How family comes back together
This is where Mickey loses his family – Bunchy says, it’s just a lot of bad things have happened since you’ve come. Abby finally has had enough of him, too, because of what he let happen to Ray. She says, Ray was right, you’re the wolf. He kids her around, but leaves. In a way, Abby was right – she has learnt more about Ray now that his father has returned. But she wants family to survive the bloodshed. Now she wants to trust Ray.
Ray has his talk with Mickey. Mickey asks, why did you want to have me killed? Ray blames him for everything wrong with all four kids. Mickey says, well, what else was there? You did ok & I did the time. But Ray knows that he told his father about being raped & who his father is. Ray has learnt something about himself, too, or at least has told us. Forgiveness is no way to live. One wonders whether you need to kill everyone who betrays trust…
Mickey tells Ray he has a problem clinging to the past. Ray also has a problem disposing of the past, which he endeavors to solve, for profit, maybe for faith, too. Happily, Mickey has a chance to betray some more people & save his life. You can say he learns to be patient. He’s back with his boys, at least. It turns out, evil is something you learn to live with, & the hard way.
Ray’s kids learn about the importance of family & what they might want themselves to become as adults from his Jewish secret agent – who joined the army to escape the community of the kibbutz, then went into special operations to escape the community of the army, but who seems comfortable taking orders from Ray, which is riskier & less obvious than being a mercenary – & his lesbian agent, who had a bad father & was saved, anger issues & all by the Ray Donovan job program. Finally, someone does something good for Ray.
This all sounds remarkably stupid, but it is not. Ray & his two workers do trust each other & take risks that do not make sense from the point of view of self-interest. They are like family, with the same complicated combination of equality & hierarchy. How far can you stretch family to keep people together?
The question, though, is, what can replace justice? Terry shouts at his woman, the Donovans are loyal to each other, & murder is part of that. It is indeed – family is no respecter of laws & will sacrifice any laws for survival, it would seem, or at least any laws we have encountered in the story.
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Can family wash blood?
Bunchy shoots the priest who raped him, who tries to lie to his dying breath. It’s not just godlessness, but he’s got bad luck, too. Now, Ray has to deal with this. Terry’s adulterous girl now sees the soon-to-be corpse. Then Mickey’s black kid. The Donovan’s are into expansion the other way than inclusive love – inclusive guilt.
This is what some comics might call Catholics without faith. Terry wants to sacrifice for the family: Save the priest, confess to the murder, do the time – he’ll deal with prison. Otherwise, it’s a mortal sin. Ray thinks, this faith is insane. The priest faces Bunchy’s apologies with a request to save his life & an offer of therapy. Bunchy tells him what he did & asks for an apology. The priest says, I wish I could, but I don’t know you.
Ray starts beating the priest because he will not confess. The others stop him. Bunchy tells his brothers, maybe I let the priest rape me because he was nice to me – in short, he was a father. Ray say – it was his fault, he should have protected his brother, but he believed his father about going to the game & he neglected his duty. Now the brothers want the confession, all of them. It’s not their fault.
He confesses. He was an addict, but he did a lot of good. The priest refuses to apologize – he says, we’re all sinners, Ray, we all seek forgiveness. It would seem democracy & vengeance do not work. Who knew God would cause people to break the laws with impunity? It’s hard to argue with the padre – do not people reassure us that Christ will forgive whatever crimes you can commit, if you really believe? Abby comes, sees, approves. Family requires vengeance.
The brothers want the priest in the hospital, Ray approves. The priest says they shouldn’t believe him. The priest says, Ray, you didn’t tell them, Ray, I loved you – Ray shoots him in the head. The gym is now polluted. Ray has long waged war on his past & will not stop now. He tells Abby, she thinks she could show affection, that they could suffer together, & he wouldn’t be so alone. Then again, this is the kind of opinion that is required for family & that led her to bring Mickey back.
Mickey meanwhile has to get an alibi, so he asks the woman for whom he stole, was framed, & did time – & who loves him, maybe fearfully, though he corrupted her. She agrees – she owes him her life, which she likes, all in all – but she will not take him back. Duty is what’s left, not happiness, paying debts.
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How family falls apart
Abby finally tells Ray she is behind Mickey’s coming to LA – Ray had only asked why she didn’t trust him, her husband, why she always defends his father. Abby believes Mickey has changed or that he never needed to change. Now, husband & wife are enemies because they disagree on who is the enemy. Abby wanted to deceive or to force Ray to forgive his father by using his children against him.
This is because of his secrets – she says, she’s not stupid. Indeed, no. A stupid woman would not have betrayed her husband so, for fear, obedience, habit or common sense. Abby does not look up to Ray, however, & knows he will not beat his children, because he does not want to be his father. She does not want him to avenge his beatings, however, but to forgive & obey the man who beat him.
She is terrified of what she suspects Ray is doing – how would she feel if Ray turned into the obedient Christian into which she seems to want to turn him? Who would protect her then, or the kids? Mickey?
Ray’s clever & silly plan backfires badly. He cries over trying to murder his father. He knows he has been a bad boy. What is there to do, however? He cannot live with the old man, even if he were to no longer think of him as a monster. His father first destroyed family & there is no way to honor his father without betraying the mother & sister who are dead, or his crippled brothers. Terry also believes Mickey has changed. Bunchy is suicidal again – he tells his father he killed the wrong guy, that his rapist is now in LA, but Mickey tells him, exasperated, to be a man & deal with it & stop feeling sorry for himself… Maybe Ray thinks something similar – & maybe he would not say it anyway – maybe he would always indulge Bunchy, if he found no other way.
Ray tells his wife he wants another child. This would mean marriage all over again; she refuses. At the end, he gets a child, the survivor of a man who died because he did not obey Ray & because Ray could not murder his own father & because he was wicked. This might be Ray’s new family. Or it might take individualism to its worst consequence.
Ray promises a lot of people that now they’re in the solution, but that’s not so. Now, they’re always guilty, whether they can live with it or not. But they are Americans even & especially because they are criminals, they also want to escape their past, make new lives or start anew.
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On individualism & celebrity
Mickey wants to build a new life for himself in Hollywood – the old life he wanted back before jail – movie glory. Celebrity is like moral authority, but without the downside. It is luxury, not sacrifice. The policeman wants him to throw it all away so he can throw everyone in jail. Mickey kills him when he finds out how secretive the silly little man was. Why should that man have trusted Mickey?
One reason is democracy. The little policeman hates celebrities, because they never get punished – this should be an especial reason to hate Ray, who helps them get away. The policeman is in a way conservative, he thinks that actions have consequences. What if Mickey thinks he is a celebrity, too? That brilliant fulfillment of individualism may be more American than old-fashioned justice, red in tooth & claw…
The other reason is revenge. Mickey should want to punish the people who framed him for murder & had him locked up, they hoped, forever. Maybe he does, but he might want to do it alone. Why did not Ray commit murder? Because Ray always wants an easier way out – that’s another thing about playing God, you do not have to kill people too often…
Ray is plotting Mickey’s murder – he brings in a killer (look up Whitey Bulger) to do the job he will not do himself. The killer finally has enough of his woman’s nagging & strangles her. How she survived so long is easily explained now: He had no way out, because of the law. But Ray can help him escape the law. Women who nag Irishmen beware! Crime means never having to say you’re sorry – there is no going back even if there is no going forward. How it is that women expect to get good things they want or avoid bad things they fear without discretion of prudence is anyone’s guess. Probably, they’re Irish, too.
Meanwhile, the movie star has married the transsexual who was blackmailing him, whom Ray roughed up & then paid – he wanted money for a sex-change operation. Some people find fulfillment in mutilations, which you could call idealism… The movie star is again threatened by bad press, where asking for a comment is asking for a bribe. His spouse has already abandoned him. Who would have thought Vegas could be so cruel to our basic wish to become complete?
Ray takes charge of this human wreck & brings him back to his only good part: His being a celebrity. Ray’s education is threefold: Hurt & terrify men who humiliate your reputation; pay off women whom you corrupt, & be nice to the kids who pay for your movies. There, it’s that easy.
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On the softness of individualism
The girl Ray named for his sister, Bridget, rebels against the family & runs away. Just like her namesake. It might look like today’s Americans are spoiled. They are certainly soft; the prosperity is certainly unprecedented in world history. But Americans have always wanted independence & so American parents lack the authority parents had before the age of individualism on the continent of prosperous industry. There is equality between generations, too. & without abandoning family, peopling the continent might have been difficult.
The Irish were once not Americans, but family & Catholic Christianity have become so weakened that the sentimental brutality of the Irish male has returned. Irishmen in California are supposed to suggest the possibility of attaining something & the price to pay for it. Terry, for example, cannot let go of the Catholic moral teaching, because without it, life is not serious. The LA Catholicism he gets when he goes to confess is basically hippie. Love is not enough without morality, because you cannot trust it. But he trusts Mickey. Go figure.
Anyway, Ray is learning that his father is not the monster he had thought. Family is about forgiving a lot of evil & when you learn you cannot protect your children you might forgive the parents who let you live in hell.
Rich suburbia in LA is its own kind of hell. Individuality offers so many possibilities that if you do not seize some one, life itself becomes a kind of vertigo. The problem with identities, however, is that they do not stick. Mickey almost rapes a woman because she wants thrills – he stands on his manly pride, he is no rapist, he thought he was following her suggestions. One of Ray’s men, a woman, punches out her adulterous lover by way of expressing her feelings – why cannot the coward leave her husband. Terry does a Bogart.
Maybe Ray is so charmless for a reason; maybe he wants to provide no moral uplift; maybe it’s because his father charmed so many people to their ruin. Ray seems to believe in happy ends, but perhaps the dirty work he has to do to get good things teaches him charm is a lie.
The black kid, named after Marvin Gaye, tells Bridget that living in his house is fitting – he was born there. Ray threw him out of the rich white man’s land & back into Compton, straight out of which he had come because of a rapper. The boy moves on to say that an improvised rap video in the murder-scene house will do wonders for his street cred. He might have nothing to live for but what he can chase – & he can only chase fame.
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On the origin of individualism in the family
The black kid finds out his mother died. He storms into Ray’s house accusing him, with a gun in back of his jeans. This is Ray’s fault – he gave her the money to release the boy. Ray understands immediately how she got herself killed, just like the kid. They reason identically because they know the same things. But do they also think about things the same way? The boy wants to reinvent himself as a brilliant creature – his new rapper father even gives him a new birthday. This is liberation for slaves.
Then the boy tries to rape Ray’s daughter, who stands for the typical American teenager, bland to a fault, because she expects things only of other people. The boy does not rationalize rape in the way rap music might suggest, but he shows a deeper root – anger at injustice – the girl owes him because her father’s money got his junkie mother killed. If this is an adequate description of what youth is like, you can gain some insight into what’s wrong with American parents from the sequel.
The girl does love the boy & wants to protect him. The way she treats her father shows her angry powerlessness. & yet, among the Americans, it is the parents who justify themselves before their kids – like Ray does on the phone with his daughter – not the other way around. Probably, you can thank progress for that. The original usurpation of the father returns ceaselessly…
Ray goes back to Boston – the boy who dated his sister – they were junkies – is married with four kids, does not think about her suicide anymore & has no need to kill Mickey. He has forgotten. But Ray knows someone who does – someone who hates Mickey more than he does, who lives with his mother & recalls not only the evil that can start in the family, but also the tribalism of the Irish, who in America often loved Irish terrorism in the homeland…
We see Abby befriend Ezra’s mistress – they bemoan their condition, but Abby’s reaction to drinking & the expensive LA life is to turn to theft, an old Boston habit, she says – she knows she does not belong there. She tries to assert her independence again when Ray bails her out – he lets her, amused. Abby had told the mistress, she hates Ray all day long, but she cannot stop thinking about him when she gets drunk. She may be cleverer without her moralism.
Maybe Ray cannot explain to his family that he is trying to protect them from people like him & from becoming that sort of people. Ray thus seems rather helpless, caught between the tribal Irish & the homeless celebrities.
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The Ray Donovan life of action comes to a troubling string of failures. Whatever his past successes may have been, now his boy is lying to him, getting drunk & taking drugs with his drunkard brother while his daughter is out who knows where – he pistol-whips, but dares not shoot Mickey in front of his family – he drugs the policeman to get damning evidence on him, only to find the man does not care – & he lost whatever little support his wife offered.
This was coming to him – Ray is good at his job, but he cannot rule people. His entire family prefers Mickey to Ray because a monster seems more human than someone who judges so harshly. Mickey charms them. Ray asks for some kind of virtue – it is not clear what that is, but it is obvious in his aloofness. Who wants to live with someone who thinks he’s better than everyone?
Ray has learnt what he had hoped to avoid, whether he could kill his father. He can – if he is forced. But all his clever calculations now falter. His family does not take him for a ruler. Without their consent, there is no point in defeating the monster.
Ray has seen so many thoughtless people throw away the good things they had, because they did not take seriously the requirements of keeping acquisitions, which are less happy than the getting, which is always tied up with accidents. His family is exactly like those people – at least those of them who are not really evil. But you cannot take control of your family the way you can over your job – you cannot say, now, you’re in the solution. Family is Ray’s problem: Family is trying to control him. Now we have to ask: What does Ray want?
He keeps his kids away from his brothers, who are crippled & gloomy. He has done more than anyone else to help them, but in their case, that’s not saying much. Is it that he cannot help them, or that he won’t? The only thing that looks like it might help Bunchy fight his demons is the love of his family & Ray’s indomitable strength – maybe he sees Ray denying him that because he is worthless.
Perhaps Ray cannot dedicate himself to his family because he cannot fully believe in the happiness or the goodness of the family. It is not enough to say that his experience would incline him to that opinion: He acted on his opinion, ousting his father, & taking over his plans. On what principle did Ray want to reconstruct the family? Did he hope LA would offer dignity & he could guarantee safety?
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Facing evil with a gun
Ray’s boy, Connor, tells him, why should I be grounded because I hit some kid who deserved it? – Grounding is what American parents do to teach their children what life is like in Africa, just like when they sponsor an African kid for the price of soda. This is inefficient, but principled. The problem American parents face is American kids are also Americans. – All Ray can say is, there are consequences when you hit someone on the head. & possibly a career…
Then Ray gets his gun &, before he can leave, the crazy girl cuffs herself in his bathroom. Is it me, or do the risqué scenes on this show all show how really disturbing our obsessions are? When’s the last time sex on TV looked so immoral? People might think this is the kind of problem they want to have. Several other characters have trouble with the crazy criminal things they do for women, which stands for happiness. Guilt seems connected to impotence by way of crime, with or without the success.
Abby meets a life coach who wants to teach her self-help. This is a substitute for feminism, which is powerless to affect women who’ve seen the harshness of this world. But yoga promises pleasure… The Catholic girl detects the moralism behind this kind of happiness talk immediately – she wants someone to listen to her troubles, but not to tell her how to live her life. Much like Ray, she has to run other people’s lives. She might suspect that the self-obsession is really dangerous – how can you help anyone else?
What can she do any better as a mother, though? American parents know their kids will abandon them the first chance they get, or it’s a national crisis. Whom you cannot compel, you are compelled to persuade. What can you tell kids about happiness, though?
Ray realizes the policeman is after him, but not what to do about it. Now, he gets a sense of the threat Mickey presents. This might be solved with a gun, but not in a hurry.
The other things are different – like Ray looking for love in all the wrong places, that is, where he presents only attractions, where he can get what he wants after he sifts through to find whatever’s left that he can want. Abby leaves the kids alone for a day: She does not know she’s a bad mother on account of she’s worried maybe she’s too good a wife, & the consequences are, now the black kid is teaching the kids to party. If you can laugh at this, you know any housewife from the ‘50s would be horrified. How do modern people deal with it?
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On the uses & disadvantages of justice & respectability for life
His wife, Abby, wants her kids in a good school, where abject characters can spit on them while the lofty ideals of academia are declaimed by people who sell wisdom for fortune. This doesn’t have the perversity of therapy going for it, but it introduces certain classes of kids to politics: Law is tyranny. You use it against people you need to use.
Abby is angry that Ray can never take a day off work to indulge her pretense of respectability. She never takes a day off from her temper. They love each other & have all the makings of a tragedy, because they indulge each other’s belief in the civil peace required for family, even though they profited from crime every step up that steep hill.
Some girls marvel at Ray’s girl’s situation: She could invent her own identity, being a nobody. Her father’s daughter, no doubt. Ray thinks she’s innocent, beautifully playing the guitar – she is, she fears when she sees his scars. & she closes her door before she betrays her father’s trust to make love to that talented black kid. Her life is boring, he’s confident that he is inspired.
Ray’s boy sees the boys there love action heroes, so he brags about knowing one – he wants to invent his identity as well. But celebrity has an ugly underside, which is brought up here against him – that action star is a pervert. This the boy will not believe. You can see that Ray really did protect his kids’ innocence to an extent you might not think possible. That’s family for you. The boy, humiliated, succumbs to evil & attacks the despicable kid who humiliated him. He lies about it, except to his father. Is that faith or fear?
Mickey was a snitch in jail, which is why he’s out, & why he must now betray Ray. There’s justice for you. The policeman who used him & wants to use him still, wants Ray & his business. There’s more justice. Mickey thus dodges a murder charge – he’d inadvertently murdered the rapist priest’s brother, which he justifies by saying all those priests are rapists. There’s more justice there still. Mickey gets his drunkard boy drunk & fraternizing with his black brother.
The poet suggests, what people think people deserve depends on what they think is their own right. Anger is the life of the law. But anger is not the mind of anger. Who dares tell the truth about what he’s done & make a public case for himself? Abby hides behind her kids, Mickey behind his, & the policeman has the state. Ray has his partners. These associations must come into conflict – all these rights are contradictory.
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On the need to remember the origins
Some notes on the injustice involved in the art of war
Let us now think about the story the other way around. All of this happens because Stonebanks pretended to die, but did not die. His superiority to Ross in terms of deception is extraordinary. Stonebanks does not seeks vengeance. He has learned from from the peculiarly unprincipled liberal idealism of American power that you need to go into business for yourself. Self-preservation & prosperity & might end up looking like the same thing: Power.
That this man is willing to let his enemy think he has won shows he has no self-respect, so to speak, no honor, no humanity. Humanity was the problem built into the Expendables project from the beginning: The cruelty of command & the honor in obedience both are evoked. Mercenary justice was a rebuke to idealism & glory both. It is heroism for the democratic age, when no grand achievements are possible anymore.
Stonebanks has solved the problem by eliminating humanity. people who ignore how profitable war can be have no business talking about international courts of justice. & people who know how to get what they want have no business talking about humanity. Without a god to put limits to what man can do, it’s really a matter of being inventive. Stonebanks is the most advanced creature, in his humble way, of the world created by the proud folly of American liberalism.
Ross cannot fight for America’s cause – no one is allowed to do that anymore. We live in the post-war age, when wars are just started, unnamed, unknown, without talk of victory & peace. The consequence is that there is not achievement in sacrifice & no strength in achievement. Ross has to do what America should do: Prevent great evil from thriving by destroying the evil that threatens America.
Ross’s delusion about how a new team could outsmart Stonebanks should send us thinking. This shows up our illusions about technology. But also that we dehumanize people we send to their deaths when we do not acknowledge the greatness of war & of the men who fight it. This is true even of computer warriors leading machines to kill people. Ross is forced to bet on the future, on youth, because the old men have not found in themselves any seriousness about the nature of chaos & war.
All the old men must learn that they have an ancient enemy, who is very like them, because they are born of the same political crisis about the nature of power & justice. When American progress required that power create justice & produce world peace, new evils were born, who can exploit the idealistic ignorance & feed the soft arrogance. That is the face of the devil.
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