Nicole Phillis and I “Geek Out” on Ray Donovan

Some of you know that one of my roles in life is as an elected Commissioner of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. Our current Board Chair is Nicole Phillis, who is not only a policy ally but has also become a dear friend. Among the many things I admire about her is our mutual love of Showtime’s Ray Donovan, the Liev Schreiber-led drama about a Boston transplant to L.A. who serves as a fixer to the high and mighty (as well as the underbelly), and covers the various drama surrounding his family. Nicole and I took some time away from our various duties to discuss the show.

TODD

Nicole – you’ve mentioned to me, and posted to your facebook community, that you are loving the current season, season 4, of Ray Donovan. Is it thus far your favorite? I am enjoying it too, but wonder where it’s going, or what the cliffhanger/conclusion might arise. Instead of staying fairly steady with one or two stories, we seem to have spread the field with the following 6-8. In no particular order:

  • Ray getting sober and attending therapy as – finally – an admitted victim of sexual abuse
  • Ray as a fixer for a championship boxer who is having an incestuous relationship with his troubled, drug-addled sister, played brilliantly by Lisa Bonet
  • Abby Donovan fighting breast cancer
  • Terry discovering a promising young boxer in the form of a punk kid who mugged him
  • Bunchy and Teresa having a baby and Teresa’s post-partem? long-term? depression
  • Mickey’s State-line Nevada schemes and adventures

And, to a lesser extent, some interesting storylines:

  • Bridget leaving home in disgust of the Donovan lifestyle and defiantly dating her former math teacher, played by the guy who played “Pete Campbell-whisperer/foil Ken Cosgrove on Mad Men
  • Hank Azaria, the disgraced (thanks to Ray and Co.) former head of the FBI in L.A. sticking around and actually working with Ray on some schemes

One might think – and I might normally say to myself – “whoa, so many great things going on, it’s an embarrassment of riches!” But thinking as a critic might, I feel that tackling so much has weakened some of the story lines, perhaps spreading things too thin. In fact, some have somewhat disappeared.

Here are some of my questions:

Where has Father Romero disappeared to? The always reliable Leland Orser (a.k.a. Mr. Jeanne Tripplehorn) plays a convincing priest who was determined to see Ray admit to the murder of his abusing priest and find forgiveness and healing. It seemed set up to make Father Romero a key ingredient of the season, but he has basically disappeared. I think he’s a fascinating character. I think they should dig deeper into him, because clearly he has some demons that led him if not to the church, to at least the work he’s doing inside the church.

Where is Bridge?  Played by the clearly-more-mature-than-her-18-years Kerris Dorsey, who before Ray Donovan played Brad Pitt’s guitar-obsessed daughter in Moneyball, sort of pops up here and there to show the family some conditional love. The misadventures she could be going through could be almost worthy of a spinoff.

Are we supposed to think Daryll has a chance with Lisa Bonet?  I love Pooch Hall as 4th brother Daryll, and NOT just because it allows me to say “Pooch Hall.” He sort of goes with the flow each season, and sticks with Mickey despite his penchant for always screwing up his life. He seems to always land on his feet, and he is clearly interested or fascinated by Bonet’s character “Marisol.”

Can I say I want to punch the CHARACTER of Conor Donovan out loud and not be seen as a horrible person? … no, I’m really asking.

Curious about your thoughts thus far, where you think it might go or where you want it to. In my next round, as part of my response I’ll share with you my favorite season of Ray Donovan and why.

NICOLE P.

Todd, first I want to say, how THRILLED I am to have someone to geek out with over Ray Donovan.  Ray, along with Escaping Polygamy (we will have to save that for a later date), are my must-see shows of the season.

First, to your point about the multiplicity of plot lines, I do not think it is that much different from the prior seasons.  For example, in Season 1 (which I most recently watched last weekend in my passion for more RD), you had Bunchy’s alcoholism and his settlement, Terry’s burgeoning romance with Frances (“she puts the lotion in the basket”), you had Sully coming across the country for Mickey, you had Mickey coming after Antonio Sabato Jr. (all I could think about was the Republican Convention), you had the Ray-obsessed singer-turned-actress with epilepsy, Ezra’s brain tumor, the murder of Bunchy’s molester.

What I like about Ray Donovan is that you see a lot of the same players again, building on prior seasons, even if they are not part of the main cast.  So, for example, Stu Feldman made his debut in Season 1, and he is still kicking in Season 4 (although this time it is he who has the penchant for transsexuals, not Tommy Wheeler, who also makes appearances in Season 4).  I do not think I would have noticed this as much if I had not re-watched Season 1, but the continuity is really remarkable.

More to your point about what I love about this season, it really feels like it has come into its own as a noir.  We know Ray’s demons, we know his struggles, we saw him begin this season by taking not only a moral, but also a religious oath.  And yet, we have seen that same morality lead him down this all-too-familiar path of fixing, bribing, murdering, etc.  The difference this season is that Ray seems to have a much greater degree of self-awareness, both as to the harm this does to himself and the harm it does to others.

The role of the Texan this season exemplifies this beautifully.  He returns in a Dickens-esque aura; he is the Ghost of Ray’s Christmas Future.  The first time you see him through Ray’s eyes, he’s mowing the lawn in a perfectly pedestrian neighborhood.  No one would ever imagine that the same man was Ezra’s darkest, most cold-blooded fixer.  We have heard repeatedly that Ezra “protected” Ray from the darkest jobs — those that went to the Texan.  So now Ray comes face to face with the Texan, who is grippingly mortal after two shots in the gut by Agador (er, I mean, Hank Azaria’s brilliantly-played Ed Cochran).  Ray visits him in the hospital room as he lays, fighting for his life, and meets his beautiful daughter — to which both men lie to and claim they were insurance men.  When we return to the empty hospital bed and realize the Texan has died, the daughter tells Ray she knows that the Texan was not an insurance sales man and neither is Ray.  This should be an “a-ha” moment for Ray, as he starts to realize the impact of his profession on the people he loves around him.

So this brings me to what I think is the theme of this season, Ray’s reckoning, for the first time, with the impact of his life choices on the people he loves the most. We see Abby shoot the Russian henchman who has come to murder Ray. And, she has breast cancer, which forces Ray to confront again his feelings about the loss of his mother and the absenteeism of his father. We see Conor playing with guns in one of the most ill-founded and frightening attempts to emulate his father I have ever seen (great acting, but my God, Conor, no one likes you).  We see (a little) of Bridget, who has continued to struggle with her daddy issues despite having the strength to leave Ken Cosgrove after learning that she is not his first underage tryst.  I am still wondering what will come of Abby’s catching Bridget’s friend from Venice beach in a porno, but maybe that plot point will fall by the wayside.

So now, my greatest fear: please, please do not let Avi die.  The most recent episode was my least favorite, mostly because I am really, really afraid that Ray’s actions have finally caught up with him and Avi is the sacrificial lamb.  I realize this is unlikely, but I am really worried because Avi was not looking good and his Russian captors were looking really, really mean.  Of course, this would make sense, given that Avi acts as an oracle of types in these situations and Avi told Ray he needed to kill Sonia. Recall, as well, that it was Abby who pleaded for Sonia’s life. If Avi dies, it would also be the symbolic death of the harsher, darker, more ruthless part of Ray — the original Ray, of Ezra’s order, the successor to the Texan.  If Avi lives, I would expect the darker Ray to come back with a full vengeance.

I cannot believe I have another five days until the next episode.  Until then, I will have to split my time between Season 2 and the Bachelor in Paradise.  Just hoping Avi can hang on that long.

TODD

Your incredible perspective is inspiring!  Before I respond to certain points, however – the thoughts that immediately entered my mind upon reading your initial post:

  • How could I forget the ENTIRE storyline involving the Russians, Embeth Davidtz (Sonia), and Jacob Waller?! (Gabriel Mann, a.k.a Bourne’s Treadstone CIA lackey, Revenge’s “Yacht Attired” Nolan Ross) … Kind of a big deal!
  • Speaking of “American Girl” Frances – don’t you think it’s a bit creepy – and can’t possibly be coincidental, no? – that Ted Levine appears this season as a character named BUFFALO (fricken’) BILL Primm?!?
  • I was struggling to remember Trump-supporting dolt Antonio Sabato Jr. from season 1, until I realized you have nothing to fear, Nicole. You meant Johnathon Schaech (formerly Mr. Christina Applegate), who played Hollywood action star Sean Walker, for whom Mickey took the fall and went to prison.

Now, Nicole, we all love Avi, and NOT only because Steven Bauer can play a great Israeli on par to his native Cubano.  But one thing I have resigned myself to is the higher than high probability that either Avi or Lena are going to die.  And given the reasons you state – the Avi as “Ray’s Oracle” being very compelling, and thus such a compass disappearing would really personally HURT Ray (and thus makes for a better story) – he does seem to be the most likely. Plus, Lena was also Shane on “the L Word,” and Shane got away with literally everything. Will his death happen now? Perhaps. But I think if Avi is KILLED, not if he lives, we see Ray go to his darkest and burn every baddy around him to the fricken’ ground. Why do you see him darker if Avi LIVES?

And here’s the other thing that I don’t even think we confront right now, but have to consider, especially given the Soprano’s finale … Does Ray himself survive this series?  I don’t see it happening. … I’m just going to leave that there, possibly for our future Blog Post – “Todd and Nicole Break Down the SERIES Finale of Ray Donovan”… which I hope is years away but I fear is not (Liev wants to go back to movies, I have heard from a good source).

The Texan is very much Ray’s Ghost of Christmas Future (good call), and I think this character device has been introduced and used beautifully. Whether Ray learns anything from this or is moved to change at all by the words of the Texan’s daughter remains to be seen. Whether he wants to admit it or not, FAMILY is paramount to Ray. Does that make him hold back just enough to survive? Or does his commitment to his family, rampant with fuck-ups and dependents who can barely tie their shoes without him, become his eventual undoing? Again, we shall see.

Now, to your overall point that there really have been multiple plot lines this whole time, you are so right the more I think about it. There really was a lot going on in each season, including MY favorite season, Season 2.

Why? Because I love how everything that ended Season 1 starts to come home to roost, and how they barely get out of it all. Think about it – not only is the FBI on their tail, but so is the alluring Boston newspaper reporter Kate McPherson, with whom Ray has a dalliance but who is later killed. It introduces us to Hank Azaria’s FBI head, and expert swinger, Ed Cochran, and Mickey’s boarding house living and supervision by parole officer Ronald Keith (played by personal favorite and the “I’m seen everywhere and act in everything” pro, Wendell Pierce), whom Ray has to corrupt through expanding his gambling habit (wow, almost out of breath). Everything goes down with regard to Bridget getting into the right school, and Abby’s desire to relocate to Trousdale and dealing with the snobby wives, not to mention her affair with Jim the cop! Plus, we see Ray go very dark to avenge Marvin and Rekon, Bridge’s ex-boyfriend (and Romeo to her Juliet), killing Cookie and his thugs in the process to protect their music.  Throw in wacky Ashley and Ray being sucked in to protecting her from a stalker, and I think season 2 just edges out the other 3… and is proof that maybe, in fact, I don’t mind a lot of things going on at once!

NICOLE P.

Inspired by your astute post, I have re-watched, “Goodbye Beautiful” to refresh my recollection.

The only thing it really did is make me worry more for Avi.  Avi repeatedly told Ray he was heading down the wrong path.  First, about Ray burning his memories of seasons past (Avi said something along the lines of “get rid of the feelings, not the things”).  Then, about saving Sonia (although Ray has always had a weak spot for femme fatales, so it is not at all out of character for him to spare Sonia).

Interestingly, this seems to be somewhat of an inversion of the Kate McPherson situation in which everyone tells Ray to kill Kate, Ray goes on a crusade to save her (even though she could destroy him), and then Avi sneaks in and kills her to protect Ray.

Now, Ray cannot save himself and he has imperiled everyone he loves because of his inability to kill Sonia.  The more I think about it, the more likely it is that Avi will die (or that Avi may be the cliffhanger).  I think, if Avi dies, it may also be a symbolic death of the part in Ray, like the Texan, who is more brutal, ends-oriented, and amoral.  Your call that, if Avi dies, it may push Ray into his shame-destructo-death spiral is also fair.  We have definitely seen that before. (I mean, isn’t that basically the premise of the series?)  But the emphasis this season on a fairly blunt struggle between “Good/New Ray” and “Bad/Old Ray” makes me think that maybe if Avi dies, it is supposed to signal the demise of the ways of Ray’s past.  But I could be persuaded otherwise.

Avi’s statement about Lena to Ray, that “She is stronger than the two of us” makes me think that it might be Lena’s time to shine and save the day.  Not that this is much of a character evolution (seriously, what do we really, really know about Lena other than the fact that she is a bad-ass lesbian with chronic relationship problems), but I have a real penchant for strong women (literally, Ray Donovan is the only show that I love that is not primarily woman-driven), so if this were the plot twist at the end, I’d be totally down.

Speaking of women, I would be remiss if I did not mention the seemingly miraculous quasi-recovery of everyone’s favorite luchadora, Teresa.  I must say, from a feminist perspective, while I am happy Ray Donovan is bringing visibility to the issue of postpartum depression, I’ve got to admit, this is not the most multi-dimensional portrayal I have ever seen.  Basically, we hear that Teresa has had significant bouts of depression and self-harming episodes for years, so we should not be surprised that she is basically catatonic after giving birth.  That’s not exactly how postpartum works, but OK.  Then, Teresa goes from basically being nonresponsive (at best) to suicidal/homicidal (at worst), to now being quasi-cured, presumably by the Donovan-brand TLC at the hospital.  Also, not quite how it works, which makes me wonder whether the show is being intentionally simplistic or if there is really more in store for the Teresa storyline. Her unpredictability makes me seriously worried about her well-being (and the well-being of everyone around her). And I am a little annoyed with RD writing for using the baby to heighten the anxiety every time we see Teresa (this device was used to a lesser degree in season 1 with Sean Walker and the baby who is kidnapped by Sully).  Her absence from the previews next week also have me a bit on edge (especially because I love saying Dash Mihok — which, to me, sounds like a dirty joke — as much as you get a kick out of Pooch Hall), but I guess we will wait and see.

Lastly, brilliant calls on both Ned Levine (I cannot believe I did not catch that, but closing my eyes and listening to his voice, holy crap — what is with Ray Donovan’s love affair with Silence of the Lambs) and Jonathan Schaech (apparently, I need to re-watch “That Thing You Do.”)  Next time, I will do better. 🙂

TODD

Again, some very astute takes on your part as well. They have sort of speeded up Teresa’s manic states in a way that suggests efficiency over science. But my take is — she is acting. She’s not ok at all, and something bad may be coming for her, Bunchy, or the baby (or, in true RD style, perhaps all 3. And speaking of Bunchy, I, too, love saying Dash Mihok and have always found him to be a solid actor over the years. Also… he’s been around a LONG time. He’s aging quite enviably.

So, if this is our final round, let’s talk open questions, predictions, and wish lists:

Questions

  • Will Abby do anything to treat her cancer, even alternative medicine? Will something snap her into action? She’s so tough, I really don’t see her dying.
  • Again, where is Father Romero? I am not satisfied with the way the show has underused him, or only used him for short term gain

Predictions

  • A crowd favorite has to die. Tragedy must befall somebody important to Ray. My guess is it will be Avi or — and I know this is gross but I feel like they may be going there — Teresa drowns the baby.
  • I think you are right about Lena. I predict she saves the day in some way, or provides solace that is helpful. Maybe she can help Lisa Bonet’s “Marisol” in some way? I thought that’s where they might go when she swept her away from that first interview and babysat her in the hotel. But she hasn’t been with her since. We already know Lena has a soft side — look at how she and her former partner, an oncologist, took Abby out for a good time and encouraged her to save herself
  • Mickey will get away with it or somehow mess up the life of one of his children again (easy pickin’s, I know). In my case for Season 2, I forgot, of course, that he left his son Terry (the show’s most noble character, btw) to rot in the pot shop when the robbery went south. Mickey is a cancer. Jon Voigt (who should really have us thinking about a Republican convention nightmare) deserves Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his portrayal of Mickey. But man is this guy more likely to win “Worst Father of this or Any Year?”
  • Ray won’t kill Sonia, but he’ll frame her for something in some way that makes another person want to, and subsequently, kill her.

Wish List

  • Ed Cochran comes to work full time for the firm, particularly to fill the 3rd slot if a certain someone meets his fate
  • Longer term wish — Bridget never comes home again for anything other than visits. She meets a nice guy who is just crazy for her and also happens to have a father that’s a talented music producer. She finishes her education and makes it in music (I don’t know why I have a soft spot for her. She might seem very bratty to most, but compared to her “wanna be gangster” brother, she clearly knows right from wrong [in a criminal sense, not in affairs of the heart], and hey — it is a wish list. Somebody has to get a happy ending.
  • Father Romero return to at least get Hector on the right path — sober and away from Marisol. He retakes the title and never looks back
  • For Daryll to land a wounded Marisol and have his positive energy turn her life around a bit, and for her to get him away from every one of Mickey’s silly demands
  • Finally, I would really love to see a cliffhanger that is very “The Dark Knight.” That is to say, I want 2, preferably 3 characters to be in desperate need of Ray’s help at the same time, and him forced to chose the 1, maybe 2, he can help in time. … we don’t find out the results until next season!

I’ll give you the last word.  Thank you — this has  been a blast!

NICOLE P.

I love it! And I formally request we keep this conversation going with debriefs after the next episode.

On the Teresa point, I do not actually think that she is acting.  She seemed genuine in the car — like whacking someone in the head with Bridget’s guitar magically cured her postpartum. I still do not like the idea of leaving her with a baby, but I do not think that RD is going to take on postpartum and filicide.  Call me crazy, but I just do not see it happening.  Babies rarely get murdered on television, and given the show’s Catholic appeal, I would be shocked if that is where RD goes.  Maybe that’s the cliffhanger?

Which leads me to questions, predictions and wishes:

Questions

  • Agree, where the heck is Father Romero?  And what does he think of Ray’s transformation?
  • What’s going on with the Armenians?  Did I miss something (entirely possible) or did Mickey basically avoid certain death only because he was released?  Have the Armenians been fully placated?
  • Did Hector ever actually fight the dude he was supposed to fight?  Is that coming up?  I know he “got” the fight after it was taken away from him, but do we actually know what happened?
  • Have we seen the last of the DA who Ray was trailing re Belikov when Ray framed him for the Armenian mass murder?  I feel like his character was fairly developed and law enforcement that developed usually plays some role in future episodes.
  • Speaking of law enforcement, was the murder of Detective Muncie ever resolved?  Do I just pay very little attention?

Predictions

  • Something’s got to happen with the $4 million that Mick stole.  Someone is going to need that money, and it’s not Mick since Sylvie is now dead.  I fully expect it to come back in play given that the spare $4 mill now needs a good home.
  • Conor will continue to be a human wrecking ball.  We’ve seen Conor playing with fire all season long.  And he’s escalating.  I really loved the trip to Skid Row, but I feel like we are going to see Conor make a couple more mistakes (and probably big ones) before this season is over.
  • Terry finally finds love.  The problem is that his love is a cop, which could present some problems for the Donovan family way.
  • Avi survives.  RD has not killed off a seminal character since Ezra, and I don’t think it should start now.  Avi still has more growing to do, and Ray has not yet realized the debt he owes to him, so Avi needs to live.
  • Marisol dies.  For a very Catholic show, there is not much redemption for the women on this show.  Most of them die, or get swept off, or … die.  Marisol is broken and there is no fixing her in three episodes — not by Daryll, or Hector, or anyone.  And when Marisol dies, Hector finally gets his clean start (only to be haunted by his dead sister).  Alternatively, Marisol might not die, but Hector dies.  But I think that is a less likely result.
  • Sonia returns and screws over Ray. Then she dies.  Because if Avi lives, then I think he does not miss his second chance with Sonia.  I do not think this means Ray has to kill her, but I think she definitely gets killed (the fact that she is dying anyway makes me believe there is some sort of self-sacrifice on her part to save Ray/Avi/Abby and to obtain redemption).
  • That James Spader-circa Pretty in Pink-looking lawyer gets killed.  He’s definitely dying, that smug jerk.  And mostly, I just want to call him Blaine.  He’s a bad dude and something has to happen to him since Vlad is now dead.

Wish List

  • Abby gets sicker before it gets better.  Ray and Abby need to both realize what they have, and while this season has gotten them closer, I do not think they are quite there yet.  Abby needs a bit more of a scare to make her realize her own mortality.
  • More Bunchy.  I do not really care about what happens, but Bunchy is one of my all-time favorites.  His childlike-ness is incredibly sweet, and he often provides incredible comic relief.
  • Teresa goes back to treatment and Abby adopts the baby.  It seems like the baby gives Abby something new to live for, and postpartum depression does not just go away.  I am a little worried that Teresa might kill herself, and then Abby has to adopt the baby, which I think is probably a more likely result.
  • No more Marisol.  Her character is painful, and I really, really do not like that she raped her brother repeatedly.  She is also totally toxic to Hector and has not been held accountable for any of her actions.  Goodbye, Marisol, you make me anxious.
  • More Lena, all day.  Lena deserves love.  Lena deserves professional success. She has been playing second fiddle to Avi so far, but this season it seems like she is really coming into her own.
  • Mick finds love.  I don’t think it will happen this season, and when it does, I think it will likely be the end of the series.  But every time Mick loves a woman, she dies.  He’s like the absolute worst.  Maybe it is Claudette.  Whatever happened to Claudette?  She disappeared at the end of season 2 apparently, but I cannot remember what happened.  I guess we will see.
  • MORE BOB SEGER RAY DONOVAN KARAOKE. Can I just say how much I LOVE that montage to “We’ve Got Tonight”? Because I re-watched Ep. 4, Season 4 just for that bit. It was brilliant, and one of my favorite moments with Agador Cochran…. More Bob Seger, always more Bob Seger.

So now it needs to be Sunday so I can watch the new episode in all its glory.  Looking forward to our next dialogue.

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3 Comments

  1. I am DEFINITELY not as geeky as you, although I love the show. I’m an actor and former theater, so I watch all aspects of the production. Thanks for turning me on to this blog. One question– which one was Sonia?? There are so many plot .ines I have trouble keeping them all straight. 😄☀️

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