Ray looks for a fresh start in New York but his demons follow him
When Ray Donovan jumped off the roof of a building at the end of last season, it was unclear if that’s what he wanted to do. He had followed a vision of his dead wife Abby up there, and he followed her over the edge. Was Ray in control at this moment? Was it a psychotic break after killing Doug Landry for Sam Winslow? Was Ray, who’d been showing signs of going off the deep end for some time, willing to take his life rather than live with his sins?
The season 6 premiere, “Staten Island Part One,” doesn’t answer that question definitively, but it does show that Ray will never, ever be done with his life of sin and violence. The premiere picks up in the immediate aftermath of last season’s finale, as an NYPD cop named Mac (The Wire‘s Domenick Lombardozzi) sees Ray fall into the East River, and promptly goes to save him. He pulls Ray out and gets him breathing again, but Ray’s more than reluctant. He hits Mac with a few fists and a knee and tries to get back in the water (back to Abby?) before Mac uses his stick on him and knocks him out, throwing him in the back of the squad car with a big Samoan named Fatu.
Mac drives them out to Staten Island, a detail that will come into play later, and throws them in lockup. While Fatu tries to make friends with Ray because “they have to stick together,” Ray gets a quick release. When he steps outside, he sees Lena, but more importantly, Sam Winslow is waiting in a Cadillac. She pulled some strings to get him out, and she wants a quick word. She tells Ray to stay in New York and take some time to himself. It sounds ridiculous, with Ray and all the Donovans bleeding Boston through and through, but it’s exactly what he does. With Abby gone, he doesn’t see much to go back for; sorry Bridget!
With that decision made, Ray hits up the local bar for a whiskey, only to run into Mac. The cop wants to know who let Ray out, but more importantly, he seems to want to know if he can trust Ray to keep his mouth shut about something. The two butt heads initially, but it isn’t long before they’re bonding over their broken souls and bones. They share a propensity for drinking themselves silly and getting involved in violent tussles. Like two stray dogs finding each other, they head back to Mac’s place and watch the Red Sox-Yankees game while sharing a bottle of whiskey.
From there, the episode flashes forward, and it’s a nice change of pace for the show. There’s no need to sit in Ray’s post-Abby headspace any longer, and even though the time jump is small, it creates some necessary distance from last season’s events. Ray’s living in Mac’s house full time; he’s gained weight and has a beard, TV’s telltale signs that, yes, we have flashed forward. It looks like he has a simple little life, drinking himself into oblivion and minding his own business. That’s why he’s so annoyed when a reporter from the New York Tribune shows up at his door and starts asking questions about the night he was arrested. It looks like Fatu went to the reporters with a story of racial profiling, partly based on the weirdness of Mac bringing them across the bridge to Staten Island rather than staying in Manhattan, and he’s been hoping Ray would corroborate it.
Of course, Ray sends the reporter away quickly, but she still drops her card through the mail slot. Ray shares the news with his new buddy, and Mac doesn’t take it well. Apparently, he’s got Internal Affairs looking into his behavior, and he’s about to have a custody hearing for his boy — he sounds like a real stand-up guy — and this article will only prove to everyone that he’s as bad as they say.
“Staten Island Part One” doesn’t spend too much time checking in with the rest of the Donovans; they’re tertiary characters at best here. Mickey is in prison and does his best to create a tobacco and water cocktail that gives him a heart attack, so we’ll see what his long game is there. Terry briefly sees his brother when Ray comes to ask if Mac’s kid can take some boxing lessons, and that leads to an awkward run-in with Bridget. Darryl is having the time of his life lending a hand as a producer on the next Jay White film, which is a blaxploitation flick. Then there’s Bunchy, who loses custody of his kid — he gets one visit a week — and then starts drinking in the car outside the house where she lives. That’s obviously not going to end well, but the premiere leaves us wondering a lot of things about the rest of the Donovans.
Instead, the episode focuses on Ray’s inability to escape his old life. Sure, it may take a new shape in a new city, and it may involve him wearing a Yankees cap just to blend in, but there’s no escaping the past for someone like Ray. So, he gets back involved with Winslow, who asks him to meet with Anita Novak, a mayoral candidate in New York whom she’s backed. Ray does, but only in exchange for Winslow making some calls and killing the Tribune article on racial profiling. When Ray meets with Anita, he learns she lied to Sam about being mugged; rather, she was meeting with a prostitute in a hotel, and when she realized he was taping her and she tried to get him to stop, he hit her. She just wants the tape back though, because any release will mean the end of her run for mayor. Ray does some digging and begs Lena, whom he hasn’t spoken to in months, to help him out, but it doesn’t matter. Anita once again sets up a meet with the guy, but this time she kills him. We don’t know how everything went down, but he’s dead, and that means Ray is once again roped into a life of cleaning up after other people.
It’s not just cleaning up for Novak and Winslow though. It seems like Mac needs him more than anybody, and Ray feels beholden to him for saving his life. So, when Mac says he doesn’t need Winslow’s help and that he’ll just pay Fatu some money each month to keep quiet, Ray offers to deliver the cash. The thing is, Fatu seems to have no interest in keeping quiet. So, when Ray offers up the money and then calls him a drug dealer, Fatu beats the hell out of him and leaves him in the street. It’s just as he’s waking up with a bloody mouth that he gets the call from Novak.
When he hears her panicked voice, he does his best to get up and get to work. He shows up at the address and takes in the scene: a guy dead on the floor, blood pooling behind his head, and a gun in Novak’s hand. It’s a familiar scene for Ray. He’s seen some version of it 100 times before. But maybe this time is different, maybe it weighs on him differently. He thought he was out; “retired” as Lena says. But no, he’s never going to be out. He may be in New York, but he’s also right back where he started.
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