Todd & Nicole Discuss “Ray Donovan,” S. 5, Episodes 1-3

Returning from Vancouver on Monday, August 7, I was eager to return home and catch up with Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks. But August 6 was also the season premiere of personal and Showtime favorite “Ray Donovan.” Now into season 5, we left the Donovan clan in Season 4 relatively intact. In fact, their ability to wind their way out of a sticky situation with the Russian mob, and turn a boxing match’s pre-ordained “dive” into their man winning the fight, left us in the unnatural place of a happy ending!

Season 5 begins with a few episodes that go for the “Memento effect.” Chronological weaving and bobbing reveals that Abby has died, the family has opened a bar in her name, Bunchy is trying to fit into Teresa’s Lucha Libre family wrestling band, and Terry is moving toward marriage with Maureen the cop from a cop family. Mickey seems to be in good graces with Ray, and is busy writing a screenplay. Ray is back to work, and has tried to hire Bunchy but he quickly grows frustrated and feeling inferior after criticism from Lena. Bunchy also fails out of the Lucha Libre effort, having blown his moves during rehearsals, so off Teresa goes on a 3 weeks tour, leaving Bunchy and the baby. Bunchy is now considering a sizeable investment in a public storage building space.

Elsewhere, Bridget has trekked to New York in search of a young man who is mysteriously tied to Abby’s final days. The “cases,” or meaty side stories, for Ray to deal with are presented to the audience. One centers around a young star who has apparently shot and her abusive husband she was in the process of divorcing; The other centers around control of a storied movie studio whose board of directors seem to have lost faith in its matriarch, played by (no friend of mine lately) Susan Sarandon. Another side story comes up in Episode 3, as FBI Agent Frank Barnes tracks down Mickey to warn him Avi is selling off the assets they seized from the Russians at the end of last season, and using Frank’s name to legitimize it.

To help make sense of episodes 1, 2, and 3, I naturally turn to my friend Nicole Phillis, a “Maester” of Ray Donovan fan theory and commentary.

TODD: Nicole, I’m really excited to be back talking Ray Donovan with you this year!  Here are my questions and thoughts for you to respond to up front:

  • Were Ray and Abby finally happy? Or do you think there will be more complications to their relationship following her seizure in Vegas? Do you think we’ll see her pass away with them on good terms?
  • We now know that Ray gave into temptation with young starlet Natalie James following their dog walk encounter, flashed back to in Episode 3 … do we suspect that Ray goes down a sexual rabbit hole with this woman now that she’s a client in the present day?
  • I thought we were going to be spared much of annoying son Connor Donovan as we see him call home from military school in the season opener. But Terry visits him in Episode 3 to watch him lose his cool in a wrestling match, and declare he wants to go into the marines after H.S. graduation. My question – what do we have to do to get rid of this kid (actor Devon Bagby, who I hope and assume is a nice kid)
  • Given Terry has now admitted his fling in Pahrump, NV, and the brawl between the families at the wedding reception, do you see Terry and Maureen lasting? I do hope for some lasting happiness for Terry, and for
  • Are you as hopeful as I am that the show will get as into these cases – Natalie James and the Susan Sarandon’s character – as they do family issues? I love the Donovan family drama, but it would be good to get back to some good old fashioned “fixing,” you know what I mean?
  • One good example is – will Mickey reign in Avi? Will he, as I fear, keep it from Ray only to have the whole thing blow up in his face?

NICOLE: Todd!  So glad to be chatting with you about Ray Donovan again.  The hiatus was almost too much for me to take.  I’ve now been able to make it through the first three episodes, and I will say, it is moving a touch more slowly than I would have expected in some areas, and much more quickly in others.

First of all, Abby is dead.  But how?  Was it the cancer?  Was it a traumatic brain injury? I think it was the cancer, but something tells me that the car accident is also significant. Maybe it was just as simple as where Ray first encounters Natalie James, but I feel like the bump on Abby’s head is more important than just that. They made too much of it for it to just be irrelevant.  And we can now see that, like Mickey (who, as Terry tells us, screwed around on his wife as she was dying of cancer), Ray is also screwing around on Abby when she is in treatment. Which begs the question, are we going to see Ray make the decision this season ultimately whether to become his father or to become his own man?

In many ways, this season is a return to other early themes (as many final seasons are wont to do).  Ray’s back working for studios.  Mick is back trying to make movies.  There is a starlet rolling around who reminds me a bit of Ashley (Ambyr Childers), and I do think that Ray will absolutely get up to his old tricks with her.  How far will this go?  I think renaissance and Ray’s autonomy are going to be seriously examined this season.

I love that Susan Sarandon is being featured this season (although I do disagree with some of her more recent political statements).  She seems to have been underutilized thus far, so I am very curious about where we will end up with her and whether she will actually end up being the monster she is represented to be.

My favorite and most intriguing plot right now is Bridget.  Why is she so angry with Ray?  And who is this cancer patient who seemingly screwed up Abby’s treatment?  What happened there?

As for Terry in Pahrump, we now know he absolutely did have sex with a prostitute, and that he comes clean about it.  His relationship with Maureen seems uncertain, but honestly, it’s the most boring of all of Terry’s relationships, and I’m having a bit of difficulty getting back into it.

But Bunchy.  Oh man. I love that he has reconciled with his Luchadora, but there are so many things we need to understand.  When did Teresa magically re-emerge from her postpartum depression?  How is she so seemingly stable now?  What is going to happen when she’s on the road and with a bunch of men.   What is the scheme with Ray’s accountant and Bunchy’s investment.  And how does that hook up with Bunch apparently getting kidnapped and ransomed.  I love Bunchy’s character so much, but I have a feeling that he is going to have some serious troubles (and infidelity) in his marriage.

Lastly, any Ray Donovan commentary would be incomplete if I neglected to mourn the disappearance of Avi.  We’ve seen Avi disappear before (when Ray shunned Avi for killing Kate), but I’m seriously worried about his future.  The fact that he is now tangled up with Frank Barnes and Mick is absolutely not a good sign, and I agree that we will likely see Mick and Frank try to handle this until its too late and then Ray needs to swoop in and save him again.

TODD: All good comments and takes, Nicole. Here’s one thing I think we need to recognize going forward. On billboards and posted bills all over town here in L.A., the tagline for this season of Ray Donovan is, Some Damage Can’t Be Controlled.” Which damage!?!  That’s what we’re going to have to guess at. Obviously, Abby for starters. But we already know about Abby. So how bad is it going to get? My guess is – possible jail terms for multiple Donovans bad. They have to go that way after last season’s rather beneficial ends for the family, do they not?  We’re talking rock bottom stuff.

So our job becomes my favorite part of any Ray Donovan piece here at “Todd Flora’s America” … PREDICTIONS!!  Here are a few worst-case scenarios for us to consider, based on how madcap I think things could get – warning: multiple storylines ahead.

  1. Ray could fail at some level of Anger Management courses and tee off C. Thomas Howell’s counselor character enough to bust him with his P.O. Connor goes into the Foster Care system, or worse – has Mick as his guardian
  2. Ray somehow makes things worse for Natalie James, or she for him (holding over the guilt of screwing her while Abby was sick). He accidentally kills her in a passionate fit of rage (remember: anger management)
  3. Natalie James gets on the wrong side of Michael Gill’s studio/producer character (the guy that hired him) and Susan Sarandon, forcing Ray up to have to make a decision between his two clients, ending up on the wrong side in the process. “Never work in this town again” status abounds.
  4. Teresa and Bunchy are somehow not going to make it. She feels no ties to the Donovan family, despite getting involved in taking out Bill Primm last season in Vegas. The Luchadora tour succeeds, and she abandons Bunchy and the baby never to be heard from again.
  5. The combination of Frank Barnes, Mickey, and Daryll fail to contain Avi and his illegal profiteering off of the Russian evidence/assets. Frank is forced to throw them – and Ray – all under the bus and they end up in the klink.
  6. Somebody else dies. Perhaps Terry’s implants, which are supposed to slow his decline with Parkinson’s, fail, and his despair over losing Maureen becomes too much to bear. He dies both of his symptoms or his broken heart.

And then there’s the most scary possibility of all … the one we never see coming. What are your thoughts as we approach the next 2-3 episodes to discuss?  And why do we need Lena on the show? Does Katherine Moennig have a never ending CBS/Showtime contract or what? Can we see her be a REAL difference maker? Don’t get me wrong. I like Lena. I would love that. Ok, last round … go!

NICOLE: OK. Yes. Predictions. My favorite. Given that this is the final season, I think major themes will include a return to the beginning. But the return to the beginning will be more like “everything stays the same, but everything changes.” I expect to see an enormous amount of personal growth from Ray, in particular, who given his relapse/regression the first three episodes, will have a lot of growing to do. So, without further ado, predictions:

  1. Connor stays terrible. This poor kid cannot get out of his own way. And I am embarrassed to say that it took me until episode 3 to realize that VMI was Ventura Military Institute (not Virginia Military Institute). I don’t know if Connor will actually become a marine or not, but I feel like his character is so terrible, maybe he will just die.
  2. Return of Ed Cochran. God. We have seen Ed come around a couple times, post-expose (although the Bob Seger karaoke in a bar was my absolute favorite). Usually where there’s Frank, there’s Ed (though obviously no longer FBI), and given that he’s a fan favorite, I expect to see him again before season’s end.
  3. Natalie James is not a real love interest. Much like Ashley, Natalie James is a f*cked up starlet, who needs Rays help and wants to bone him. Even the stories about men masturbating to her outside of her home remind me of Ashley. I think she will end up having a fairly superficial role, as she clearly cannot replace Abby.
  4. Susan Sarandon castrates some man. Because. Susan Sarandon. Also, they need to do SOMETHING with her. And thus far, I’m underwhelmed.
  5. Avi comes back to Ray. Fans love Avi. Fans love Avi and Ray together. They have to reunite. I think Avi will end up saving Ray.
  6. Lastly, Mickey dies. Bold prediction, right? But I feel like it’s a perfect ending for Ray, who needs to put his demons to bed. I’m not sure who will do it – whether Mickey will finally make the ultimate sacrifice for Ray and take a bullet, or maybe Avi comes back and kills Mickey to save Ray. But I really feel like some serious Tarantino-level shit with Mick could go down.

TODD: I must confess, I heard Hank Azaria say in a radio interview a month or two ago that he wasn’t asked back this year … but I would LOVE it if he was punking us and you are right!

As for your other predictions, I don’t think they would sign up Susan Sarandon for Susan Sarandon dollars if they weren’t going to utilize her more. And I hope it produces an interesting story, even if I hope she goes and jumps off of a cliff.

There is no doubt Natalie James is no real love interest. I was merely talking about Ray getting sucked into a physical relationship with her and somehow she getting him into situations he’ll regret or have to make hard choices. Ray LOVES damaged goods, as we know.

And you are probably right. Ray and Mickey either walk off into the sunset a father and son with an intact relationship, or Mick dies. But if so, I predict he will do so by finally making a selfless sacrifice for the family.

…. Can’t wait to explore the next 2-3 episodes with you in the weeks ahead, Nicole!  Thanks for reading, everyone!

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