On a narrative level, “Same Exactly” ties up all the necessary loose ends. The three major conflicts that had to be dealt with- the unhinged, still-on-the-loose Sully, Frank and the FBI potentially taking Ray down, and the sudden reveal of Ray’s molestation as a child- are wrapped up with a nice dollop of closure for each. Ray Donovan even manages to reverse one of the more gaping holes in the show’s logic. For an entire season we waited to find out just why Ray wanted his father dead; last week’s reveal pointed the way forward and now “Same Exactly” gives us a genuine, compelling reason. That Ray’s been acting out the revenge fantasy he’s had since childhood makes perfect sense. His motivation never seemed fully-formed, which matches perfectly with the anger a child would have at a neglectful father.
It’s amazing what a few story limitations can do. When Ray Donovan has a whole city at its disposal, with recurring parts and guest stars galore, it gets sidetracked with alarming frequency. Yet force Ray Donovan into a bottle episode, and its rambling nature starts to fade away. The show is able to play far more to its strengths, and delivers a satisfying gut punch with “Bucky F**n’ Dent.”
Few things are more frustrating than seeing a series make the same mistakes, week in and week out. Ray Donovan chugs along towards its eventual conclusion, and what plagued those early episodes continues to plague “Fite Nite.” There’s been no improvements on the weak characterization, poor pacing, poor plotting and the total absence of believable actions taken by these characters.
With “Road Trip,” Ray Donovan attempts to draw a Shakespearean parallel between its twin protagonists- Ray and Mickey. Both are tied by family. Both seek to destroy the other, by violent and/or underhanded means. Both tout that they’re holding the family together, but in reality Ray and Mickey are the two biggest fault lines that all the Donovan cracks and crevices stem from.
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.
It may have taken seven episodes to get us there, but Ray Donovan finally convinced its lead character to do something interesting. Watching Ray put himself repeatedly in harm’s way (to the absolute bafflement of those he’s trying to get through) almost approaches the level of charming. Especially with the overall, off-kilter weirdness of Sully’s Boston surroundings.
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.
With its second episode, Ray Donovan seems content to coast along the standards set by the pilot. Like its predecessor, “A Mouth is a Mouth” is split down the middle, with the Hollywood fixer side vastly outperforming the family drama side. This week follows Ray down a continuation of last week’s initial fix, as Tommy Wheeler finds himself being blackmailed by the transsexual he was involved with in the pilot, all while Mickey continues to bond with Ray’s wife and kids (much to the chagrin of Ray).