Before my weekly recaps and analysis of the forthcoming six season of Ray Donovan, let’s take a look at where the show has been, and where it might go…
“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” once wrote Theodore Roosevelt. For five seasons now, Liev Schreiber has portrayed the titular character of Ray Donovan, tweaking Teddy’s proverb by riding around Hollywood in a black Mercedes with a Louisville Slugger in his trunk. A square jaw covered in stubble, a white dress shirt, a black tailored suit, and a short temper have been reliable accessories. A thick Boston accent pervades when and if Ray decides to speak. Mr. Donovan is a high-end fixer for the Hollywood elite, cleaning up the messes made by studio execs, A-list actors, and all-star athletes.
Ray is not a man of action. He’s a man of reaction. Los Angeles spins around him in a hurricane, then he follows in its wake. Hardly emoting, hardly revealing what really makes him tick. As the show has progressed, Schreiber has mastered the art of delivering provocative scenes without uttering a word. By now, the audience has learned to study the lines on Ray’s face to determine just how pissed off, fed up, amused, or desperate Ray really is.
It would be shortsighted to peg Ray Donovan as just another man behaving badly on twenty-first century TV. The pilot episode introduced Ray as a workaholic with a flawed moral code, a violent temper, a traumatic past, and an extended dysfunctional family always leaning on him. His marriage to Abby (Paula Malcolmson) has suffered because Ray is prone to fuck his clients and drink to excess, and his role as a father to Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and Conor (Devon Bagby) has been further hindered by the detachment stemming from an all-consuming job he can’t tell his kids about. In the back of Ray’s mind are the scars of childhood abuse from a Catholic priest, and a sister who committed suicide.
These seeds have been blooming since the first hour of Ray Donovan, giving and taking everything from Schreiber’s stoic character.
Ray also has daddy issues. In that same pilot episode, his father, Mickey (Jon Voight), was released from a twenty-year jail sentence. Ray had played a part in Mickey’s incarceration, and dreaded the day his father was finally free. Ray knew Mickey would track him and his family down and attempt to ruin their lives with his appetite for destruction. Ray was right. Mickey is everything Ray is not: talking loud, carrying a little stick, and wearing a Members Only jacket. A sloppy criminal and an even worse liar. Jon Voight has also instilled an undeniable charm in Mickey. The character is a snake in the grass, and one can’t help but be enchanted with him. Months shy of turning eighty, Voight remains as sleazy and compelling as he did fifty years ago in Midnight Cowboy. Whether he is ogling women a quarter his age, snorting coke with his offspring, or senselessly murdering someone, Mickey has remained the true antagonist of the show.
Family. Can’t live with them. Can’t kill them.
All of Mickey’s issues have been shouldered further by Ray and his three brothers. Terry (Eddie Marsan) has Parkinson’s disease and runs a boxing gym, Bunchy (Dash Mihok) is a sexual anorexic (also abused by a Catholic priest) who never makes the right decision in life, and Darryl (Pooch Hall) is the literal black sheep of the family, a product of Mickey’s insatiable appetite for ladies of color. Trouble continues to find each of Ray’s brothers, and Ray continues bailing them out.
The Russian mob, gangsters from South Central, and crooked FBI agents have come and gone. Family has remained the true thorn in Ray’s side. They are all his flesh and blood, yet he doesn’t know how to love them, or himself. While Ray has stayed busy solving everyone else’s problems, he’s never solved one of his own. Ray’s gainful employment has allowed him to overcompensate in every area of life. In the thick of Abby’s battle against breast cancer, Ray bought a bar and named it after her. With Terry’s Parkinson’s Disease robbing him of his boxing career, Ray bought him a gym to run. His kids have been spoiled and sent to the finest private schools so Ray can keep them at a safe distance. He doesn’t know how to love anyone. Mickey never taught him.
The first four seasons of Ray Donovan were well crafted and easy to digest — Ray cleaning up messes while his family ties were going threadbare. Season five broke with tradition and refused to tell a linear story, keeping dedicated Ray Donovan fans on their toes. Continuity was pureed, then poured across the season. It was just the curveball that the show needed to keep its audience from straying. Abby was alive and yet seemingly dead, and the audience wouldn’t quite understand the circumstances of her passing until late in the season.
By the season five finale, Ray was stripped of everything. The familiar set piece of the Donovan home was sold off. Abby was dead, Conor had disowned his father, and Bridget moved to New York City to escape the shadow of her father. With Donovan blood running through her veins, Bridget resorted to her father’s violent means of coercion and had to be bailed out of jail. Mickey had killed an FBI agent, and when Ray found out, he made sure Mickey was locked up for life. Ray then dissolved his fixing business, gave Abby’s bar to Bunchy, and followed Bridget to New York City.
In the final scene of season five, Ray envisioned Abby jumping off the roof of a building and into a river. He followed her, and sank into an underwater abyss before the credits rolled. He had nothing left to lose. It was a surreal sight that felt more like a dream, but a sneak peek at season six shows someone pulling Ray out of the water. The season six trailer also reveals that Ray doesn’t return to the sprawl of Southern California and casts his lot within the bustling city grid of Manhattan. With a bushy beard and longer hair, its tough to tell what Ray is up to aside from kicking ass and taking names.
Mickey, Terry, Bunchy, and Darryl are all confirmed to return to the show, but the presence of Abby remains a mystery. Paula Malcolmson could remain an integral part of the show as Abby, dwelling within Ray’s subconscious as a guiding light, but the show may be moving on without her. Either way, the totality of Abby’s loss on Ray must be felt in this coming season. She was his closest ally if there ever was one, and Ray needs to capture her meaning through the changes within his character. Another wild card is Ray’s son, Conor, who may or may not play a significant role in Ray’s next phase in life.
Ray Donovan will certainly miss the presence of Steven Bauer, who played Ray’s devoted employee, Avi, who was killed off in the prior season. Ray’s other helper, Lena (Katherine Moenning) has been a reliable supporting player, and it is still unclear if she will be returning to the show. Fingers crossed. This empty real estate among the cast looks to be filled by Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) who will join the show as a New York policeman, Sean “Mac” McGrath, who will either be teaming up with Ray or causing him a few headaches. Likely, a little bit of both. Susan Sarandon will be reprising her role as powerbroker Samantha Winslow, following Ray to New York and seemingly drawing him back to his life as a fixer.
Ray might be closer to Bridget in New York and in a better place to repair their father-daughter bond, but it’s tough to imagine Ray’s brothers can survive on their own. Other visions found in the trailer find Terry getting beat up, and Bunchy holding his child in the middle of a street, calling Ray to inform him that Mickey is in the hospital after a heart attack. Darryl is heard asking, “Ray, what are you going to do?” And Ray replies, “I’ll take care of it.” The coming swarm around Ray looks to be guaranteed entertainment. Ray will indeed take care of it, but when the dust settles, Mickey will be waiting to exact sweet revenge upon him. I can’t wait to see how.
In the final moments of the pilot for Ray Donovan, Ray threatened Mickey with his life if he came near his wife and children, but Ray has been just as destructive to his immediate family as Mickey has ever been. Will Ray be held accountable for the sins of his father that he has perpetuated, or will Mickey get to him first? As Ray is further and further whittled down to a nub, I hope the show digs into who Ray really is. With his family and occupation drifting into the abstract, it’s time to find out what is under Ray’s rugged, handsome, damaged facade. What will fulfill him? Who is he without Abby’s undying love? Ray Donovan has successfully steered itself to a pivotal moment in the series where the show can answer these questions however it pleases.
The sixth season of Ray Donovan premieres October 28, exclusively on Showtime.