Ray Donovan, Season 1, Episode 6: “Housewarming”
Written by: Brett Johnson
Directed by: Michael Uppendahl
Airs Sundays at 10 PM (ET) on Showtime
Finally, someone else has come along and shown Ray Donovan how to create a genuinely emotional character moment rather than the show’s usual vague, tepid mess.
That other party? Well, it’s still Ray Donovan, but this lesson comes courtesy of the show’s other half- the Donovan bros. and their (somewhat) lighter side. Specifically: Bunche. Past episodes provide clear insight into who Bunche is- an addict and a manchild, yet someone who desperately craves affection. Bunche just wants to be a regular guy and have the regular life that was robbed of him by his molester, but he has absolutely no idea how to do it (and his only influence, Mickey, isn’t a terrific one).
So when Bunche overdoes and drinks with his dad, we know it’s because he hate being treated as though he’s not every bit the man his brothers are. And when he goes upstairs with the prostitute, we know it’s for the same reason. And because we know what Bunche’s past is like, it’s apparent that Bunche’s going to implode in on himself long before he actually does. This is good character work.
Now let’s look at Ray. After securing Connor in the car (yet before figuring out where Bridget is), he draws a gun, pistol-whips his father and then smiles manically while planning to pull the trigger. Then, realizing that his whole family is staring at him, he gets into his car and drives off.
Actions need explanation. Characters need motivation. This whole sequence is one giant question mark- what is it about Mickey that would make Ray willing to execute him in public with his kids watching? Why do these two have against each other? Why does Ray do anything at all?
It really feels like the show is keeping this info safeguarded until a last-minute reveal in the final (or maybe the penultimate episode). We’ll finally learn what awful event occurred to make Ray send his dad to jail, and it’ll explain all the actions both characters have taken all season. But until that happens, Ray will stay a wafer-thin character; a wispy haze of potential motivations, scowls and random violence.
But luckily, “Housewarming” has very little Ray and a whole lot of everyone else- specifically, those characters that act as lone sparks of goodness in drearier episodes. The bulk of this week is the titular party, and thankfully Ray Donovan’s blandest characters were left off the guest list. Terry, Mickey and Bunche are the mainstays here. And Ezra, a character usually stuck somewhere between syrupy sentimentality and stupid crudities (don’t forget to look for his bare ass poking out of a hospital gown), gets completely remade into a snarling villain. The brief peek at evil Ezra seems genuine, but later episodes will see if he gets lumped with the dullards or the more exciting bunch.
Van Miller gets a boost too, but it’s hampered by one of the show’s biggest weakness- blatantly copying other people’s work. The ‘acid trip episode’ concept will forever bear the mark of Mad Men. For Ray Donovan to do the same thing would require some kind of uniqueness that the show simply isn’t capable of pulling off. The capuchin in the suit is cute, but the material can’t stand against Mad Men’s real thing. And when Ray shows up at the end, turning the cowering, childlike Van Miller’s action figures into some bizarre sex thing, Ray shoots beyond troubled anti-hero territory into something much creepier. Miller, with his obsessive eating habits and his dorky leanings, seems innocent and almost likable, turning Ray into the childhood bully.
The biggest steal of the night, however, goes to Miller’s acid-soaked driving skills. The gag where he thinks he’s speeding but is actually going three mph? Almost word-for-word out of the Chris Farley vehicle Tommy Boy. Definitely one of the more shameless moves Ray Donovan has pulled so far.
But this week, at least, “Housewarming” has far more going for it than the average week spent with the Donovan clan. Fewer grievous errors. Less stolen material. Less Ray. Hopefully the rest of the season can match that.