In its fifth season, Ray Donovan concluded with our titular fixer (Liev Schreiber) ready to do something he had never really committed himself to doing before — following Abby (Paula Malcomson). His vision of her ghost led him up and over a New York City mid-rise, out into the East River. We knew Ray wasn’t going to die even then, but that moment did raise plenty of questions about how the show would handle Ray’s psyche moving forward. He’s been through a lot, including the deaths of several people he was close to, finally putting his father in jail, confronting the priest who abused him, the end of his friendship with Avi (Steven Bauer), and committing murder for Samantha Winslow (Susan Sarandon). All of this, coupled with losing Abby, sent Ray over the edge rather literally.
A location change to New York for this new season seemed like it could lead to a new start for Ray. Of course, we’ve also seen hints of that before, and it never really led anywhere. But Season 6’s premiere, “Staten Island — Part 1,” starts off with Ray being rescued by a cop, Mac McGrath (Domenick Lombardozzi), who he ends up reluctantly befriending. The rest of Ray’s life is on hold then for several months then as he lives at Mac’s shabby Staten Island house, gets drinks at a local bar with the cops, and fixes up Mac’s dad’s Harley. But it doesn’t take long for Mac to need Ray’s help, and almost immediately, Ray inserts himself back into the fixer life.
This, on its own, could have been an interesting change: Ray Donovan, Working Class Hero! Mac has some issues he needs to deal with, some of which mirror Ray’s own challenges from the past. The show is good when it comes to Hollywood satire, but it’s great when it comes to personal issues. Early in “Staten Island — Part 1,” we also see a few glimpses of Bunchy (Dash MIhok) coming out of a custody hearing for his daughter that isn’t going his way. His anguish is palpable, as he stands there in his schlubby attire that he did his best with, unable to hand his daughter away. This is where Ray Donovan, with its excellent cast, really shines.
But almost immediately, Ray also makes himself available again to Samantha Winslow, and is embroiled in yet another “mysterious, sexy woman needs help” plot that we’ve seen a hundred times before. He calls up Lena (Katherine Moennig), the show’s most underused character, to run an email, but we don’t see any of the investigative work before a dead body is added to the equation. The point is that no matter where Ray goes there he is, a fixer who can’t help but be drawn to this life while simultaneously being repulsed by what he’s asked to do by and for the powerful and the rich. The show had an opportunity here to do something different in allowing Ray to use his talents for good (like he does to some degree with Mac, even getting Mac’s picked-on kid to Terry’s (Eddie Marsan) gym in order to gain some fighting pointers). Granted, him getting Winslow to do him a favor that benefited Mac make some sense as to why Ray would return to her, but at the same time, she doesn’t really end up fixing the issue.
Meanwhile, Mickey (Jon Voight) is, per usual, up to something while in prison, and Darryl (Pooch Hall) represents the show’s sole current tie to Hollywood with his blaxploitation film. And while Ray Donovan is often very funny in those moments of LA-based satire, it doesn’t connect well with the rest of the story here — and never has. The heart of Ray Donovan are the Donovans, not the trappings of Hollywood or Ray’s celebrity clients. With the show now primarily on the East Coast, and closer to the Donovans’ spiritual home base of Boston, there was (and maybe still is) a chance for Ray and his brothers get back to their roots and deal with their family issues. Showtime only provided one episode of the new season for review, so despite some of the more familiar roads this season seems to be taking, there’s still a chance for Ray Donovan to deliver something new for Ray, and viewers, to experience. For starters: If you can’t outrun your past, embrace it. Leave Hollywood behind for awhile.
Ray Donovan Season 6 premieres Sunday, October 28th on Showtime.