Now in its fifth season, Hollywood’s favourite “fixer” Ray Donovan finds his professional and personal life once again plunged into turmoil, but this time the stakes are far higher and the results far more traumatic.
*** WARNING, SPOILERS ***
With a major change of formula and pace, this season was a gamble to be sure, but it’s refreshing to see that the show is worthy of pulling off such a feat. The use of a time-jump between seasons has been seen before in other long-running drama series, but it can come with mixed results and thankfully the gamble paid off to some degree with this season ending on a much stronger note than it began. It’s also a bold move to use this process to kill off a major character by employing such a narrative device and it was as shock to discover that it was such a central player who had been offed.
The season opens with its titular character maintaining his role as the trouble shooter to the many players of the Hollywood movie industry however, Ray (Liev Schreiber) now finds himself on a downward spiral, struggling to cope with the death of his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) supposedly taken from him by a terminal disease, only to discover later in the season that a trusted family member has assisted her in taking her own life. Ray is on the figurative roller-coaster of emotions, whilst still trying to portray his tough, no nonsense persona to all that surround him, especially as he finds himself in court-imposed anger management due to an incident that occurred immediately after his wife’s passing and is now forced to tow the line in counselling, whilst desperately hiding the demons of his abusive childhood once again.
This is compounded by the added woes of his children abandoning him. His son Conor (Devon Bagby) reacting in the confusion and anger of male adolescence, eventually running away to the military is given little screen time. This is nothing really new for this character who unfortunately seems to always be an afterthought by the writing team. Far more interesting is the disintegration of the relationship between Ray and his daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey), following not only her mother’s passing, but the discovery of the tactics her father employed to obtain her a place on the roster of patients, waiting for a new and potentially life saving treatment. The end result leaves Bridget facing a jail and Ray is forced to come to her rescue, by handing his father Mickey (John Voight) to the authorities to bargain her release.
Once again Voight shines in the role of the wayward father and the irony is not lost that his eventual incarceration comes after a period of redemption during this season. Mickey is no longer the player and con artist that we are used to seeing. He is for once actually trying to be a father figure to his sons and steps in to help both Bunchy (Dash Mihok) and Daryll (Pooch Hall) with the type of selfless sacrifice that is uncommon for him gauged against the earlier seasons. I must admit to feeling a little let down by this, but the show does portray an almost karmic scale and it’s no secret that Mickey has done his fair share of wrongdoings to lead Ray to this act, but I still couldn’t help but feel that the character had moved into a new direction and it would’ve been interesting to see how this may have developed.
Newcomer to the show Susan Sarandon appears throughout the season as media mogul Samantha Winslow and whilst her character adds little to begin with, she develops at an even pace throughout the season to possibly provide a future narrative hook for season six, which you would imagine has to be the plan when you bring in an actress of that magnitude to such a show.
Looking ahead to the following season, I’m almost disappointed that Showtime have already announced its commission. The final seconds of season five seem to allude to an ending of the saga that would’ve been almost Soprano-esque and whilst I’m delighted to hear that these character’s stories will continue, it would have been nice to have been kept in the dark for a short while as to whether they would have.
The next season will apparently find Ray in a change of location with New York taking the place of Los Angeles and it’ be interesting to see how many of the central cast will return as a result and what direction Ray will find himself taking with his role as the “go to guy” now exposed to the media. I can only hope that they find a way to keep all of the central characters involved as I do feel that as interesting a character as Ray Donovan is, he needs his family to play off. This was illustrated brilliantly when he teamed up with his brothers Bunchy and Terry (Eddie Marsden) to recover Bunchy’s stolen cash. This season seemed to want to push the family apart and my sentimental side wants to see them all come together again.
Season five of Ray Donovan is much a darker take on the saga and whilst still enjoyable, it needs to pull itself back on track somewhat to regain its former glory.
Film 89 Verdict – 7/10