Ray Donovan, Season 1, Episode 4: “Black Cadillac”
Written by: David Hollander
Directed by: John Dahl
Airs Sundays at 10 PM (ET) on Showtime
Four episodes into Ray Donovan and already a regular viewing pattern emerges. When Ray appears onscreen, the natural reaction is to tense up. These are the moments when the show is at its bleakest; when it truly tries to be a crime drama and not some mishmash of family interludes and semi-comedic relationships that might actually be intended for comedic effect.
When any other tangential Donovan comes onscreen, though, the show’s timbre changes completely. Now Ray Donovan is a black comedy closer to Weeds or Shameless. It’s the humor of Breaking Bad without the actual dark meat of Vince Gilligan’s AMC drama. Ray’s brothers and his father live just as dour lives as Ray himself, yet they manage to enjoy themselves despite unpleasant living situations. The show continues to fracture apart, but now two clear sides have developed. Ray Donovan: crime drama, vs Mickey and the Donovans: dark comedy. Strangely enough, the latter is winning by a mile.
‘Black Cadillac’ starts off with a clear homage to The Sopranos. Confused sexual inadequacies summed up in the surrealism of a dream- that was Tony Soprano’s forte. It’s a shame that Ray is more of a store brand Soprano. Tony’s dreams were art cinema delights; Ray’s bluntly state everything on the nose (Ray worries his father will usurp his patriarchal role in the family Donovan, so naturally his subconscious watches his father sleep with his wife).
And on The Sopranos, each little aside, no matter how small, always added another layer onto the characters. ‘Commendatori’ (famously, the episode where the Sopranos go to Italy) begins with a non-sequitor, wherein an arbitrary upper-middle-class family is carjacked. Yet this adds substance to the episode and to the show’s world. Their car soon becomes a selling point on the Italy trip, while the ramifications of every minor Soprano crime gain a little bit of real-world consequence.
In ‘Black Cadillac,’ when Ray’s daughter Bridget speaks with some potential classmates about redefining herself as a new person in a new school district, it comes off as filler; nothing more. Bridget may want to become her own woman and distance herself from her father’s criminal lifestyle, but all that matters for Bridget in ‘Black Cadillac’ is that she gets a sweet moment with Ray at the episode’s end. The rest might as well not matter.
In Mickey’s case, it’s the exact opposite. Every little detail adds up over the course of the episode- Mickey, his sons, his ex-wife, even Terry all the way back at the boxing gym. By the end of ‘Black Cadillac,’ there’s a clear picture in place of a family that sticks together in their own weird way, despite so many, many troubles.
It helps that nearly all of this is played for comedy. Bunche and Daryll bicker like little boys but come together by the end. Terry has no idea what to do on his date, but more than once turns to Potato Pie, who calmly explains exactly what Terry is doing wrong.
And it’s clear Mickey has no chance with his ex; not through anyone’s actions, but because of a dick joke the show makes early on. When Mickey hands his competition a gift cactus, you can see he’s already got an identical cactus at 20 times the size. ‘Black Cadillac’ doesn’t meander around this at all- the two men are measuring up on the basest level, and the new man is much, much more well endowed than the old.
At this point, Ray Donovan might as well be two separate shows. But where Ray’s show initially outclassed Mickey’s, the tables have now started to turn. Just look at the end of ‘Black Cadillac.’ Ray, his wife and his kids sit down at a table in stony silence. Ray’s secret life (and his insistence on keeping that life a secret) are slowly tearing them apart.
Mickey, on the other hand, drunkenly ambles into a gay bar and dances to his heart’s content, oblivious all the while. It’s stupid (and borders on offensive), but given the story that lead to this moment, it’s actually a little endearing. All Ray has to offer is the same situation every TV antihero has already sat through. He brings nothing new to the table. Mickey’s the flip side of the same character- the broken antihero who somehow manages to foster family togetherness. Despite all the show’s flaws, that’s something genuinely new and different.
As strange as it sounds, Ray Donovan is starting to look like it’d be a much better show without Ray Donovan.