The seventh season of Showtime’s Ray Donovan feels like it’s still in a bit of a transitional phase. The fourth episode, playfully titled “Hispes” after how pop star Jonathan Walker Hansen renamed his herpes in a way designed to make it somehow empowering for women, has some great performances and wonderful individual beats, but there’s still a lack of overall momentum and urgency. The stakes need to rise soon for this season to match the overall quality of the last one. A potential enemy in the legendary Jim Sullivan looms just over the horizon, and it appears Ray may be falling in love. We’ve simmered for a few episodes now — let’s turn up the heat next week.
Despite the sense of narrative wheel-spinning, there are themes emerging for this season at least in this episode, including tribalism — the mayor’s lackeys, the Knights of Manhattan, Liberty’s cult, even reminders of the criminal underworld of Boston — and a need to belong to a group. This week Daryll, Bunchy, and Terry are all trying to figure out where they belong, and even the legendary Ray Donovan is still determining his moral boundaries while possibly entering into the first emotionally resonant relationship he’s had since the death of his wife. A lot of this season’s themes feel like they can be summed up in Terry’s line, “I expected to feel different, but I just feel the same but … here.” Groups and locations can’t change or define us. We have to do that ourselves.
Again, the narrative this episode feels particularly disjointed, as is often the case this time of year, so let’s look at each Donovan story individually:
Ray is occupied with trying to keep the weight of the entire New York political establishment from coming down on him after his decision last week. Giving the blackmail material to Molly Sullivan instead of Mayor Ferrati has left him vulnerable to things like massive police raids and even his car being towed. He’s going to have to find a way to make the corrupt politician happy, and he knows that Molly’s dad has the power to do so. Remember, he and Jim Sullivan used to run together in the Boston criminal underworld. Jim still has connections. So Ray gets Molly to call dad for the money to make the Mayor happy. It seems to work relatively smoothly when Ray hands Ferrati millions of dollars in bonds from Sullivan’s safety deposit box, but the entire process may have lit a fire under Mickey Donovan. More on that later. What could be most important to Ray this week is that he has his first tender, romantic moment in a long time with Molly. Let’s hope he doesn’t put her in danger. (We all know he probably will.)
Bunchy is miserable over the fate of the boy he shot in the drug store robbery. It looks now like the kid will never walk again. After a heated emotional exchange with his mom, a cop at the hospital gives Bunch a brochure for the Knights of Manhattan. Bunchy is being recruited for a White Nationalist group! That tracks with his history. He goes to the meeting and hears things like “white genocide,” and, to his credit, Bunchy does look a little startled when the conversation goes there, but there’s reason to worry about the most gullible and ignorant Donovan. Let’s hope he finds the right path soon, and doesn’t cause too much damage as he strays from it yet again.
Speaking of people on the wrong path, Terry is in such poor health, physically and emotionally, that he’s thinking about killing himself at the commune instead of continuing a treatment he’s convinced isn’t working. A kind woman who is clearly in late-stage cancer talks him out of wandering into a lake with rocks in his pocket. Terry needs to keep fighting. Ray Donovan needs Terry, a character who has often been the smartest, kindest, and most morally upstanding person in the room in crucial moments.
Is Bridge the new Lena? It appears that way when she fills in for her dad after the Bieber wannabe her boss manages gets caught up in a herpes scandal. First, she gets the dumb kid out of his office, where protestors and other officials have trapped him, by having Smitty pretend to be him. Then she advises him to get ahead of the scandal, leading to the so-stupid-it-sounds-possible “Hispes” image plan. Ray seems startled at first but then almost impressed with his daughter’s “fixer” skills. This may seem like a good idea, but Lena and Ray have pushed a lot of boundaries when it comes to safety and morality. What happens when Bridget has to do the same? Will Ray still support her?
Daryll can’t figure out where he belongs. Sure, he has a beautiful new girlfriend, but his mother Claudette is pressuring him to move back to the West Coast and work for Alan, the man who helped raise Daryll. But the problem is that Daryll will always consider Mickey his real dad. He comes to Bunchy first, hopeful that his brother will almost beg him to stay, but he doesn’t realize the dark place in which Brendan currently resides. It looks like Daryll may actually go back to Palm Springs, but then everything changes with the return of the Donovan who just won’t die …
There’s no escaping Mickey. Not only did he not go far after Ray and Bunchy left him last week, but he’s already back in New York at the end of the episode. After a quick stint in a gay beach community, Sandy comes to him with something she found in Jim Sullivan’s lockbox — proof that Mickey’s former partner screwed him over from his share on a job back in 1977. Mickey is angry, and he tells Daryll he needs him. That’s all Daryll wanted to hear. That’s all so many of us want to hear. Just to be needed.
• Mickey’s proposal to Sandy that they run a variation on a housing rental scam reminded me of an amazing story from earlier this year. Read about an investigation that has actually changed the way Airbnb does business.
• The fact that Bridget has Smitty dress up like Hansen feels a little important, right? Hansen is a boy, and I think the implication is that Smitty is still too much of a boy for Bridget Donovan too. They’re also kind of both immature himbos, way too excited about the dumb Hispes plan.
• While I really missed Alan Alda this week, it was nice to see the always-great Lois Smith at Terry’s commune. She has been working consistently and memorably for half a century, and she killed her scene this week. Keep up the casting of living legends, Ray Donovan.
• A third of the way in and it’s hard to say where this season is going. The Mayor, who felt like the season’s “big bad,” seems placated. So does that mean a war with Jim Sullivan is coming up? Could be. Don’t forget that James Woods played Patrick “Sully” Sullivan way back in season one. He’s dead, but the Sullivan name has some resonance for Ray Donovan fans, and it might be nice to tie the show’s beginning back to the New York chapters of it’s in now.