Recurring Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Minok, Stephen Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Hank Azaria, Vinessa Shaw and Jon Voight
Ray Donovan is a broken man. Ever since his rape at the hands of a Catholic priest was dragged to the surface, Ray has been set on destroying everything he holds dear. While his work colleagues have no idea that he is under any form of stress, handling the lives of the dirty, rich and famous with the usual ease, his home life is breaking under pressure. Abby drags Ray to counselling where they can resolve their marriage issues, although both of them seem more concerned with the image of a good marriage, rather than working to overcome their problems. As they get wrapped up in their own lives, they don’t realise that their son, Connor, is getting influenced by Mickey, and their daughter, Bridget, is being wooed by ex-boyfriend, Marvin, who is now a major rap star. Meanwhile, Sully’s legacy might not yet be over. A determined reporter shows up in LA, trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Sully, which could send Ray Donovan and his associates to prison. While the clear answer is to murder the reporter, Ray is determined that things won’t go that far.
Season Two starts strong. The first six episodes are the Ray Donovan we remember from Season One. He is smart, resourceful and sophisticated, shining cool from every facial expression. Liev Schreiber is on fine form, only emoting when he needs to do, so the second a glimmer of emotion cracks on his face, we feel it that much harder. It is a purposefully minimalist performance, yet it is just as impressive as Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey’s scene-chewing. We are given new players to the game, which shake things up nicely. The director of the FBI is in charge with clearing up the mess Mickey and Sully made, quickly becoming the one man who Ray cannot control or manipulate. Ray also struggles handling the sassy reporter, who values truth and integrity over anything Ray can offer her. The first six episode sees Ray juggle these two characters, as they get closer and closer to getting what they want, some dangerous elements thrown into the mix. Every episode raises the bar slightly and the story becomes fascinating, gripping us to the point where next week cannot come fast enough.
And then the show falls apart. There isn’t a sudden drop in quality as much as a gradual drifting away. The show begins to lose focus and before you know it, Ray Donovan is becoming that one show you struggle to tune into. I can’t really pick a moment where it turns in on itself, almost as if one day I stopped caring over what is happening altogether. It felt a little like Walking Dead’s second season, where you assumed it was going through a slower episode to develop character (a normal occurrence with most shows), but it never really recovered from that drop in pace. The show loses urgency and, as a result, it gets pretty dull. With Season One, and the first few episodes of this season, the stakes and goals of an episode were very clear. Every moment and scene was dedicated to a job and it made Ray Donovan snappy and energetic. Here, the writers step away from the plot and try to make the show a more character-centric piece. It is frustrating, because you begin to rebel against your favourite characters. Bunchy was the best thing about the first season, but when you are trapped in a subplot, where he tries to have a steady relationship, you feel the character is being forced upon you and you start disliking his appearances. Too many background stories start popping up and it begins to feel like the writers are just going with the flow, rather than having a set plan in mind. When the second season begins to resolve itself and throws some shocks into the mix (admittedly, some of them raise the bar slightly closer to your expectations), it doesn’t come across as clever. The finale is a bit flat, because of this, which is a shame, because on paper, it had the potential to come across as an episode filled with OMG reveals and money-shots.
At the very least, Ray Donovan gets across its main message. Ann Biderman’s idea for the show was to depict the corruption of Hollywood. These are the people that are living your dream, but it is destroying them. The successful clients of Ray come across as creeps and jerks, guest star actors showing up just to have fun with portraying some despicable shitbags. Even those close to them begin to turn into monsters. A parole officer’s character arc goes from honest to the most corrupt figure of them all. Good guys are either hiding something or have yet to succumb to the lure of corruption. One of the more interesting moments is where Abby starts dating a homicide detective to get away from her husband’s violence, but accidentally begins inspiring the detective to become more like her husband. While the focus on character weakened the show, when you stand back and look at the bigger picture, it makes it easier to see what Biderman was going for, even if the entertainment factor suffered for it. Then, on the other hand, Abby’s character arc seems to come full circle, looping right back around to where she started, due to the direction of the ending note, suggesting that either Biderman shoots her own moral in the foot or she wants to repeat the same storyline in Season Three. Either suggests that Ray Donovan is about to get worse before it gets better.
Final Verdict: Clever and fun in places, Season Two of Ray Donovan just about holds itself together, although it is clear that the writers are losing control of the show.