An intense seventh season of Ray Donovan slows down a bit for a transitional episode that feels a bit choppier than the recent run of the series, and not just because Mickey Donovan is M.I.A. again. The writers this week jump around between plots that are all at least slightly about retrieval: There’s the emerald necklace that needs to be retrieved from a charlatan; security footage that needs to be retrieved to protect a Donovan; older recordings that could reveal a secret about Ray’s sister; new recordings that could sink Ray himself — all part of an episode that’s about getting items that will push us into the back third of the season. There’s also a theme of surveillance, from the O’Malley recordings that could sink Jim Sullivan to the wire worn by Smitty that could spell the end of Ray Donovan.
Before that stunning revelation, the characters are moving forward after the action of last week’s kidnapping of Jim Sullivan. Now free, the billionaire is understandably in need of a massage and some acupuncture when the son of one of his recently murdered cohorts takes shots at him on the street. It’s been a rough week for Jim. Gary O’Malley is taken into custody, and he contacts Ray to help. It turns out that not only did Gary’s brother Ronnie have his dad’s old tapes to blackmail Jim, but he recorded his own basement, in which you may remember that Daryll recently killed a guy. Gary thinks that Sullivan was responsible for his brother’s murder, but Ray knows that it was the trio of idiots in Mickey, Sandy, and Daryll, proven when he actually sees the footage of his half-brother killing a guy.
Speaking of Daryll Donovan, the unluckiest Donovan fled with the stocks last week, and so he calls his new girlfriend Jasmine and asks her to bring a gun and their passports. They’re going to hit the road. And do what with the stocks exactly? Sell them at a gas station? Open up a stock-selling stand? The Donovans, especially Daryll, never think through their hare-brained schemes. A window of opportunity seems to open for Daryll when the vicious, always-talking-through-gritted-teeth Declan Sullivan shows up at his motel, offering $2 million for the paperwork. Daryll won’t have to worry about actually selling them. He’ll have cold hard cash. Of course, it’s too good to be true, and a shootout results in the death of Daryll’s girlfriend. The poor guy will never find happiness and God help anyone who gets in his circle of eternal bad luck.
The shaman who offered salvation and wellness to Terry Sullivan is revealed to be a conman, the kind of monster who steals the belongings of his unwell parishioners. When Terry discovers that the kindly woman who saved his life at the commune had her emerald necklace stolen, he gets Bunchy to drive him up there for a little fetch quest and ass-kicking. Terry still has a vicious right jab.
While all of these adventures are interesting, the real purpose of this episode is to push Ray Donovan toward two major events. First, when he tells Gary O’Malley that he has no surveillance footage for him, Gary tells him to ask Jim Sullivan about Bridget Donovan, Ray’s sister, who died by suicide three decades ago. What could Jim have to do with that? Was the guy who acted like a supportive father figure to Ray responsible for the death of his sister? Ray starts to wonder what Gary means, even asking Molly to track down the Sullivan surveillance tapes from that time in their lives. Clearly, this isn’t a red herring and Jim Sullivan did something that pushed Bridget over the edge. A reference in the flashbacks to Bridget saying “Mr. Sullivan will give me a ride” feels ominous. Did he assault her or actually kill her and make it look like a suicide? What will Ray do when he finds out the details?
The answer to that may be in how he’s going to get out of the predicament that ends the episode. Halfway through the hour, we learn the awful truth: Smitty didn’t just spill the beans to the cops, he agreed to wear a wire to get Ray Donovan to incriminate himself, which he does as they’re driving back from the O’Malleys. Just before the end, Ray realizes that Smitty sold him out, asking him to take off his shirt and reveal the wire. He looks crestfallen, realizing that he trusted the wrong kid for possibly the last time, and he marches outside to the van from which the cops have been listening to everything. They pull guns on him. “You want to talk?,” says Ray. “Let’s talk.”
What could he possibly say? How does Ray Donovan get out of a recording that makes clear he was involved in the deaths of NYPD officers? Is there a way to make it believable that he could have a chance to do so? First, he will probably have to throw Mac and his cohorts under the bus, revealing that their deaths were in part because of their deeply corrupt behavior, and the kidnapping of his daughter. More importantly, this is probably where the investigation into what happened last season and this year’s Sullivan plotline intersect. Ray has the tapes that reveal a major businessman to be the head of a criminal empire. Could he use those as leverage to protect himself and his family? This might be Ray Donovan’s toughest clean-up job yet.
• It’s a shame we haven’t seen more of Kerris Dorsey this year. She really took another step up in terms of performance last season, but she’s reverted into the background this year, given only a brief infidelity subplot that now feels more like a way to push Smitty into his big decision to turn rat. Hopefully she gets a richer arc in the final third.
• I love the largely silent “Previously On” style the show has been using lately, employing almost solely imagery with a brief line of dialogue here and there. It reminds you how underrated this show can be in terms of visual storytelling.
• Speaking of that, props to the first image of Ray this week being him cooking eggs for Molly, a mirror reflection of the final shot of young Ray-Ray cooking eggs when his dad comes home.
• Wouldn’t someone have found the surveillance tapes at Ronnie’s house before Ray? Why wouldn’t Gary himself have gone to get them before taking shots at Jim? Maybe it was locked down, but it seems unlikely that Ray’s hands would be the first on that obvious camera.
• Speaking of Ray’s hands, it was fun to see “Ray Donovan: Origins” again this week in flashbacks, including a time when he took a bat to a guy who owed Jim money before stealing his Yaz jersey. Ray has been creatively solving problems for decades.
• Where do we go in the final third? It’s going to be very difficult for the writers to figure out how Ray survives surveillance about killing cops, but they’ve gotten themselves out of tough corners before. How do you expect them to do so this time?