Ray Donovan, Ep 1.08 “Bridget” ekes out a win despite a lack of structure

Photo by Showtime

Ray Donovan, Season 1, Episode : “Bridget”
Written by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: Guy Ferland
Airs Sundays at 10 PM (ET) on Showtime

Eight episodes in and Ray Donovan has a decent level of emotional weight behind its characters. When Ray and Bridget share a tender moment at the close of “Bridget,” there’s real warmth onscreen. The same goes for nearly anyone else- no matter what the situation, these characters are not hollow. They’re people; and despite the show’s continual mistakes, the mere fact that we’ve spent eight hours with these people means we’ve made some tenuous connection with them.

Ray Donovan has grown a small yet functional heart solely by staying above the level of awful. On some weeks the show is genuinely enjoyable. On others it’s not. But so far, the show has never hit such a low to justify turning off the TV entirely, and that is perhaps its biggest achievement right now.

“Bridget” makes all this readily apparent. The episode is riddled with major flaws, yet at the end of the hour there’s still the sense that Ray Donovan is worth watching, if only to spend time with its motley crew of characters.

Characters that fluctuate wildly from scene to scene. In individual moments, it’s easy to root for Ray, especially now that the writers have given him slightly more to do besides scowl and stare blankly into space. But when taken as a whole, Ray (and nearly every other character in his world) are sloppily, inconsistently written. One moment he’s a party animal, cutting loose and sharing a bottle with his alcoholic brother; the next moment he’s chastising that same brother for falling off the wagon. Bridget can scream herself hoarse about how her father is a racist monster who put a gun in her boyfriend’s mouth, but when the writers deem it necessary she’ll snuggle up to him and coo like a doting daughter.

These abrupt tonal shifts can even occur mid-scene. Mickey’s pathetic attempt at seducing Linda (Rosanna Arquette) wavers between black comedy and just plain bleak, and it’s never clear whether we’re supposed to giggle along with Mickey or be horrified by his romantic ineptitude. Abby snuggles up to her husband, then out of nowhere takes on the tone of a guidance counselor and demands “emotional honesty.” Ray responds that she’s crazy, and he’s absolutely right. Normal human beings don’t behave this way.

“Bridget” is so far from a cohesive product that it almost deserves to be judged on an individual, scene-by-scene basis. Anything with Terry is dynamite, solely for Eddie Marsan’s performance. The same goes for Marvin, who’s one of the few characters to actually develop over the course of the past eight episodes.

Photo by Showtime

That, in turn, is Ray Donovan‘s other glaring issue. It’s burned through two-thirds of its first season and has almost nothing to show for it. Ray’s relationship with Mickey is on the same square it was in the pilot, as is the relationship with his wife and his brothers and his co-workers. Outside of Marvin and Terry, none of these characters have grown in the slightest. Mickey is, presumably, the show’s antagonist, yet two episodes in he decided to stop menacing his son and his since become the star of his own Hollywood comedy. Sully, who was introduced to give a jump-start to the show’s central story, has spent three episodes spinning his wheels, and so far hasn’t even left for California.

Ray Donovan is a show without a central conflict or an ongoing story. It’s a collection of scenes that are entertaining in their own right but add up to absolutely nothing. Central characters like Ezra, Daryll or Connor will disappear for weeks on end because the show has no idea what to do with them, and in reality those in charge have no idea how to spin a story that actually advances, week in and week out. Ray Donovan is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour in front of the TV. but come season finale time, it’s highly unlikely the show will be able to do anything truly worthy of our attention.

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