Hustling the Homefront: Showtime's Ray Donovan Balances A Life Of Crime And A Family Life Essay
Ray Donovan is one of the more offbeat crime programs on television. Or is it one of the more offbeat family dramas on TV? The criminal pursuits of the title character necessitate a delicate balancing act between continually breaking the law and maintaining a stable home life with a spouse and children. Ray Donovan truly exists as a dual television program: 1/2 family drama and 1/2 anti-heroic crime story. The strange mix works because Ray Donovan, while a flawed person in thousands of ways, is just trying to do the best for his family.
Titled “The Texan,” the Season 4 Episode 8 of the series, presents a memorable exchange between Ray and his son Conor. As Conor enters adulthood, he wants to be a lot like his father. The dubious nature of the family patriarch makes this complicated. Conor sees his father as “a gangsta’.” Although told by his father’s associate Ray is not “a gangsta,” the audience knows full well Ray Donovan is a murderer, extortionist, and organized crime associate. He is a gangsta’.
When Ray finds out Conor has lifted a .45 and shot the gun off in the neighborhood, he becomes furiously enraged. To teach his son a lesson, Ray drives Conor to a sketchy neighborhood, shows him pictures of a young man who was shot to death after trying to live the thug life, and then abandons Conor in the neighborhood to force the young man to realize how tough he is not.
Does the lesson work? Only by the finale of the series can that question be answered.
At the end of “The Texan,” Ray realizes he may have gone a bit too far, so he leaves his son to ponder a few words:
“When I was your age, I got into that kind of trouble, and it is hard to come back from…..your mother and me…we’re different from you guys…and we’re trying hard to keep it that way.”
The Abnormal Folk of Ray Donovan
At the beginning of “The Texan,” Ray converses with a fellow fixer who is now on his deathbed. The soon-to-be departed fixer has some stinging, but true, words for Ray.
He mentioned people like him are “Too violent to be around normal folk…you understand.”
Yes, Ray does understand. He knows he is a violent outsider who can never be part of society. No matter how hard he tries to make a normal home life for himself and his family, normalcy is an impossibility. Ray Donovan has to kill people as part of his job. He’s killed many people. Ray Donovan is surrounded by criminals and quasi-desperados who skirt the law. and this consistently drags him and his family into disastrous messes. Normal life is not for him.
What likely angers Ray Donovan deep down inside is many of those who consider him abnormal ignore their ridiculous existences. At least Ray Donovan is a noble savage. Everyone from the bottom feeders to the elitists in Hollywood is anything but noble.
Ray Donovan left Boston because he wanted to get away from the street level thug crime he and his father were involved with. Heading out west was intended to create a new life for the family, but Ray Donovan only knew one way to make a living – criminal behavior.
The type of crime he becomes involved with is fixing up the rich and powerful messes in Hollywood. Ray is paid a lot of money for his services, but he never ceases to be the proverbial fish out of water in California. He and his wife never stop give up their east coast swagger in the world of California cool.
Under the surface, however, it is obvious Ray has a dislike and contempt for those persons whom he fixes things. In Ray’s old neighborhood, people turned to crime because doing so was a way to get ahead. In Hollywood, many of those who get into trouble already are ahead. They screw up their lives due to drugs, libido, greed, or other vices. In many cases, they end up in trouble for no reason other than fall victim to their stupidity.
Throughout the series, Ray Donovan maintains a “What am I doing with these weirdos?” vibe as he interacts with some genuinely repugnant “positive” members of society. Ray knows what they are like behind the curtain, and the visage is often an ugly one.
Ray is hardly a normal person with a normal life, but at least he understands his place in the world. The fact his clients refuse to see themselves as lowlifes who happened to have made it to the higher rung of high society’s ladder is galling to him.
But he has to make a living. He wants to keep that living away from his home life – to no avail.
Glass Houses and Estates in Ray Donovan
Ray tries to walk the tightrope between the thug life and family life. He tries to raise his kids to be become normal members of society, although this can be tough when many of the normal people in the neighborhood are personality disorder-ridden oddballs. At least Ray Donovan knows who he is and doesn’t try to hide who he is. Ray Donovan is many things, but a phony he is not.
A father’s violent life does make him a troubling role model for his son. Conor’s newfound violent tendencies are based on a perversion of the desire of a son to grow up to be like dad. The two have a poignant exchange about what it is like to be dad:
“You’re the guy they call when they can’t take care of things, right? They like love you and think you’re cool.”
“You think they love me, huh?”
“They don’t love me Conor.”
No, they do not love him. They use Ray Donovan because he has skills they just don’t possess. The clients do marvel over him somewhat, but they still see him as a misfit and a gauche, low-class, more-primate-than-human errand boy. The dark desires found in the clients’ dark souls contain remnants of wanting to be like Ray Donovan. He understands this. Ray Donovan also understands that not so deeply buried in their souls is the fact they look down on him.
To Ray, he can never understand why people who have so much privilege find themselves in so much ridiculous trouble. Or perhaps he really does understand. Their privilege and isolated existence leads them to believe the boundaries of mere mortals do not limit them. So they push and push until the Rubicon is crossed and they have gone to far. The time has come to face the same consequences the plebeians do.
Unlike Roman plebeians, these persons have money to hide their sins. So they call only the marginally-evolved ape Ray Donovan to fix their messes.
The internal self-loathing Ray Donovan meets the external loathing direct towards Ray Donovan feels about himself. He is trapped in this awful world and does not want to see his son dragged into the void. Ray does know that there is only so much he can do to keep his son off the criminal path in his heart. Eventually, Conor will make his own choice and, if the choice is the wrong one, Ray does share the blame.
And not knowing what path Conor eventually takes surely tortures the paternal side of Ray Donovan to a vicious degree. A life of crime is a life of crime – everything connected to “the life” is dragged into the mire.
Ray Donovan knows that is one eternal truth that can never be fixed.