who espouses holistic methods to happiness. She invites him to a milk-thistle-tea ceremony, which will reportedly purge Terry of the awful things infecting his liver and make him whole again. If there’s anyone who deserves a little happiness, it’s Terry Donovan.
While her uncle is tripping, Bridget Donovan has her own issues. It turns out the marriage to Smitty hasn’t been all wine and roses. Four months in, she’s already met someone else and is considering ending it. At first, it felt like maybe this was just a quickie way to write out a supporting character, but it turns out that Smitty (Graham Rogers) is still around, working with Ray and now in full panic mode after the officer’s head in a bag surfaces. There’s reason to worry about Smitty’s safety. He knows a lot, he panics a lot, and if he doesn’t have Bridget to protect him, he may be a loose end that needs to be tied up.
Ray has a plan, though. Before that, he goes to visit his dad at Riker’s, walking in with the calm and peace of a man in therapy. He even thanks him for taking the fall for Bunch, and then he says something he maybe shouldn’t have said to Mickey Donovan: He forgives him. Forgiving your father for past sins is a healthy mental practice, but not always something that needs to be said out loud. Mickey does not take it well. He thinks it should be the other way around. Mickey has spent most of his adulthood behind bars. Ray should be begging him for forgiveness.
That’s not going to happen. When the head surfaces, Ray decides they need to pin it on Mick. After all, he’s already behind bars. They get his gun, but they need his prints, and so Ray heads to the new prison that will house Mickey for the rest of his life. The problem is that Mick isn’t there yet, being transported via a bus that’s about to have a headline-grabbing, breaking-news experience. First, Mickey notices the four-leaf clover tattoo on his arm matches the logo of the gas tanker truck nearby, then the driver of that truck has a grabber and passes out, allowing it to roll backwards into the prison bus. An explosion fills the sky. Ray looks up. Anger management could have just gotten a lot harder to maintain.
• It’s probably in Pooch Hall’s contract that he needs one scene per episode, right? How else to explain the cameo this week in which he calls just to put a little more pressure on Ray?
• You have to love “Foreplay/Long Time” playing over the final scenes. This show may have taken place in Los Angeles and now New York, but these guys are Boston through and through.
• I wonder if Voight really got a clover tattoo. I wouldn’t put it past him.
• If you think you recognized the actor who played Kevin Sullivan, that’s the great Josh Hamilton, who was so excellent in last year’s Eighth Grade. He will surely come back this season, and hopefully have a rich part.
• Joshua Marston directed this episode, so allow me this chance to recommend his Oscar-nominated Maria Full of Grace. He’s done some TV work in the years since on HBO shows like Six Feet Under, In Treatment, and The Newsroom, and last year’s Netflix original Come Sunday. Good to see him here for a string of directorial duties this season.