“Road Trip” kicks the action of Ray Donovan up a notch, resolving at least one frustrating plot thread in a way that isn’t exactly surprising but feels like the most action we’ve seen from the show in weeks.
We’ve only seen a little bit of Sully since he was first introduced, but this episode puts him, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s poodle, and Ray’s right-hand man Avi in a car going all the way across the country. It’s not the most original idea—it made me think of Breaking Bad’s “Shotgun”—but it gives the characters a chance to bond, to say things they might not say otherwise, and to get to know each other. It’s not a terrible decision for the show. But it’s not very well executed, as with so many plot devices on Ray Donovan. Sully and Avi don’t really reveal much to each other, or have any unique adventures that might create a relationship of future interest.
Something that does happen is that Sully strangles his long-time girlfriend in a motel room after getting fed up with her whining for the last 2,000 miles. In New Mexico she makes the mistake of calling her parents to tell them she’s planning to disappear off the face of the earth with her criminal psychopath boyfriend. So he garrottes her with something that looks like piano wire. (Correction: It’s actually the girlfriend’s poodle’s leash, which is way harder to strangle someone with, so kudos for Sully.) I didn’t expect to be shocked by the violence, but something about the viciousness and suddenness of this act stands out, even for cable television. Part of that is James Woods’ ability to display a tight rein on cruelty before letting it out with savagery. Part of that is the sheer amount of time spent on this woman dying in the lonely motel. And maybe the most shocking part is that the writing in the scene delivers an emotional punch. This is a woman who Sully has been dating for a long time, and for the character to be so suddenly able to turn around and brutally murder her is hair-raisingly awful. He just kills her, and then leaves her there.
Sully might be the first character I’m legitimately afraid of on Ray Donovan. I haven’t been able to drum up much emotion towards any of the other characters, outside of irrational interest in Terry and Lena and the occasional strong Bunchy scene. If there was a thing that could give a necessary shot of adrenaline to Ray Donovan, it would be James Woods in a crazy, violent performance.
The rest of the episode continues in predictably Ray Donovan ways, suggesting but not promising much in the various plot threads that rope in murky consequences for the Donovan family. Tommy Wheeler gets married to a trans woman and a tabloid threatens to break the story, and because for some reason it’s really important that Wheeler seem straight, Ray has to handle the situation with some threats and a baseball bat and detox of some kind. I like the idea that Ray’s day-long management of Tommy is a sort of road trip of its own—the two do spend most of their time in a car, making stops and taking care of business. Does Ray come to some kind of understanding or truce with Tommy? I don’t know, but he does pack off Conor to go to the “Kids Awards” with him at the end. I think it’s supposed to mean something about trust, or unconventional mentoring for kids, especially in an episode where everyone takes the opportunity to utter some sort of transphobic slur—“tranny,” “she-he,” “pervert” are all thrown about. I want to say that Ray Donovan is making some sort of statement about transphobia, but I’m not sure it’s even gotten that far. Instead the thing we are supposed to get out of it is: the times, they are a-changin’.
In our last telegram from the aged, Mickey gets Sean Walker’s confession for his crazy FBI handler who won’t let it go; and then kills him as soon as Miller threatens Ray. I think we’re supposed to believe Mickey is a good guy who always defends his children? But you know, he’s also a crazy murderer. This family of Donovans! They love each other so much, and they just can’t stop murdering!
- The setpiece for the Kids Awards is really terrible.
- Tommy Wheeler and Sean Walker are basically interchangeable, right?
- Conor gets a new suit. It’s kind of cute. But the scene verges into sprightly tech commercial territory, with the cameraphone plug.