We begin with Ray's horrible nightmare of Mickey fucking first the dead girlfriend he was framed for, then Abby -- whose pinched mean face does not deviate even in dreams -- and then he wakes to a worse one: Marvin Gaye Bieber, driving around the cul-de-sac in a golf cart, totally unattended (and also sexting with Bridget). Today is the day they go to visit the Bel Air Academy, in pursuit of Abby's unending dream of escaping Southie forever.
Which actually turns out to be the point: We see Abby's pain at the way she embarrasses Bridget just by existing, and her inability to tell mother/daughter stuff apart from her class-issues stuff, and how her class is actually an ongoing and very real thing and not just an insecurity, and how much Paramount Stu was actually twisting the knife in the pilot, which I didn't really get at the time. She's a lot less horrible with this stuff actually on the table, is what I'm saying.
On arrival, they're greeting by Stu himself, whose son is if anything twice the choad he is -- signifiers aplenty, from popped polo collar to his obsession with fellation -- and go around being variously insulted and encouraged by various people. Ray's harassed by one guy in particular who, by the end of the episode, ends up so scared of Ray's hulking silence that he pusses out and whines that he was really just mad about some legal thing Ezra did a million years ago.
Lest Abby be deprived of her bitching quotient for the episode, much is made of the fact that Ray is ignoring work for this family day, so of course he ditches pretty early on when one of his bugs is discovered in some movie star's hotel room. His retrieval method -- walk in, pick up the bugs one by one until the male visitor figures out he put them there to begin with, bash some heads, walk out again -- is the most authentically bad-ass thing the show's yet foisted upon us, and it's highly enjoyable.
He comes back to the school with some scratches on his face, only to learn that Conor is following in the Donovan family violence footsteps, and cost both kids at a place at the school. But the real reason is a lot more compelling: In a power play to get in with the shitty prep school boys, Conor provided proof that he and Action Star Tommy are friends, which wowed them all... Right up until Stu's shitty kid told everybody about Tommy's penchant for sex with guys, at which point it became a pretty tainted thing. After a day of bullying, Conor finally knocks him out with a brick, and while Ray sticks up for him he doesn't know he's actually in the right, and so ends the episode worried.
Meanwhile, wonderful Terry is so stressed about his date with the fabulous Nurse Frances that he gets some recipes from Potato Pie, who ends up cooking the meal for himself. So disturbed is he by his good luck that Terry takes time out from his busy schedule of apologizing -- for his apartment, his gym and his life in general -- that he actually invites Pie to join them on their dinner date, all of which Frances weathers with warmth and aplomb. What a keeper. They are both so freaking great.
Avi is dispatched to follow Mickey -- with Bunchy and Daryl in tow -- on a day trip to Palm Springs, since Ray's almost arranged an arrest that will take him back to Boston and hopefully prison. By the end of the episode the Boston Chief of Police has put the kibosh on the operation, but more importantly Mickey's also being followed by that fantastic FBI agent, who confirms in no uncertain terms his endpoint targets: Ray Donovan, Lee Drexel and poor Ezra Goodman.
The trip is to visit Daryl's darling mother Claudette at her new husband's house. He is quite the piece of shit, but understanding about his wife's ties to Mickey, including the half-million Mickey apparently stole for her at some point in the past. She pays him back with a black Cadillac and butt porn, but balks at a rekindled relationship; Bunchy and Daryl fight and bond in the guy's swimming pool. In the end, the brothers drop Mickey off at a gay bar, where he does poppers and dances the night away, because he is a freak and does not give a fuck at all. Or really, because it is funny to watch Jon Voight do poppers and dance his ass off at a gay club.
In the end, we're left with a stronger sense of these characters when we see them in different contexts, since the plots -- especially the procedural ones -- are so paint-by-numbers as to render character and performance almost entirely the point. (Lena, off in her own TV show, is of course vastly underserved by this dynamic.) Ray is still conflicted but loves everybody, Mickey is still two very different kind of animals at once, Bunchy and Terry both get sweeter every second, and Daryl is the only remotely realistic black character, so it's working.
But at times the overarching complexities about Mickey's various crimes -- and the show's dedication to showing us Ray at work all the time -- really just slow things down. It's an actor's show, not White Guy Scandal, and tossing in a few minutes of sleazy Hollywood violence with disposable LA freaks is not enough to make the show -- which has a real heart, and a real brain -- all things to all people. For something so heavily overhyped, it continues to showcase this lack of confidence, which is a shame, because its strengths really do deserve the highest praise. The concept itself is just parsley, a garnish that often somehow manages to overpower the dish.
After a week apart, an eventful fundraiser has Ray and Abby on (a very rocky) road to reconciling. Both kids are involved with dangerous celebrities, although in both cases it seems more innocent than Ray might assume. Stu Feldman threatened little Bridget with private-school blackballing, but Ray has engineered a temporary cease-fire. And Mickey's guardian FBI angel, the delightful Van Miller, interrupted the investigation of his priest-murder on day one -- the better to nail Ray, Ezra and Lee Drexler all at once.
With an angelic choir singing some hymn, we climb up into a bedroom where Ray is standing, all alone, watching snow fall: A sign that Boston has come to LA. Reflected in the window is his father, fucking a woman doggy-style on the bed: When Ray turns and the music shifts to a Jackie Brown kind of funk, we see the woman clearly: Given the blood running down her temple, I'm guessing it's Ray's girlfriend that Sean killed. Then she turns into Ray's wife Abby, whose pinched mean face is unaffected by the fact that she's getting it from behind by Jon Voight. I wouldn't want that man behind me fully clothed, I can't imagine the kind of internal fortitude necessary to stay in bitchface while all that's going on back there.
Anyway, the usual kind of not-very-complicated dreams like Ray would have, in case you are more able to understand basic things by seeing them rendered in concrete, unironic dream forms. Down in the cul-de-sac, Marvin Gaye Washington does donuts in his golfcart, which would be adorable except that it's clearly pretty early in the morning and so A) he is not in school and B) he remains somewhat unsupervised.
Having never been the child of a crackhead nor the property of a rapper -- yet (to both I suppose, as long as I'm qualifying statements) -- I couldn't tell you which would make me feel more neglected. But I do know that any amount of money is better than no money, and the only people who say otherwise either don't know what they're talking about because they've only been one or the other, or because they are desperately trying to deceive you, or they are trying to deceive themselves. In each of these cases, however, these people are the enemy. Always choose money. It's a tool, just like the internet: If you turn into an asshole, guess what? You were already an asshole.