October 30, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Ray Donovan”


RAY DONOVAN had an odd, misshapen Season 5, bleak even by its own depressed standards.  It was perhaps best viewed as a long runway to Season 6, which will by necessity involve something of a reboot, since Showtime has announced that the series is relocating to New York.  The show thus far has been suffused in LA imagery and detail, so changes will be coming, especially since it’s not clear how much of the cast will be accompanying Ray (Liev Schreiber) to the other coast.

As for Season 5, it was dominated emotionally by lengthy flashbacks to the lingering death of Abby Donovan (Paula Malcolmson), who was eventually assisted out of her misery by Ray’s brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) and daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey).  The circumstances of Abby’s death were only gradually revealed through the course of the season, which was drenched in tragedy and loss.  Ray, no bundle of laughs even on a good day, was even more repressed and miserable than he’s been in past seasons.

The present-day storylines were thin and featured even more misery.  Susan Sarandon popped up for a few minutes every episode or two as a sleekly menacing Hollywood studio head.  Ray took in a gorgeous, troubled young actress (Lili Simmons, as striking as on Banshee but used for little but sultry neediness) who was promptly murdered.  Sad-sack Bunchy (Dash Mihok) lost both his savings and his wife, although he eventually regained the former.  Terry’s marriage broke up as soon as the season began, and although he was a bit better off than we’d seen him before thanks to implants that controlled the shakes of his Parkinson’s, he mostly looked stricken.  Ray alienated Bridget when she discovered that he had poisoned the bloodstream of the nice young man ahead of Abby on the line for a clinical trial, with whom Bridget fell in love.  (The joke was on Ray when Abby’s assisted suicide came just as he was about to tell her he’d gotten her into the trial.)  Mickey (Jon Voight) was as usual a thorn in everyone’s side, at the center of a complicated plot that included blackmailing a Hollywood star, attempting to make Ray kill his old colleague Avi (Steven Bauer) and the shooting of an FBI agent by Ray’s half-brother Daryll (Pooch Hall).

The season finale, written and directed by showrunner David Hollander, did a neat job of tying up loose ends.  Ray made a deal with the studio head to force the cancer surgeon to operate on Bridget’s boyfriend, in exchange for which Ray murdered another studio exec who had impregnated the young actress and was challenging the studio head’s job.  (Ray Donovan was more timely than it’s ever been–more than it could have known–when it depicted the sexual predator producer assaulting another actress in his hotel room wearing only a bathrobe.)  Daryll cooperated with Ray in providing the evidence to put Mickey in jail for the killing of the FBI agent, so that Daryll could take a job with the star Mickey was blackmailing.  Ray gave Bunchy Abby’s bar.  Even Ray’s little-seen son Conor (Devon Bagby) was disposed of, as Ray signed him into the military.  At the end of the episode, as a David Bowie song about suicide played, Ray followed an apparition of Abby and either jumped into the East River or hallucinated a jump, in either case presumably ready to come out of the water somewhat cleansed and ready to begin again.

This season wasn’t exactly enjoyable to watch, but Hollander kept the wheels in motion, and the acting was as usual very fine.  Schreiber at this point has Ray repressing so much emotion that it seems like he could implode into a black stain on the carpet at any moment, while Voight continued to chew scenery with glee, and Marsan and Mihok were customarily excellent.  Pooch Hall and Kerris Dorsey were both given more to do than they have in past seasons, and performed admirably.

Never say never, but it seems unlikely that Ray Donovan could come up with a season more grim than this one, so one can hope that Season 6 will be on something of an upswing.  Mickey appears to be in prison for the long haul and Bunchy’s just started his bar, so it’s unclear how much they’ll continue to be part of the regular cast, and it’s anyone’s guess where Terry stands.  The series does reasonably well for Showtime, but it’s far from a runaway hit, so a bit of a rebuild may be a good idea.  Ray Donovan isn’t ever going to be a feel-good series; still, there’s no reason why it needs to exist in an all-out dystopia.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."