Ray Donovan Ep 1.03 “Twerk” both rises and sinks as the show unravels

Ray Donovan, Season 1, Episode 3: “Twerk”
Written by: Ann Biderman, Ron Nyswaner
Directed by: Greg Yaitanes
Airs Sundays at 10 PM (ET) on Showtime

Last week, Ray Donovan took a turn for the worse. This week, it descends into madness (and worse- mediocrity). As the show’s faults continue to multiply, its few positive aspects find themselves on increasingly unstable ground. Already, Ray Donovan seems close to a total collapse, which begs the question: can it really survive another nine episodes?

Once again, the high points of the episode are the few moments that Ray spends doing his job as a high-profile Hollywood fixer, and the few moments spent with Eddie Marsan’s brother Terry. The fixer-of-the-week plot seems to take up less and less time with each passing episode, but in doing so Ray’s character seems somewhat ungrounded. The show provides fleeting glimpses into his mysterious past, hints that Mickey’s 20-year stint in jail was Ray’s doing, and builds Abby’s character almost entirely on her crumbling relationship with Ray. Yet the show reveals so little about Ray himself- his day-to-day work, his morals, the essence of who he his- that a haze of unclear motivations and vague personalities ends up clouding the show.

Ray is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, but Mickey has quickly become a cartoon jester, and every time he appears in ‘Twerk’ the show abruptly changes direction towards some bizarre dark comedy. Last week, Mickey educated his grandson on the ins and outs of prison sex. This week, Mickey lightens the mood at a molestation support group with some pedophilia jokes, then heads to the library to watch music videos full of big bouncin’ butts, turning up the volume and leering at the screen. The rest of Ray Donovan is relentlessly dark and brooding at every point except for these few moments when Mickey shows up to try and coax out a big belly laugh. Oddly enough, these moments are somewhat watchable- not by their own merits, but in a ‘laughing at’ more than a ‘laughing with’ kind of way.

‘Twerk’ seems as though it’s been pieced together from several different series. Already it’s gritty a crime thriller and a zany dark comedy, but the brief period spent with Terry and his nurse resemble FX’s Louie more than anything else. Terry’s social ineptitude has an oddball charm to it, and already the two have a gruff sort of rapport that’s incredibly easy (and fun) to watch. Once again, it’s a world away from the rest of Ray Donovan, but in this case that’s a good thing.

There’s one more element that ‘Twerk’ throws in for a last-minute twist. It seems that the FBI (or, at the bare minimum, one dogged FBI agent) has plans to take down Ray’s whole operation. For a TV antihero, this is the most common thing in the world. Vic Mackey, Tony Soprano, Walter White and countless others all faced a constant threat from the law. But where those men differ from Ray is that it’s made very clear what Vic, Tony and Walt were doing to draw the ire of the authorities. With Ray, it’s not at all apparent why the government would want to take down an enterprise that tamps down tabloid news stories, and this twist just adds another layer of confusion onto a show already beleaguered with it.

Perhaps Ray Donovan will improve in the coming weeks. More likely, it won’t, but rather fragment off into different sections, with each one becoming its own unique little island in a sea of mediocrity. And in all honesty, that wouldn’t be too bad. A show as strange is this is far more interesting than one that’s mediocre across the board.

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