“It’s a different world out there.”
Ray Donovan: The Complete Series is out from CBS Home Entertainment, and it includes all 82 episodes and the television movie that was released to make up for the sudden cancelation without a proper sendoff for the Donovan clan. You get 29 DVD’s, and the set includes all of the extras from the individual season releases. You do have to deal with those large overlapped spindles, so I suggest you create another environment to store them.
Ray Donovan (Schreiber) is a Boston native who moved his entire family including his two brothers out to L.A. There he built an empire by being very good at what he does. What he does is fix problems, particularly for big-name celebrities and the lawyers who coddle represent them. His father has spent 20 years in jail for a crime he might not have actually committed. But Ray hates his father enough to have set him up and sent him to jail. Ray has a wife, Abby (Malcomson) whom he keeps at an arm’s length of his dubious business dealings. He also has a son and daughter who are somewhat conflicted in their feelings for their father.
Ray has two brothers. They run a boxing gym called Fite Club. Terry (Marsan) is pretty much a burned-out boxer himself. He works training other fighters. Bunchy (Mihok) has more serious issues. He has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old and can’t really take care of himself. He’s as challenged emotionally as he is mentally. Much of this is the result of his abuse at the hands of a parish priest when he was young. Ray tries to look after him, but Bunchy wants to be able to take care of himself, even when he can’t. It doesn’t help that he has a pretty bad drinking problem.
Ray’s old friend is Ezra (Gould). Ezra has lost his wife Ruth and finds himself in a constant state of fear and mental instability. There is a guilt eating away at him that we will uncover as the episodes progress.
Now Mickey Donovan (Voight) is out five years before anyone expected. He takes care of a family debt, or so he believes, and heads to L.A. to get his family back. Mickey is going to shake everything up. Ray wants nothing to do with him and forbids his family to see him. Of course they go behind his back, and bad things tend to be the result. He scares the hell out of Ezra, making his mental state worse. He’s a bad influence on Bunchy. What’s worse is that Mickey is aware of the damage he’s doing, and he loves every minute of the ride. The character of a father unwanted by a child might hit a little close to home for Voight. His daughter Angelina Jolie has wanted little to nothing to do with him, mostly because of her own radical political leanings.
It’s Jon Voight’s performance as Mickey that is the catalyst for everything that happens here. The writers throw material at Voight, and he dances through each episode like a court jester putting on a one-man play. The character rushes headlong through the series leaving all manner of carnage in his wake. Voight portrays him as a clown crashing into this already complicated web of relationships. He’s a very bad man who loves to stir the pot and then watch it explode. The problem is that no one else in this show is very likable with the possible exception of Terry, who tries but fails to be a “good” guy and Bunch who just doesn’t know any better. Ray makes a big deal of doing things “for his family”, but he’s completely self-absorbed and obsessed with Mickey to the point of a narrow vision that puts him in these terrible schemes that always backfire.
The real disappointment here is the episode arcs themselves. In the first episode we get a glimpse of potential that is never realized again. We see Ray come up with clever solutions to some of these celebrity problems, and I was looking forward to a show based on that premise. It never appeared. By the second episode Ray is solving these problems through intimidation and brute force. No more cleverness. Certainly, he continues to be a strong character, and you can’t say anything bad about Schreiber’s performance. But the originality is sucked dry by the end of the first hour. Someone had a great idea. They put good actors in the roles and coasted from then on.
What we end up with is a lesser version of The Sopranos. Abby constantly reminds me of Carmella. She tries to ignore where all the money comes from but finds herself having inner turmoil about it all. She’s looking for some kind of spiritual answer. There’s a scene where she’s yelling at Ray from the driveway as he leaves without a word. Straight out of The Sopranos writers’ room. Ray is Tony. Ezra is Hesh. Mickey is Uncle Junior. Ray has a Russian bodyguard/advisor who could be Silvio. There’s a movie star who passes for Christopher, and the brothers combine for a reserved version of Paulie Walnuts.
While the story really spends its time watching the train wreck that is Mickey, there are a few subplots that bring in some impressive guest stars. Pooch Hall plays fighter Daryl, who is Mickey’s illegitimate black son. Frank Whaley plays an awkward rogue FBI agent who has his hooks into Mickey. James Woods has a few episodes as a psychotic killer Ray tries to use to kill Mickey. Starsky himself, Paul Michael Glaser, plays the current husband to Mickey’s old lover and Daryl’s mom.
The production values are top-of-the-heap. The show continues the Showtime tradition of film-like quality on these shows. But it’s not enough to elevate the series beyond a Sopranos wannabe. It’s worth a look, if only for the performances. In the end this doesn’t rise to the kind of quality I’ve come to expect in storytelling from these kinds of shows. There are only eight episodes. Best to catch it in reruns from Showtime or Netflix.
The big news for Season 3 is the loss of Elliott Gould’s Ezra character. Ezra was a father-figure to Ray in every way Mickey (Voight) never was. The relationship between these characters was quite strong, and you will find yourself missing both Ezra and Elliott. With Ezra gone, the movement away from his “fixer” roots gets stronger on the show. Ray is spending more time fixing his own problems and those of his family than he does dealing with clients.
With Ezra gone, enter the character of Andrew Finney, played quite extraordinarily by Ian McShane. Finney is a super-rich and powerful man who manipulates Ray into working for him. It’s one of those Godfather favor deals that finds Ray needing help and Finney having the power to do it. He also ends up caught between the politics of Finney and his daughter Paige, played by Katie Holmes, the best I’ve ever seen her. She’s almost unrecognizable and has come a long way from the starry-eyed girl who once romanced Tom Cruise. She’s a powerful character who wants to own an NFL team and bring it to L.A. It’s a timely plot with three teams currently seeking to fill the decades-long gap of football in the nation’s second-largest market. Ray finds himself along for the ride as a 3% partner, but the path is anything but straight. McShane and Schreiber become the new dynamic to watch. This makes the leaving of Gould a bit more bearable. The two are dynamite together. It’s not just the surface stuff going on here. Both actors revel in the nuances of this relationship. There’s so much beneath the surface as they are actually playing a fascinating game of chess with each other. This is where the season is at its best.
Another great addition is the arrival of Hank Azaria as an obsessed FBI agent who wants to bring Mickey and Ray down. He ends up having to deal with them over the Sully killing. He wants to be the head of the agency, so he ends up taking credit for Sully’s murder as an FBI operation. That puts Mickey in a pinch, and unfortunately for Ray brings him out of his tropical hiding. Azaria plays a wonderfully wicked character here, and he steals a lot of scenes even next to Voight and Schreiber.
The killing of the abusive priest is also going to come back to haunt the Donovan family. The Vatican has sent an investigator priest, Father Romero, played by Leland Oser. He infiltrates Bunchy’s counseling group and passes himself off an abuse victim who also got revenge in order to get Bunchy to confess to him. This doesn’t end up going in the direction we suspect, and it turns out to be something of an emotional crisis for Ray, who must deal with his own abusive history. It all leads to an interesting confrontation during the season finale that I never saw coming.
Of course, John Voight’s Mickey is going to be causing his own trouble. He takes advantage of a situation to place himself as the head of a prostitution and drug ring. He’s fooled himself into believing he’s doing it for the girls. He ends up partnering with son Daryl (Hall). The last time he tried to partner with a son, he left Terry holding the bag when a robbery of a pot house goes pretty badly. Now he’s in bed with an Armenian mob and is soon in over his head. The only way to stop a bloody war is to begin to snitch for the FBI, but we know Mickey’s going to find a way to mess that up just as badly. It all ends with a bloody confrontation in the season finale.
Bunchy finds love in a Mexican wrestler with whom he develops a rather interesting dynamic. Teresa is played by Alyssa Diaz, and the two end up married before the end of the season. He also ends up almost missing said wedding because Mickey’s gotten him in trouble. Meanwhile Terry is almost killed while he wais in jail, and the effects of his experience and Parkinson’s are starting to take a huge toll on him and the family.
Finally, Bridget (Dorsey) has a lot to do this season. She starts the season as a witness to a bloodbath when her boyfriend is killed in a blood feud. She’s then attracted to her math teacher, which also leads to a big part of the dynamic season finale.
In the end Ray has to confront who he is and the damage he has done to his own family. Schreiber gets to explore a greater range with a character that is heading for a crossroads. Next season should be very interesting. Ray’s finding himself emotionally alone. He’s even put tremendous distance between himself and Avi (Bauer), who has to make a horrible choice to protect Ray, a choice that Ray may never forgive. These characters are certainly not standing still. Look for an explosive finale that puts these characters in a new place for Season 4.
The entire style of storytelling has changed for this season. It’s not a spoiler to reveal here that Abby dies of the cancer she discovers in the previous season. Not only isn’t it a spoiler, but it becomes the very event that changes how the show is presented. Ray is living two lives now. In one life he is haunted by the memories and ghost of Abby. That story shows us crucial moments in those final months of Abby’s life and allows her character to continue through the entire season even though she begins it already dead. Many of these moments are repeated, revealing slightly more of their meaning over the season. They are usually tied to events in the current time and most often associated with Ray’s guilt and loneliness.
There is a more current timeline that runs during these episodes that takes us along the lines of Ray’s first widower months and the evolution of the rest of the cast. Part of that guilt is connected to his relationship with actress Natalie James, played by Lili Simmons. She’s a young woman with a lot of trouble, much of it of her own making. Ray gets a little too close and is drawn in by a need to protect someone even as he couldn’t protect his wife. Not that he doesn’t try. We learn he attempted to rig a trial study to help Abby, but the one thing Ray learns this season is that he’s not really in control at all. So most of Ray’s time is spend sheltering Natalie and being a go-between for two Hollywood moguls going through a split.
Bunchy ends up taking care of the baby while his wife ends up on a wrestling tour. Dash Mihok is another strong performer, and he breaks your heart most of the time he’s on screen. He’s the most caring member of the family, and he always ends up in the most trouble by trying to do the right thing. This year he gets robbed of his $1.2 million settlement and also ends up running Abby’s bar when she’s gone. You just can’t help but be moved by this performance. A lot of it is in the eyes, and he doesn’t really have to say anything to deliver.
Terry has undergone a surgical implant procedure that allows him to cover the shakes of his Parkinson’s disease with a remote control. This is a milestone year for Terry, who ends up on Ray’s bad side by making a big decision that changes all of their lives. Terry’s about had it, and Eddie Marsan delivers another quietly powerful performance.
Finally, Bridget (Dorsey) has a lot to do this season. She’s had to take the emotional role that Abby filled for the family but has her own issues and guilt to deal with. She ends up in New York, hooking up with a guy who has the same cancer that killed her mother. The boy ends up being closer to what happened to her Mom than you will suspect. It’s a plotline that pushes Kerris Dorsey to step up big-time in the role.
Seldom has this series been so moving. Sure, there are always the tragic stories, and the things that happened to the Donovan brothers when they were kids were pretty heartbreaking. But this season we see a different side of everything. It’s a rather bold direction for the series and honestly would have made the perfect final season for the show. There is a 6th season on tap, and it will be quite interesting to see where they go from here. This was without a doubt Ray Donovan’s best season. For four years we’ve seen Ray and Mickey do some pretty messed up stuff.
One of the more interesting family members introduced this year is Aunt Sandy, played by Sandy Martin. She’s both huge trouble and some of the show’s best comic relief as she tries to rip off Mickey and Bunchy and ends up part of the season finale where everyone is pitching in for a massacre cleanup that has its dark humor moments, to be sure.
Finally, there’s daughter Bridget, who is played by Kerris Dorsey, and both actress and character have truly come into their own in this and the last season. She’s the new emotional center, and she’s trying to have her own life away from all of the family drama. She’s engaged and working hard, but like Michael Corleone is fond of pointing out, she gets pulled back in. Does her part. And proves herself a Donovan in the end.
This is a dark season and allows Liev Schreiber to evolve the character to a dark and dangerous place. We see a very different Ray here who doesn’t always have the answers any more, and his plans backfire more than they work this season. He can’t get out of his own way, and most of this is grief, but a lot of it is stubbornness. This season the family starts to close in on itself, and Ray’s “empire” is getting smaller. It’s a more intimate season, and while the stories aren’t as tight as they have been, the acting is at an all-time high for the series. I enjoyed these character moments more than any of this season’s plots. Credit the actors for being willing to spend a lot of time in these dark places. It’s the chance to breathe life into a show that was showing a creative void by the fourth season. It’s got to be tough on all concerned, but this was the only way to turn it all around.
For all intents and purposes, Season 7 is the final season of Ray Donovan. The end came rather suddenly and after it was too late to create and film some kind of satisfying finale for the series. The cast and crew were taken by surprise, so you can imagine how the fans of the show are taking this. To make matters worse, the last episode, while not a complete cliffhanger, leaves too many strands of thread that weren’t connected. There’s nothing satisfying about this finale, and that created waves in the world of fandom. Star Trek is famous as being the first television show that a network cancelled and then brought back because of a huge letter-writing campaign that flooded network executives and pushed them into an unprecedented action for that time. The show was brought back. Imagine what those rabid fans could have done today with the internet and social media. The call has gone out, and while Showtime has made no move to offer any kind of reversal or concession, the show’s star reached out with a somewhat cryptic message of hope. He assured fans that the Donovan family isn’t finished just yet. What that reprieve might be, there isn’t a clue offered, but it’s doubtful at this point that the show will return as an 8th season. The likely scenarios include a Showtime film like we saw recently for Deadwood. There’s a shot at a feature film at the theatres, which is where Star Trek’s original crew ended up. There’s always a chance of a revival mini-series like we’ve seen over at Fox for The X-Files and Prison Break. I don’t know what form it might take, but I do believe the characters will return in some way. Unfortunately new global circumstances have placed pretty much all television shows, films, and other outlets for entertainment in doubt, at least in the short term. Eventually we will get out of this, but I suspect Ray Donovan won’t be the first priority out of the gate. Fans are going to have to be patient here. I believe it will happen, but I’m as equally convinced that it won’t happen soon. So for now you’re going to have to savor these last 10 episodes for a while, and this DVD release gives you the means to do just that.
There are two events from the past that are driving the events of this season. Ray (Schreiber) and the family still feel the loss of Abby. That death from Season 5 hangs over everyone as if it had just happened. The other event deals with the circumstances from last season, the cops who waged war on the Donovans and took daughter Bridget (Dorsey) hostage. It ended with a bloody massacre that baptized Bridget’s fiancée Smitty (Rogers) into the family. Bodies were dismembered and heads disposed of … but not for long. Fishermen come up with a bowling ball bag containing one of those heads. Detective Perry (Bernstine) uses it to launch a full-scale investigation into the Donovan family, and it’s going to be brutal.
Mickey (Voight) is on his way to prison … again. He finds a four-leaf clover and begins to believe in some kind of lucky destiny when the image continues to show up. A fuel truck bearing the sign plows into the prison transport causing a huge explosion and incineration of the bodies within. With Mickey dead, the family gathers at a local bar to share their memories. It’s all rather sweet until Mickey crashes his own wake. Somehow he’s escaped, and his “death” is the perfect way to get out from under Detective Perry’s investigation. Mickey takes the blame, but he’s dead. Investigation ends. Mickey escapes to Europe never to be heard from again, and the family goes on as if it never happened. But Jon Voight’s Mickey just can’t help himself, and he gets in his own way once again, disrupting the lives he touches.
Once again Mickey draws son Daryll (Hall) back into his crap along with Aunt Sandy (Martin). Mickey stumbles on a gold coin from the heist that originally sent him to prison for twenty years. It leads him to believe that his partners ripped him off, and the three go off on a little road trip to get the money and/or give a little payback of their own. The trip leaves plenty of bodies in its wake and eventually gets into Ray’s way, making things a lot more bloody and complicated than they need to be, including his latest romantic interest, Molly (Condon). A lot of this season’s best moments can be found with these three and their own agenda.
Ray still can’t deal with the life he now has and seeks the help of a psychologist, played wonderfully by Alan Alda. Dr. Amiot also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and is kind of phasing out his practice.
The brothers Terry and Bunch both have good stuff to play this year. Eddie Marson continues to be one of the best actors on the show. Each season seems to get darker and darker for Terry. This season he falls for a cult who claims he can be healed only to lead him to an elder woman with whom he feels empathy. Terry considers killing himself, but after having visions from the cult’s use of hallucinogens, he sees signs that turn him away each time at the last moment. He even unknowingly encounters Dr. Amiot when he returns to his medical treatments. Marson will bring tears to your eyes just sitting there, and this is some of his best stuff yet. Dash Mihok does almost as well as Bunch. This is a guy who wants to do right, but it just never works out the way he intended it to work. He goes to work for Ray this season, and the actor directs one of the season’s episodes.
The character of Bridget, played by Kerris Dorsey, continues to grow into the heir apparent to Ray’s skills if not his business. She ends up using those skills to help out some friends, and Ray is confronted with just how much like him she is. Her emotional issues are best found in her odd relationship with Smitty, who will make some bad choices with serious repercussions for the family. Again it’s the performances that make this show as good as it is.
The best part of the final season is the flashbacks. We get to see the Donovan siblings in their daily lives after their mother dies and Mickey walks out on them. We get to see how Ray started to become the man he is, and we even see some of what might drive Mickey.
The season is one of the show’s best, but not in the context of a series finale. Showtime really let these actors and characters down by deciding to end it where it is right now. I fully expect there will be something, but alas no one likely knows what, when, or where it might show up. For now, at least as far as the studio is concerned, it’s over and done with.
Then there is the final movie. Ray’s narrative includes a lot of flashbacks to his early days as a child. We get to see how the tension evolved with his father. We also learn how he became a Hollywood fixer, and we see the event that we have heard about for seven years. We learn how and why Ray set his father up for 20 years in prison. We’ve seen a couple of flashback scenes before, and the actor who played the younger version of Ray is Chris Gray. We discover is early encounters with both Abby, played here by AJ Michalka, and Ezra, played here by Danny Deferari. Of course, the reason for these flashbacks is to discover the origins of the Ray Donovan we’ve known for several years, and for the most part it’s an effective device. The problem is how confusing it all can be. There was enough material here for perhaps a mini-series, and the longer this movie plays out, the more I wish that’s what they had decided to do. There’s too much to pack in here.
The wonderful supporting cast that has served this series so well gets criminally little to do. I felt bad for fans of Eddie Marson as Terry, Dash Mihok as Bunchy, and Pooch Hall as Daryll. They are nothing more than window dressing here, and that’s really a shame. I love these guys and the wonderful chemistry they all had throughout the series run. Yes, they get some nice moments, particularly Terry, but those great moments don’t make up for how little of them we get in the end. In fact we don’t get to see Ray much when he’s not on the phone. Series stalwart Katherine Moennig gets less than a two-minute cameo. Most of the running time is filled with the flashback story. It’s a compelling story, to be sure, and it could have been its own film. Even Jon Voight’s Mickey doesn’t get enough to do, and he’s the most used and most crucial character in this goodbye story. Bill Heck does a … heck of a job playing the younger Mickey, and honestly, there’s a series right there.
I have such mixed feelings about the coda film. I will tell you that there are some terrific payoffs, and there’s no question this is the end of that story. You’ll get the ending you deserved in the series itself. But on the other hand, it’s all so rushed and incomplete. The show was running out of steam, and it couldn’t go on forever on just the strength of this mighty cast. I get that much. “It had to stop. It had to end.”