For Ray Donovan's third season, the show's titular hero is out on his own. But how long will that last?
At the end of Season 2, Ray (Liev Schreiber) cut ties with his business associate Ezra (Elliott Gould) after Ezra ordered the murder of Boston reporter Kate McPeherson (Vinessa Shaw) to protect Ray and Ezra's secrets from being published. Meanwhile, Ray has also put distance between himself and his wife Abby (Paula Malcomson) following her affair last season. Between that and Ray's natural penchant to stay away from his father Mickey (Jon Voight), Ray is pretty much isolated as Season 3 begins.
"It was important to us to take a measure of the impact of everything that Ray's been through since the show began," executive producer David Hollander tells TVGuide.com. "It was time to watch him have a response to all of these events in his personal life, his professional life, and how he's evolving as a man and a father. Ray is an iconoclastic, Southie throwback male who lives by rules that are somewhat hypocritical. He has a moral center in a very immoral world that is Ray's and Ray's alone. And there are consequences to his inability to forgive and his inability to let people off he hook for what he perceives are transgressions against himself or against the moral code that he carries. It was a really interesting to put him in a more isolated place where those rules he's created and lived by so successfully are now forcing him to live in a different world."
But just how different is it? Even though the show underwent a creative transition behind the scenes-- Hollander took the reins from series creator Ann Biderman, who left the show between seasons — the show is still very much what it's always been. As the new season begins, Ray is still fixing the problems of the rich and famous, and an early scene features a has-been whose manhood is being held hostage in a glory hole until Ray pays the sex shop's owner what she demands. So, what has Ray truly gained from his newfound independence?
"What Ray's doing this year in a way is cutting ties in the only way he knows how. This year's story is really about how the things that Ray subconsciously seeks are allowing him to believe that he's trying new things," Hollander says. "He thinks he can be on his own. He believes that perhaps he can find a way toward legitimacy. So, we move the needle on that idea, but at the same time we're being true to who Ray is, which is a tough kid from South Boston who was thrown into Hollywood by accident. I don't think there's other things Ray can do but follow that path. You can live very close to extraordinarily successful people all your life, but the question for Ray is: Can you be that person? Can you be an extraordinarily successful person and not just protect them?"
Enter Andrew Finney (guest star Ian McShane), a billionaire producer who enlists Ray to rescue his son, who has been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. As Ray gets further entangled with Finney, and his daughter Paige (guest star Katie Holmes), he tries his best not to be put under their thumbs. Spoiler alert: Other circumstances won't allow Ray to be successful in the short term.
"I really wanted to see Ray inside of a powerful family dynamic that would give him kind of a different perspective in comparison to his own family," Hollander says. "The other thing that was attractive was looking at power through a different lens. Ezra's character is, like Ray, a provider of service. Someone like Ian McShane's character has many Ezras in his employ, so we're talking about a different access point to the world. It was interesting to me to put Ray in that world where anything is possible and to have Ray get swept up in that world a little bit."
But ultimately, Hollander says, Ray isn't seeking the money or the aspirational lifestyle from Finney. "He's always looking for a powerful father figure," he says. "It's a darker side of him from the past abuse and his resentment towards his own father. There's an attraction toward powerful men that tell him that he does a good job."
One major change this season, however, is the notable lack of shared screen time between Ray and his real father Mickey, whose latest scheme has him selling drugs through a group of prostitutes. (Mickey, however, is hilariously dismayed that the days of working corners has been replaced with sex via Internet webcams.) But Hollander says the show will never fully move away from the tortured Mickey-Ray dynamic. "There comes a point where that separation changes the nature of their relationship," he says. "The first half of the year, they're very distinctly drawn in parallel paths. But by the end of the year they are deeply linked in a different way and in a new they've never been linked before."
Hollander also promises the prospect of change for Ray at home with Abby. "Initially she is upset and reeling from the hypocrisy of her punishment," Hollander says of the tension between Ray and his wife. "But we also wanted to look at Abby in a more dimensional manner. In complicated and adult relationships, someone has to change first. Someone has to make the choice to change or the relationship ends. So, this year we were looking at Abby as someone with the possibility of change in the nature of how she deals with Ray and where she's at with that. We've given Abby a bit of an odyssey."
Which is to say that Ray isn't likely to change very much at all. Or is he? "This season is devoted in a lot of ways to watching Ray face a spiritual crisis," Hollander says. "How can a man like this, who foundationally isn't built on a spiritual consciousness, grapple with that? The universe has a lot of stuff in store for Ray, and I think he has no choice but to look at what is happening to him and decide whether he can learn from it. Ray is constantly being thrown into the most heightened emotional places and we feel like for a man in his middle 40s, it is essential that he learn something from that. I think Ray is first and foremost having to learn about forgiveness. The question is what he does with that."
Ray Donovan premieres Sunday at 9/8c on Showtime.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)