‘Ray Donovan’ Moves to New York for a Sixth Season of Bloody Schemes

Ray Donovan” moves to the East Coast for the beginning of its sixth season but of course much scandal follows. After several deaths and blows to the main character’s psyche, we find Donovan (Liev Schreiber) driven to the edge (literally) and seeking escape away from home. It’s a smart move in terms of refreshing the show, because while its style remains intact, the story starts going somewhere new. After five seasons of schemes and cutthroat moves, Donovan is getting self-reflective, even as his old job pulls him back in. This is merely the beginning, as the season premiere part one of a two-part episode bridge.

The season premiere opens with Donovan on a rooftop overlooking the East River. He’s been lured there by a ghostly vision of Abby (Paula Malcomson), who’s now gone. Distraught, Donovan dives right into the river. But before he can exit this miserable world he’s saved by a cop named Sean ‘Mac’ McGrath (Domenick Lombardozzi). Pulled into Staten Island, Donovan slowly gets his strength back and strikes a friendship with Mac, who suffers from his own personal problems, not least sharing his son with an angry ex. At first it seems like Donovan is done with the life of a fixer, making it clear to Samantha Winslow (Susan Sarandon), who isn’t quite buying it. In fact, she soon calls on Donovan to help a mayoral candidate in her pocket, Anita Novak (Lola Glaudini). It appears Novak had a hook up that ended up taped on someone’s phone, she wants the footage back (not good for political campaigns) and needs Donovan to help her find it. Donovan also begins to help Mac by trying to silence an article about police brutality which might blemish his name. As much as our anti-hero would like things to change, they somehow stay the same. Meanwhile behind bars, the elder Donovan, Mickey (Jon Voight), is up to some scheme involving a conveniently self-induced heart attack.

Season five of “Ray Donovan” featured several deaths, the end of friendships, the loss of Abby and even Donovan confronting the priest who abused him. It makes sense for the show to come back with an episode that feels more like a necessary breather before jumping back into the scandalous chaos. Antiheroes are interesting precisely because of their conflicts. Ray Donovan, played with that serious, stern look that explains why Schreiber stays away from comedy, is carrying a lot of baggage. Even when he makes a new friendship at Staten Island, the only way he can really help is by being corrupt. It’s because he naturally attracts figures willing to traffic in the underworld. Winslow knows this, which is why she calls him back for the Novak job. But before going back out on the prowl, the first act of the premiere has a meditative tone as Donovan changes his look, grows a beard, wears a hat and fixes the Harley belonging to Mac’s father. He even gets Terry (Eddie Marsan), who notices Donovan’s putting on weight, to help train Mac’s kid so he can punch back at school. Helping the slight change of tone is the change in scenery, as Donovan stays in New York and avoids Los Angeles for all of the premiere. The glamour of the city of angels is replaced by the grit of Staten Island. For a moment we have a glimpse of Donovan finally leading a calmer existence, that is until the real world comes knocking at the door.

Other characters make brief but notable returns. Bunchy (Dash Mihok) has an emotional scene in court where he’s granted one weekly visit at a time with his kid and he breaks down. Donovan’s daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) finds him at Terry’s gym with his new, scruffy look before walking away. Lena (Katherine Moennig) barely makes an appearance but is obviously growing distressed over Donovan’s condition, even as she agrees to help him track down Novak’s one night stand. The new characters are the ones dominating this time around. Mac is that sort of person who helps the hero, but then pulls him into his own problems. Novak is your typical TV politician with a skeleton in the closet, but she makes a deadly decision by the end of the episode that provides an adequately intense cliffhanger.

“Ray Donovan” is still entertaining and well done as it enters a sixth cycle around the sun of fall TV. It opens with enough of a mellow tone to get us used to its world again, but ends with Donovan finding himself where he was always meant to be, fixing problems and finding new ones. With a fresh body on the floor of an apartment by the time the end credits roll, this season is off to a good start.

Ray Donovan” season six premieres Oct. 28 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.