"The last thing we saw from last season was Ray throwing himself into the East River," says Liev Schreiber, talking about the cliff-hanger ending to Season 5 of Ray Donovan.
Of course, Showtime was always going to renew the hit series for a sixth season - and has already commissioned a seventh, so Season 6 starts with Ray being pulled from the river by a cop named Mac (Domenick Lombardozzi from The Wire), who becomes his friend and housemate in New York, bringing Ray into the fraternity that is the Staten Island Police Department. "He's got to rebuild himself," says Liev.
In many ways, that's true of the show itself this season, which reinvents itself as its builds to an explosive finale that Vulture called "one of the best episodes in the show's history."
The biggest shift is in location: instead of working as a fixer for Hollywood celebs, Ray is now making problems go away for media mogul Sam Winslow (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) and her New York City mayoral candidate Anita Novak (Lola Glaudini from Criminal Minds), which soon puts Ray at odds with his new friends out in Staten Island.
"This season Ray is in New York," says Liev, who's been nominated for Best Actor at The Golden Globes for five years in a row, for every season of Ray Donovan. "For me, I'm much more at home. For Ray, I think he's a little out of sorts. It's a whole new ball game."
The motivation for the move was partly personal: The New York Times reported that Liev's two sons with former partner Naomi Watts live in New York, so filming there allows the star to spend more time with his kids.
But it also breathes new life into the show. As Kerris Dorsey, who plays Ray's daughter Bridget, says, "It's interesting to stray away from celebrity culture and Hollywood to dip into New York politics, which is such a dirty game also."
The other major shift is in imagining the series without Ray's wife Abby (Paula Malcomson from Deadwood), who [spoiler alert for the laggers] passed away last season. Ray was a terrible husband, but in many ways Abby symbolised Ray's yearning for connection - without her this season, Ray has to relook at himself and his very reason for being. "What gets Ray on his feet again is just that drive to be useful to people," says Liev.
Despite being created by a woman, Ann Biderman, Ray Donovan has been called "TV's most male show" by Deadline, who were pleasantly surprised that Season 5 was centered around Abby. This season, there's more Susan Sarandon, which is always a good thing, but the real female star is Kerris as Bridget. Vulture called her the season's MVP, while Forbes wrote, "Bridget has perhaps been the most dramatic character arc of the season... Fans have watched her grow from an innocent child into a married woman capable of doing anything to protect her family... Bridget has stepped up in her mother's place as the matriarch of the family." Until now, Kerris has been famous for daughter roles - like Bridget in Ray Donovan, or Rachel Griffiths' daughter Paige in Brothers & Sisters or Brad Pitt's daughter Casey in Moneyball. If her performance this season is anything to go by, that's definitely about to change.
But of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. At its core, Ray Donovan remains a story about family sticking together, no matter what, and about violence - lots of violence. After last season's fractured timeline, Season 6's narrative approach is more reminiscent of the early Ray Donovan we all fell in love with: Ray's dad, Mickey (Oscar winner Jon Voight in a Golden Globe-winning role) is even getting out of jail again, like he did in Season 1, just more creatively this time... "It's returning to the roots of Ray Donovan that people love," says Kerris.
As though the Ray Donovan cast wasn't already one of the best on TV, this season look out for six-time Golden Globe winner Alan Alda, as Ray's new therapist, Dr. Amiot, and Zach Grenier (The Good Wife), as mayor Ed Feratti.
As Forbes put it, "Ray Donovan gets better with each passing season... It never misses a beat and diehard fans love the Donovan clan in the same way we loved Tony Soprano and his family."
Or as Domenick says, "This season is going to blow your mind."
Binge Season 6 first and only on Showmax: https://www.showmax.com/eng/tvseries/91pcilz7-ray-donovan.