On Sunday, October 29, the fifth season of “Ray Donovan” wrapped up on Showtime. The episode, in my view, was a successful conclusion to a season that wasn’t always my favorite, as it at times seemed a bit jumbled and rudderless. But in Episode 12, titled “Time Takes a Cigarette,” I was able to see the Season 5 “chess board” more clearly. The fifth installment of the show was, in retrospect, paced just right and better organized than I at first understood.
I will assign some “Season 5 Superlatives” as a review of the last 12 episode run, but first –
The Season Synopsis
The first thing out of Ray’s control this season was wife Abby’s serious cancer diagnosis and eventual death. Her demise was presented to viewers up front, and the season’s early episodes were a beautiful work of real time and flashback sequences as both the show’s characters and audience alike adjusted to the fact that however long Ray Donovan continues, it will do so without the feisty matriarch who often served as the tough-love conscience for Ray, his brothers, and his father Mickey. This major conflict takes Bridget to New York to befriend a dying young man who Ray manipulated out of a clinical trial list to make room for Abby, who Terry helps take her own life before she can receive a potentially life-saving operation. The young man’s fate plays into the last minutes of the season, which I’ll get to …
At the heart of the secondary conflict of the season is Ray’s annual “Ray-as-Hollywood-fixer” plot. Here, dueling agenda’s pit a Hollywood studio head, Doug Landry, committed to bending an up and coming starlet to his will (and into bed), and Samantha “Sam” Winslow, the still powerful widow of the studio’s once long-term leader, played by Susan Sarandon, who will stop at nothing to protect her position at the top from the shifty and maneuvering Landry. Hired by both Landry and Sam, Ray gets caught in the middle, somewhat falls for and sleeps with Natalie, the young Starlet, protects her from her abusive husband, then Doug (as best he can), and tries to manage Sarandon’s expectations while ultimately serving her ends after Natalie’s death.
Assuming viewers/fans of the show are reading, I think it safe to hand out some end-of-season awards to cap off the 60-episode mark of the show. Within each other elements and subplots of the season will be revealed (I invite you to use “Comments” to affirm or challenge any of my assumptions).
Best Clean Slate Award – Ray
The Episode 5 Season Finale presents Ray a clear path moving forward, and we witness him slowly execute it in a bit of a thinly veiled organized daze. Following his last session with anger management counselor played by C. Thomas Howell (wisely going with a shaggy bearded over the blackface that sidetracked his career) Ray has a realization though we’re not quite clear what it is. But then he quickly moves to settle all outstanding local business, A) turning Abby’s bar and the family dog over to Bunchy; B) Taking Conor to the recruiting office and lets him join the Marines; C) Shuttering his business after the embarrassment of Natalie’s murder has clients running for the hills, and D) traveling off to New York for a studio meeting with Sam. There, he leans on Sam for a favor (in exchange for killingDoug Landry) that forces the reluctant surgeon with the miracle cure (Kim Raver, welcome back!) to operate on the dying young man with whom Bridget has since not only befriended, but also fallen in love. E) Finally, with nothing left to do, Ray sits on a bench overlooking the Hudson or East River (I don’t know N.Y.), and sees an image of Abby sitting on the bench a few feet away. She gets up and walks away, and he follows as the season fades to black. Ray at this point is free to pursue whatever he wishes, and in a new town less familiar with his unfortunate collapse in L.A.
- First Honorable Mention: Bunchy. With a new confidence born in part over anger he feels over Teresa’s infidelity, (but mostly because in this very moment he inherits Abby’s Bar and “Dog the Dog” [the Donovan family’s beautiful Italian Mastiff] from Ray) he asks Teresa to leave he and the baby alone and disappear. Determined to turn the classy albeit sleepy watering hole into more of a crowd draw establishment (with pinball!), we’ll see if this attracts more clientele… and perhaps what kind of troubled people that includes?
- Second Honorable Mention: Avi. Free of Frank Barnes and hopefully cleaned up, could he perhaps start fresh in New York assisting Ray in his new endeavors
- Third Honorable Mention: Daryll. Realizing that the only way to accept Jay White’s offer to join his production company is to stay out of jail and confess nothing, Daryll turns in the gun that kills Frank Barns and claims Mickey killed the dirty FBI agent. But Daryll and “competence” don’t always go hand in hand, so we’ll see how long he can dutifully serve Jay White without making monumental mistakes or creating failed schemes on the side.
Best “Will She Return?” Award – Samantha “Sam” Winslow
If Ray has any foundation to start with in New York, it would have to be a hand-up from charmingly evil Sam (Susan Sarandon), who now has the upper hand in remaining in charge of her movie studio. Ray no longer owes Sam, having offed her greatest threat to power, Doug Landry. But where does he have to go from here? With nothing but whatever little profits are left from the sale of his home, Ray will need to at least start with one client, and that client is most likely to be Sam.
- First Honorable Mention: Abby. Will she return in flashbacks during Season 6? Will Ray count on her counsel through dreams as he navigates and mean streets of New York? Paula Malcomson, who played Abby, told Vulture it was time for Abby to go, hinting that she was done. But could the showrunners tempt her for flashbacks? Or is the show better off, for Ray and storyline, if we move on from her completely?
- Second Honorable Mention: Teresa. Sure, Bunchy has cast her off … but how willingly did she go? Were some tumultuous scenes kept from viewers, which may hint at Teresa – now seemingly past her post-partum depression – returning (maybe with some family muscle?) to insist Bunch take her back, or at least demand partial custody of their baby?
- Third Honorable Mention: Lena. The HUGELY underutilized Lena is now out of a job unless she follows Ray to New York. Of course, opportunities with Ray abound only if Ray continues in some form of “client service.” But with the announcement that “The L Word” is in development to return, AND include Lena actress Katherine Moennig, will Lena simply and quietly disappear?
People Choice Not to Return Award – Conor
I don’t need to poll my friends or study social media to tell me that everybody is annoyed by this kid. Conor, we know you’ve gone away Mad. But Conor… just stay away.
Best Fuck Up We Root for Anyway – Mickey
We know Mickey is an asshole. But boy is he entertaining. A couple of tertiary conflicts arise in Season 5 involving Mickey inserting himself in places sure to cause trouble. First, Mickey calms and assists his son Daryll when big movie star client Jay White accidentally decapitates his martial arts instructor and needs emergency cover-up assistance. In the crisis, Mickey’s always tactful timing comes into play as he leverages White’s vulnerable state to pitch him his big screenplay. White, NOT appreciative, takes the screenplay and makes something of his own with it, which of course Mickey resents.
Second, Mickey plays games with FBI Agent Frank Barnes over the disappearance of Avi. Mickey won’t help Barnes find the Ray loyalist and fan favorite, who has been busy selling the drugs the Donovans and Frank lifted from the Russians at the end of Season 4. Barnes was counting on profiting off of this same evidence/drug haul. Pissed over Mickey’s lack of cooperation, Barnes jails Bunchy on charges stemming back from their taking down the Russian mobsters last year. At one point, with Mickey held at gunpoint by Barnes, Daryll arrives to save Mickey by blowing Barnes’ brains out. Ray figures out Barnes has been murdered and uses the intel to have Mickey jailed. Mickey, knowing it was Ray, tries to get one over on his eldest son by telling the Feds everything, only to be undercut by Daryll when he hands in the murder weapon and says Mickey killed Barnes.
I think Mickey deserves these column inches as “the straw that stirs the drink” on Ray Donovan. How much trouble can one man dedicate himself to finding?! Mickey’s selfishness, combined with his ineptness, always negatively affects his family and keeps the Ray Donovan audience on its toes. Without him, Ray Donovan may appear at times to be almost too linear a procedural / soap opera. So we have to appreciate the bad and ugly. Because we rarely get the good out of Mickey Donovan.
Most Underrated Donovan – Terry
Sure, Terry fucked up and loses his new wife to an inexplicable night of infidelity. But the silver lining is his ability to move freely throughout Season 5. First, he is benefitting from some frontal brain implants that have steadied his Parkinson’s symptoms, bolstering his confidence. Second, while his work developing young boxer Damon is interrupted when he refuses to let Damon’s absent and recovering father freeload off of Damon’s generosity, he relents at the end of Episode 12. I think he does so because of the empathy he develops in playing an integral bi-coastal role in assisting Bridget’s effort to correct the injustice that befell the young man who Ray bumped from a clinical trial for Abby’s benefit. Terry even offers a little levity this season as he accidentally gets a bit high smoking out with Bridget and the sick young man, with whom Bridget has now fallen in love. He babbles and chuckles like a first-time user until he and Bridget find their way to a church, where Terry sobers quickly and confronts his demons in confession. Always there to sacrifice, and rarely getting ahead, Terry deserves more love and respect as does Eddie Marsan’s incredible acting.
“Winner” of Season 5 – Bridget
Wait… What?! It’s true. Once Bridget consents to her mother’s mercy killing at Terry’s hand, she becomes the ultimate “woman with nothing to lose.” She goes to New York to find the man still suffering from Ray’s manipulation of the clinical trial waiting list. She falls for him. She confronts her father over the injustice they caused this young man, and refuses to forgive him. From there, she takes drastic measures she knows won’t work without her father stepping in to fix them, most notably confronting the leading-edge surgeon (Raver’s Dr. Bergstein) who has developed the miracle surgery. When left with false sympathies from the doctor, she departs only to show up later and hold her at gunpoint, insisting she perform the operation on her suffering young love. Arrested and jailed, Bridget has knowingly forced her father’s hand, as Ray make pleas, first to Dr. Bergstein, who isn’t impressed or threatened, but then (out of frame) to Sam, whose powerful connections put Dr. Bergstein’s position with her medical board or superior accrediting body of some kind at risk. Forced to now save the young man or be toppled from her Olympus, Bergstein not only bends to the will of the Donovans, but does so only after a threat that would have gone unexecuted without Bridget’s moxie.
Will Season 6 wrap up the series? We’ll see you in New York to find out. One thing is certain. No matter how fuzzy a season of Ray Donovan first appears, it always delivers in the end.