Posts Tagged ‘Ray Donovan’


Two of my favorite TV shows, both on Showtime, reveal a lot about Syria and Iraq. Yet only one involves the Middle East. It’s all about the rodef, the Hebrew word for pursuer—one who seeks to murder or otherwise harm an innocent person. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a) states that in self-defense, we may kill the rodef first. But the concept of the rodef and responses to it defy easy definition.

Take Homeland. The rodef lies at the heart of the series, including season four, which began last Sunday. The relentless Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is in Kabul managing the drone rocketing of Islamists on a long hit list. The CIA considers these men rodefs—pursuers seeking to launch terrorist operations.

The initial episodes pose troubling questions. How are we to view collateral damage—a euphemism for killing and wounding civilians—when targeting rodefs? (I’m not giving anything away when I write that a drone attack approved by Carrie causes extensive collateral damage.) Must attacks against rodefs guarantee zero collateral damage? Should the target be spared regardless of potential loss of life resulting from his future activities?

Ray Donovan, which concluded two weeks ago, poses another question: Can the concept of rodef be exploited? Ezra Goodman (Elliot Gould), a doddering but powerful and immoral Hollywood lawyer, frequently draws on Jewish law to justify his instructions to Ray (Liev Schreiber), his hired fixer with blood on his hands. Ezra excuses a murder by citing the rodef. But it’s clear that the victim was not pursuing innocent blood but rather the truth about criminal activities in which Ezra and Ray were involved.

How does Ray Donovan relate to the Middle East? Islamists see rodefs everywhere. The West, they say, is out to get us. The West’s colonial past is undeniable. But so too are the brutal Muslim dictatorships in Iraq and Syria that spawned so much chaos. (For the record: I opposed invading Iraq; the Bush administration’s mishandling of the post-war period demonstrates why.) It’s particularly sad—and frightening—to see so many young Western Muslims, including women, in Syria. They’re true believers fighting not only the Assad regime but also anyone who doesn’t follow the intolerant forms of Sunni Islam they’ve only recently adopted.

Last Wednesday, CBS-TV News’s Clarissa Ward interviewed a young Somali-American man who condemns America for bombing innocent Muslims. America is the terrorist, he says while praising Osama bin Laden. He makes no concession that the 190,000 deaths in Syria alone involve mostly Muslims killed by Muslims. Neither does he mention Islamists killing Christians and Yazidis simply because they are Christians and Yazidis.

A Thursday Reuters report on was particularly affecting. A 15-year-old French-Muslim girl went to Syria to take part in humanitarian efforts on behalf of Islamist forces. Seemingly disillusioned, she cannot return. Many young women from the West find themselves forced into marriages. All become virtual prisoners. Like the Eagles’ Hotel California, you can get in, but you can never get out.

Ray Donovan demonstrates that the term rodef and justifications for self-defense can be abused. Homeland raises the challenge that legitimate defense against the rodef may be fraught with moral danger. We’d all like to pursue simple answers. They likely will outrun us.

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It’s hard to see loved ones die, whether they go in their prime or linger. Two deaths this month will affect me and millions of others. Fortunately they involve not human beings but TV shows.

Dexter and Breaking Bad will arrive at their inevitable ends. I’ll be sad. Well, concerning Dexter, relieved. The show has been a Sunday night habit. But Dexter ran out of steam a few seasons back. Fortunately, the concluding episodes provide renew energy as Dexter seeks a new life and his sister Debra clings to hers.

Breaking Bad will be sorely missed. The incredible tale of a high school teacher turned methamphetamine empire builder ranks among the very best of television productions—which ranks it among the very best of dramatic presentations in any form. The scripts—compelling and quirky—the acting and the cinematography all have been spectacular year after year. I put Breaking Bad on a pedestal alongside The Wire, perhaps the best TV drama ever, and The Sopranos.

Not that I’m touting my personal television hall of fame. We all have our favorites. And yes, I still watch The Simpsons—after 24 seasons, the longest running primetime show ever. It graces its own pedestal—assembled out of donuts.

My point is this: People love stories. We get caught up in them. Good stories stir our imaginations. They also let us live other lives vicariously and get caught up in dramas we would never experience ourselves—or want to. These shows and their characters achieve a reality of their own—one that reality shows can never match.

So when a great show finally leaves the air, it’s like a small death in the family. Something familiar and treasured has gone missing. Yet as with all of humanity, one generation departs only to be replaced by another. Death is inevitable, but we find hope and strength in the continuous creation of new life.

And it’s not all or nothing. Before they expire, outstanding TV shows go on hiatus. Their promise to return leaves us with great anticipation. Ray Donovan is concluding its first season. I’ll miss it, sure. Particularly Avi, Ray’s Israeli “handyman.” Meanwhile I’ll catch up with Luther, the BBC detective show starring Idris Elba, back for its third season. And on September 29, Homeland returns.

I’m not looking forward to another season of Mad Men—I stopped watching because I no longer give a damn about Don Draper (if you do, fine)—but I’m in the middle of Netflix’ Orange is the New Black. Early in 2014 we’ll see the return of Netflix’ House of Cards.

There are lessons in all this. For one thing, while it’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at television, stimulating shows exists. For another—particularly of note as we enter autumn this Sunday—spring always follows winter. In the words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”

And so goodbye Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Welcome back, Nicholas Brody, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson. And you too, John Luther. But wait. Did I forget someone? Oh yes. As always, Homer. D’oh.

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