September 28, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Ray Donovan”


Replacing a show’s creator with a new showrunner isn’t the preferred way for a series to proceed, but the change did some good for Season 3 of RAY DONOVAN, although tonight’s season finale didn’t necessarily showcase that fact.  it wouldn’t exactly be accurate to say that David Hollander, taking over for creator Ann Biderman, “lightened up” the show, not when Liev Schreiber’s Ray could still give the Angel of Death a run for its money in the grimness department.  But there was noticeably less portentousness this time around.  Ray didn’t spend the season plotting the murder of his affable sociopath father Mickey (Jon Voight)–in fact, he even made a little joke about having spent the previous seasons doing so when brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) mistakenly almost shot Mickey one night.  Ray and his wife Abby (Paula Malcolmson) were only moderately miserable together, Ray’s other brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) got more or less happily married, for God’s sake, and will soon become a dad, and even though Terry was near death toward the end (after taking a bullet for Mickey, naturally), at least he didn’t spend the whole season in love-sick misery, as he has in the past.

The decision to have Ray sell his business when he needed to save Terry from being murdered by Aryans in jail (hey, I didn’t say Terry had a fun season) set up a central plotline that had Ray working for billionaire Andrew Finney (Ian McShane), a situation that almost felt like something from a classic LA detective novel by Chandler or Ross McDonald.  This was a lot more interesting than Ray’s excursions among Hollywood scum in previous seasons, especially since McShane proved a good match for Schreiber, his slightly twinkling air of corruption running laps around Ray’s stolid bluntness much of the time. The oft-maligned Katie Holmes may have turned in the best work of her career as Finney’s daughter, ultimately untrustworthy but believably bitter, desperate and manipulative.  And it was a fine idea to bring back Hank Azaria’s ex-FBI agent Cochran to be Ray’s antagonist late in the season as he used Finney’s murder of his son-in-law as a way to frame Ray.

Unfortunately, Hollander decided to end the Finney story last week, which left the finale (directed by Hollander and written by him and Consulting Producer William Wheeler) with the season’s weaker stories.  There were two shoot-outs with the Armenian mob, on Mickey’s trail after he’d informed on them.  This was stock stuff, enlivened only by Grace Zabriskie’s matter-of-factly ruthless mob boss.  Even worse was the plotline of Ray’s daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) becoming romantically obsessed with her math teacher.  That of course pressed all Ray’s buttons about being molested as a child, so after he beat the man half to death and Bridget accused him of being incapable of love, Ray, so tough that he walked through half the episode with an Armenian bullet in his chest, ended up tearfully seeking absolution from the priest (Leland Orser) he’d threatened to kill earlier in the season.  Then he finally passed out and was peacefully driven back to LA by the priest, a conclusion less moving than Hollander probably had hoped it would be.

Ray Donovan flowed more smoothly this season than it had under Biderman, with colors that went beyond shades of bleakness.  It’s been a steady performer for Showtime in the ratings, and it earned its Season 4 renewal.  After 3 seasons and 2 showrunners, though, it’s probably fair to say that the series is never going to be the truly great drama that it obviously longs to be–not quite deep or varied enough.  This season, at least it gave signs that it could be a somewhat entertaining one.


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."