Catching Up: Why ‘Ray Donovan’ Season 3 Is Firing on All Cylinders

     August 26, 2015


Catching Up is a recurring feature to discuss noteworthy moments in shows we don’t recap weekly on Collider, but need to talk about.

Warning: spoilers below for the latest episode of Ray Donovan, “All Must Be Loved.”

When showrunner (and series creator) Ann Biderman left Ray Donovan at the end of Season 2, there was some question of how Season 3 might operate in her absence. The Showtime series’ flow hasn’t noticeably changed, and yet, this also feels like the best of Ray Donovan yet. The show has always struggled to connect its two competing narrative parts — the Donovan family, and Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) job as a fixer, each of which tend to have very different tones — but in Season 3, that reconciliation has finally happened through Ray’s work with the Finney family.

When I reviewed the first few episodes of Season 3, I was hopeful for the show moving forward, but truthfully didn’t expect it to come together like it has. The Finneys have allowed Ray Donovan to stick to its roots as a family drama (which it excels in), while also allowing Ray to wheel and deal and get involved with powerful people whose motivations he can’t always immediately suss out. Or is it that he seeks them out? As Paige (Katie Holmes) says to him at the end of “All Must Be Loved,” he’s addicted to the fight.


Image via Showtime

What has been particularly great about this last pair of episodes (“Swing Vote” and “All Must Be Loved”) is how well they complement each other, and get to the core of what Ray Donovan is about. “Swing Vote” felt largely triumphant — Ray even smiled a few times. He and Abby (Paula Malcomson) were on the mend (and Ray is ok with her buying the bar); Bridget and her teacher shared a nice moment mourning their deceased loves; Terry (Eddie Marsan), Ray, and Mickey (Jon Voight) shared an unexpectedly light moment despite Terry’s paranoid gun fire (one where they actually joked openly about when Ray hired Sully to kill Mickey), and Bunchy (Dash Mihok) made a sweeping proposal to his luchadora love interest.

But towards the end of that hour, things were falling apart. The Finney-backed candidate lost the election, leaving Ray and Paige without a viable coup, and her father Andrew (Ian McShane) on the warpath. “All Must Be Loved” then continued that downward spiral, with Father Romero (Leland Orser) telling Ray he knows the truth about Father O’Connor, and nearly gets him to confess over it (though it ends with ex-communication). Further, there’s tension with Abby and the bar (though Ray does let her go through with it), Terry is told he needs home care, Bunchy’s life with his new lady isn’t exactly what he imagined, and he also falls back in with Mickey and his schemes with the Armenians.

Mickey has largely played for laughs this season, but things are getting serious now (much like the end of Season 2). And as is always the case with him, those things lead to violence, and always involve his sons. It’s one of Ray Donovan’s most pervasive themes, that idea of never being able to break from your past, and that old habits never die. The sons always get back involved with their father, or with the life of violence (Ray) or loneliness (Terry) they are looking to leave behind. Is it because, as Paige suggested to Ray, they’re addicted to it?


Image via Showtime

The past is always alive on Ray Donovan. Some storylines do get left in the dust (many of them thankfully so), but others — those related specifically to the Donovan clan — never quite die. Romero bringing back up the killing of Father O’Connor also brings back to light the reality of Ray’s abuse, a constant thorn in Ray’s psyche. One of the most provocative aspects of the show is that it pivots around the idea of childhood sexual abuse, which tore their family apart, and still plays a major role in their lives today. Bunchy’s story is the most visible of the three, but Terry and Ray also broach it from time to time, often in painful and largely unexplored ways (like when Terry asks Ray if he blamed him for not protecting him, or when Romero suggests that Ray loved his abuser). It’s often a forgotten point that Ray Donovan is a show that is built on the lifelong effects of abuse.

Those complications in the Donovan family’s story tends to drown out any other plots, and it’s something the show hasn’t quite found a way to rectify (as far as how to incorporate season-long villains, or other driving forces). Though the Finneys have been a great addition, we’ve hardly gotten a sense of McShane’s Andrew, and Paige (and the glorious inclusion of her braces) hasn’t played much of a role besides showing how Ray is trying his damnedest to not cheat on Abby anymore. But, for the first time, those plots are not vying to take over the story (like in the past with the FBI or with Ezra), and the show is taking that time to expand side plots like Bridget’s (Kerris Dorsey) fixation on her teacher. It’s a story that doesn’t yet connect to the others, but it doesn’t need to — it’s actually one of the most natural and realistic portrayals of teenage obsession I’ve seen on TV maybe ever. And that’s what Ray Donovan does, and does very well — it takes time to allow for deep narrative exploration.


Image via Showtime

Family dramas only really work if you care about the family, and that’s what makes Ray Donovan so good. I have been somewhat remiss to not include any actors from Ray Donovan in my TV Performer of the Week pieces, but part of that is because it’s such an ensemble work. It’s not that just one person stands out, it’s that everyone stands out, and it’s one of the reasons the show’s world is one that’s so easy to get immersed in and feel at home with. The stories are rich, but they’re also portrayed so naturally and deftly. It’s what anchors a show that, at times, can feel like it’s careening a little too far into chaos. 

As far as where Season 3 is headed, I think “All Must Be Loved” really says it all. The Donovans are masters of always returning to their roots, for better or worse, whether they realize they are doing it willfully or not. Where the particular plots go regarding the Finneys and Mickey’s Armenian troubles don’t really matter. More than almost any other show on television, Ray Donovan is just about experiencing life with this particular (very twisted up) family. Season 3 has already proven that the show is still capable of portraying great drama — some of its best yet — and that’s one habit no one is looking to break.

Ray Donovan airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on Showtime.


Image via Showtime