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Ray Donovan - Girl With Guitar - Review: "Stage Zero"



The past looms over Ray Donovan like no other show on television that I can think of. In fact, it is the rare drama in which the majority of the characters' motivations stem from events that took place long before the series began. To be honest, this is one of only a few ways in which this show stands out. That is hardly a knock against the show, merely an observation. Ray Donovan is hardly the most original show on television, and often comes across as a pale imitator of older, better shows of the "antihero" genre such as The Sopranos or The Shield.

But this is a show that is determined to dramatize the long-term impact of past events to the very end. Whereas most shows would move past such things after a season or two, four seasons in this show is only continuing to burrow deeper and deeper into the characters' psychological states. This is a show that chronicles the impact of abuse and tragedy on a single family. Ray and Bunchy are survivors of rape at the hands of a priest, a man they trusted. Terry is suffering with Parkinson's, a disease that gets progressively worse. Both them and Mickey are still grieving the death of Bridget. Letting such event have no impact on the story or the characters would be doing a disservice to both. Things like that don't just go away.

"Why don't you tell us how you got here, Ray?"

These are the words that open the episode, the fourth season premiere of Ray Donovan. They're spoken by Bunchy at a SNAP meeting, which Ray is also attending. And it's a tough question to answer for Ray. This show peaked last year in its third season because Ray finally began trying to be a better man, after two seasons of brooding. But after the progress he made last season, he's now ready to further acknowledge what happened to him as a child in a more public forum. Both Ray and Bunchy have been irreversibly affected by their abuse, but they handled it in very different ways. The impact on Bunchy was more visible, but Ray wouldn't allow that. And so he got married, and had a couple of kids, all in order to present to the world an appearance of normality. He bottled everything up inside, and never allowed anyone in his life to see him for who he really was. To vent his frustration he turned to alcohol, and women. But this all reached a tipping point last season, and now he's willing to truly deal with his feelings. He has been sober for six months, and goes to mass and confession regularly.

This emotional honesty is refreshing, and results in season four starting off stronger than any other season before. This is a show that has never shied away from hitting the same beats as similar shows have before it, such as cheating and heavy drinking, but Ray's attempts to change and improve will make the inevitable collapse all the more effective.

We see the first signs of this collapse in this episode when Ray is forced to undo the aforementioned six moths of sobriety in order to help out the man who helped him in the time between seasons. This man, a famous professional boxer named Hector Campos, at first appears to be someone in complete control. One of the lucky few victims of child abuse to repair his life, he even spoke of how he forgave the priest that raped him when he was a boy. He served as an inspiration to Ray, accompanying him to his first SNAP meeting, along with Father Romero. So when Ray finds Hector in a motel room - just exited by a woman that was not his wife, and is later revealed to be his half-sister - with alcohol and drug paraphernalia on the table and a cop tied up and gagged in the bathroom, he is understandably shaken.

And Ray resolves this situation by not just undoing his own attempts at sobriety, but another man's as well. The cop who had been tied up in the bathroom had himself been sober for several years after he got suspended over a DUI, and Ray must destroy the progress they both made for the sake of helping yet another famous celebrity who wanted to avoid a scandal. Ray truly wants to change, for the sake of his family, and so he stops cheating on Abby, and stops drinking, but it will never be enough as long as he's still doing the work he has become so well known for. But with Ray looking poised to start working for that art gallery, as well as the introduction of new character Jacob Waller played by Gabriel Mann, that doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon.

The past also haunts Mickey, who in this episode finds himself in Primm, Nevada, pulling small-time scams. In this story line we're introduced to Little Bill Primm played by Ted Levine, who the show seems to be setting up as a Big Bad for this season. Despite Mickey's near constant air of confidence, he can't seem to escape the past either. We see this after he take peyote (a hallucinogenic cactus). He hallucinates his daughter Bridget as a little girl. After following her he comes across two police officers before collapsing, waking up in a hospital bed to the sight of Detective Munsie (Michael Hyatt) looking down at him.

Up until the end of last season, the relationship between the Donovan's and the Catholic Church (and religion in general) has been pretty straightforward. After what happened to them they turned their backs on the Church, and didn't really show many signs of regretting that. This show should be applauded for not shying away from the dark side of the Church, as Catholicism is still so powerful and influential in so many parts of the world (take this from someone who grew up surrounded by it in pretty much every facet of life, from leisure to education).The power that is given to priests is disgraceful, and is taken advantage of by sick individuals. But despite this, religion is not an inherently bad thing. Each holy text contains things both inspirational and terrible. Really, it comes down to how one chooses to interpret those words. Ray was irrevocably harmed by the negative, hypocritical nature of religion, but is recovering due to its positive, helpful nature.

"Stage Zero. I mean, isn't that everybody? Isn't everybody f*cking Stage Zero?"

This is Abby's reaction after she's told she has "Stage Zero" breast cancer. Of course, she tells a complete stranger this, but not Ray or anyone else in the family. But Abby isn't the only one at Stage Zero this season. Mickey has hit rock bottom, and now has to climb his way back into everyone's good graces. Bridget, now no-longer living at home, makes small steps towards coming home by coming to dinner. Daryll, no longer reliant on his father, is now having dinner at Ray's, and likely needs a new purpose in life. But he seems content, at least. Terry has the idea of joining a mission to Brazil, but the Church rejected his application. and Ray, who made so much progress over the last six months, now returns to Stage Zero by taking a drink. These characters are in much better places emotionally than they have been in quite some time, but they still have a long way to go.

About the Author - candon_sean
Sean is a student living in Ireland. He has a keen interest in dramatic television (as well as some comedies). Some of his favourite shows right now include The Leftovers, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Black Sails, Mr Robot and Person of Interest. Some of his favourite shows of all time include The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost. He is also an ""A Song of Ice and Fire"" obsessive. You can visit his blog at www.discussingtelevision.wordpress.com.
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