If there’s anything more concerning than the outward corruption of wealthy, powerful people, it’s the scandals that are covered up. All of those pesky shirked punishments, unlawful bribes and unspoken payoffs between government officials, athletes and business moguls require an outside hand — a “fixer” to smooth out the ripples before the public catches on.
In “Ray Donovan,” which recently premiered its third season on Showtime, brooding Ray (Liev Schreiber, “Scream”) is the best fixer for the rich and morally bankrupt of Los Angeles. When newcomer billionaire Andrew Finney (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”) questions the man’s authenticity, Ray curtly replies, “You got a job for me, tell me what it is. If not, thanks for the pen. You got a nice house.” But Finney, successful, ruthless and in need of help, as other clients before him, knows better than to let Ray leave his plush Hollywood mansion so quickly. Even if his skeptical daughter, Paige (Katie Holmes, “Batman Begins”), warns him to use his money wisely. Finney’s son, Casey (Guy Burnet, “Mortdecai”), has been kidnapped and held for ransom at five million dollars, for reasons of dubious nature — something involving a shipment of drugs without compensation. The money isn’t an issue, but Finney’s reputation is at stake.
“No, wait, Mr. Donovan,” Finney said. “What exactly do you do?”
“I change the story,” Ray replied. The man speaks the truth.
Naturally, Ray’s own story inspired him to build a career around fixing others’ problems. His father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight, “Runaway Train”), is a sociopathic killer and con man who has a knack for winning people over with his charm. Just released from a twenty year jail sentence, Mickey has his sights set on patching things with his family in L.A., particularly with Ray, his golden child. Mickey moves into a shabby apartment complex far from Rodeo Drive, whose occupants are chiefly prostitutes and their white trash pimp, ironically named Gary Royal.
Despite his unsavory company, or perhaps because of it, Mickey has become somewhat of a grandfatherly figure — he particularly grows fond of Audrey (Shree Cooks, “Extant”), the waifish young daughter of one of Gary’s girls, a badly abused woman named Ginger (Fairuza Balk, “Almost Famous”). While her mother is relentlessly occupied, Audrey is watched by Mickey, with whom she sings Shirley Temple songs and cooks burgers.
If Mickey is forming friendships, the rest of the Donovan clan are on depressingly downward spirals. Ray’s brother, Terry Donovan (Eddie Marsan, “Sherlock Holmes”), a scarred ex-boxer with Parkinson’s disease, is in prison for being at the scene of his father’s heist. Though Mickey attempts to speak to his son, towing little Audrey with him, he is refused. Their younger brother, Bunchy Donovan (Dash Mihok, “The Day After Tomorrow”), a sensitive man battling alcoholism and psychological issues due to a past of sexual abuse from his childhood priest, has been forced to take over management at Terry’s fight club. Ray’s wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson, “The Hunger Games”), is shunned by her own family after her torrid affair in season two ended abruptly. Both of her children, Bridget and Conor, refuse to acknowledge her; when Abby calls Ray at a bowling alley bar, he mechanically bids her goodnight and proceeds to take another woman home for the night.
Are there any happy endings? There’s one dead body, Gary the pimp, who was given a burger stuffed with Xanax by Mickey and left to drown in the apartment pool. There’s one dog, Abby’s, that was scooped from the highway after Abby nearly ran him over in her drunken haze. There’s one match for Bunchy on Match.com, a spectacularly frumpy librarian. And there’s Ray, with kidnapper’s blood splattered on his suit, staring blankly into the distance of Finney’s manor.
“Ray Donovan” has never been a happy show. It has also never been this depressing. The Donovans are a troubled, deeply dysfunctional family, yes — but they’ve always had enough charisma to keep us rooting for them. Though when that character is stripped, as it is here, the Donovans simply become too pathetic to sympathize with.