Warning: This interview for the Season 5 finale episode of Ray Donovan contains spoilers.
One beloved member of the Ray Donovan family — matriarch Abby (Emmy-worthy Paula Malcomson) — is definitely gone. And the Season 5 finale sure made us think Ray’s dive into a river in New York meant Bridget and Conor were orphans. But Showtime’s announcement of the series’ Season 6 renewal — and move to New York City — confirmed Liev Schreiber’s complicated fixer character is alive and, well, not exactly well, but at least still breathing and able to start another day.
Series showrunner David Hollander talked to Yahoo Entertainment about Ray Donovan’s most intense season yet, one that used a nonlinear approach to beautifully unfold the impact of Abby’s death and sped closer to forcing Ray to deal with the childhood sexual abuse that continues to shape every part of his life.
Hollander also shared why the show is moving to New York, what will motivate each of the characters in Season 6 — Ray Donovan, bike messenger? — and whether or not the fraught father-son relationship between Ray and Mickey (Jon Voight) can ever be repaired.
First, congratulations on the Season 6 news. Just to clarify, the announcement revealed the show, both storyline and production, will move to New York next season. And also that, despite the final shot of Season 5, Ray is alive?
David Hollander: Yes. It’s very hard to think about Ray Donovan being dead.
Phew! And the move to New York is exciting. It has all the glam potential, the connections, of Los Angeles, but New York has a grittier feel. That would seem to be closer to the Donovans’ Boston roots.
Yeah. We’re excited to get there. Part of our job as artists on this show, I think, is to make sure that we don’t go stale and to take risks. And sometimes it means change that creates some nervousness or polarization. But in time, I think it’s gonna settle into a really amazing change for us.
This season proved that to be true. You told me at the beginning of the season to trust that this was going to be a different way of telling a story, that was going to allow you to tell a deeper story with Abby’s death, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s been such a powerful season.
Yeah, we’re really proud of it. It was the heaviest lifting we’ve ever done here across the board, from writing to production to the acting to post. We all worked extraordinarily hard to build the season. It was a bigger swing than we’ve ever taken.
“Horses,” specifically, the episode where Abby dies, is one of the best TV episodes of the year.
We’re super proud of it. We knew we had something special from the minute we started to outline it. This is an unusual year for us, because we really wrote the season as a 12-hour episode, not one to one to one to one. And often here, we write them in kind of batches, and see what happens next. This year, because of the nonlinear aspect of the story, and because of the size and the scale of what we were trying to accomplish, both with Abby’s story and transitioning the show from Los Angeles to a new city, we were really bound and determined to tell a big tale. And “Horses,” we knew, was sort of the centerpiece of it.
Did you know from the beginning of the season you were planning to move the show to New York, or to another city?
Yeah, we knew we were working towards a move. We just hadn’t decided exactly where we were gonna land.
Did you consider Boston, taking them home?
There was talk of Boston. We’ve certainly been playing around with different places. We spent a lot of time in Las Vegas. We spent a lot of time in Primm. We started to get a little itchy to move around in Season 3.
But it really would need to be somewhere pretty big, I think, to contain this whole family.
For what we need, it was. And next year, we’ll still have a lot of Los Angeles stories going, because we still have several characters here. I mean, Mickey’s pretty stuck.
And Bunchy (Dash Mihok) has Abby’s bar now. And Daryll (Pooch Hall) has a new job, however he may feel about how he got it.
And the fortunate part of that is that the first thing he’s doing in his new job is shooting a movie in Harlem, so he’ll be out in New York.
Bridget and Smitty (Graham Rogers), they’re in NYC, and have a chance now. We hope that turns into a happier story for them.
So do we.
Kerris Dorsey has always been so great as Bridget, but she really proved herself to be capable of being Abby’s successor as the one who keeps this family together.
She is. We knew that going in. Paula [Malcomson] was incredibly generous with her this year. We all really believe in Kerris, and Paula was at the forefront of giving Kerris everything she could.
Their scenes were incredible, especially, again, in “Horses.”
Absolutely. And in many ways, Paula was fighting very hard for that transition in “Horses.” I mean, a lot of the things that happened on screen were coming from the stuff they were working out on the floor on the day, in addition to what we had asked them to do in the script. It’s Paula who gets a lot of that credit.
Back to Ray, we know he’ll be in action in NYC in Season 6, but he certainly intends to kill himself in the season finale?
Consciously, I think he’s in a bit of a fugue state, but we’re gonna really examine what that was and was not as we come back into the new season.
His last appointment with Dr. Brogan (C. Thomas Howell) was pretty intense. Obviously Abby’s death is playing a huge role in his current state, but what I took from that conversation with Dr. Brogan is that at the core of where Ray finds himself is the molestation by the priest when he was a kid. He has never dealt with that in a way that has allowed him to live with it. And what Brogan is telling him is — even if Brogan doesn’t know exactly what happened to him — that there is this thing that, until he deals with it, he’s never going to be okay. Has that always been an underlying part of his story that you were going to address, and it would seem in a major way now?
Absolutely. I mean, it’s been the driving force of Ray’s condition and psychological state from the beginning. The powerlessness he feels as someone who was abused, and his incredible desire to not discuss it or face it, and his desire to hide it, all the way down to what he does for a living, taking away consequences and dirty secrets.
Was Abby what allowed Ray to survive that all these years?
Absolutely. She was the foundation to a normalized him as a human being.
Part of seeing Abby get sick meant getting the chance to really understand how and why she and Ray were so connected, to see the genuine and sometimes happy and loving aspects of their relationship. I think we finally got the definitive answer to why their relationship remained intact despite his infidelities. Is that one of the things he’s also battling, guilt that he did cheat on her all those years?
I think he carries less guilt about the infidelities than he does about the not having been there when she died. That directly speaks to his inability to listen to what other people want.
Like Terry (Eddie Marsan), for instance?
Right. The controlling mechanism. If it doesn’t fit with him the way he wants it to, he’s going to change the outcome. In this case, he lost the most important moment of his life for trying to fix a problem that she did not want him to fix.
Ray asks Winslow (Susan Sarandon), when they’re on their way to New York, if she was able to forgive herself for her daughter’s death. Does that mean that at some level he realizes it might be possible for him to do that?
I think he is looking for a new way to live. And I think Winslow is offering him a new philosophy, which is, you’re not gonna get fixed, so you might as well take what’s there and take it now.
Is that necessarily the option he’s going to take going forward, though?
We started writing the new season [Tuesday]. It’s really one of the debates that we’re in and that I’m really looking at: who is he now? What do we really want to be looking at, as we explore this character for another year?
That’s really fast, on the heels of the finale airing, to be jumping right back into the writers’ room. A little scary, too, I would imagine, because you’re without Abby and without that home base of L.A. Life is pretty wide open for Ray.
It’s always terrifying to write this show. I think it’s just the fact of the matter that a show of this nature, this wide roaming and available to going anywhere, there’s no procedure attached to it. It’s really a character study. It creates enormous amounts of options. We’re not shoved into a certain bandwidth. We’re not writing Law & Order. Nothing against Law & Order, it’s just not what we write here.
One of the big things we need to know about Ray going forward is, what is his motivation to go forward?
Absolutely. If you were sitting in our writers’ room today, that’s exactly what we were talking about.
And have you figured that out yet?
You know, I always think that I have, and then I start thinking I haven’t.
We touched on Daryll. He’s ambitious. He wants that Hollywood career, but he also was very seriously considering turning himself in to save Mickey. Why does he ultimately hand over that murder weapon? Was it his brothers telling him Mickey would never sacrifice himself for you, so you should do what’s best for you, or is it really the lure of that job?
I think it’s the former, not the latter. I think the thing that Daryll wants most is to be a Donovan brother. The thing that holds the most sway over Daryll is what it would be to be accepted by Ray. Mickey as a father figure has been such a massive disappointment to him, and it’s a complicated thing, but Ray and the brothers, I think, he yearns for [their] acceptance the most. Writing his character has always been about him feeling like he’s an outsider looking in. Two things happened to him last season: one, the brothers did let him in more and more. And the other was that he met a powerful black man who brought him into his business, and it touches two sides of him. “Who am I? Am I a Donovan? Am I a black man? Am I a this? Am I a that?” He’s in that debate. He’s sort of a very richly drawn character in waiting for these opportunities to explore this, which is really where we’re going with him this next season. He’s gonna have a lot to do next season.
Ray and Mickey. We’ve seen an ongoing cat and mouse game between them throughout the series. From jail now, Mickey told Ray he was going to get him. Does Mickey really understand where Ray’s anger at him comes from, and why his relationship with Ray is probably irreparable?
No. Mickey has moments when he accepts that he had something to do with it and pities himself, but Mickey comes from a different time and a different place. Tragedy or abuse, that was part of his landscape. He has a hard time understanding why this sensitive kid is so angry with him.
Is it possible for him to understand it ever, do you think?
I think what Mickey believes in is very entrenched, which is family comes first and loyalty inside the family comes first, and men will be men, and women will be women. He’s a dinosaur, you know? So is Ray. The culture has just changed and neither of these men have changed with it.
Does Mickey think there’s a weakness about Ray because the abuse that happened to him does still affect him so much?
I think what Mickey would say is that Ray doesn’t make people feel very good. And Mickey would say that he does. And that’s the truth. People want to be around Mickey, and they don’t want to be around Ray. Mickey does everything wrong, and yet people love him. Ray tries to do everything right, and people are uncomfortable. Go figure.
Was that mirrored a little in the decision Conor (Devon Bagby) made to sign up for the Marines, and specifically his conversation with Ray? He doesn’t think Ray respects him.
Absolutely. Because Mickey blows Conor up, tells him what he wants to hear. And no matter what Ray says, Conor doesn’t feel it. Ray’s got the words right, but Conor just doesn’t feel it.
Will Conor be a bigger part of next season?
Conor will have his own trajectory next season. We’re looking at how that’s gonna play in. He’s got a very interesting situation. We’re all very curious about how to get inside of that, because we are talking about the Donovans, who are, at their core, conservative. At their core, with no judgment, we always talk about who they probably voted for in the last election, and we all kind of know. I think it’s going to be interesting to look at Conor going into the military and whether he flourishes there or not.
Terry this season. It was great to see him in better health, although that was kind of the only thing that was going right for him. Where do you see life taking him?
Terry’s biggest foundational relationship will be with Ray.
He’s also conveniently in New York, with Damon, and also for Bridget.
Exactly. We have a lot of conveniently located characters in New York City.
Will Winslow continue to be a part of Ray’s life?
As we sit down to write, we sure hope so.
Doug’s (Michel Gill) murder. He had been a pretty heartless, ruthless guy in some places. I love that you showed him on the phone with his mother right before Ray killed him. Even the big baddie loves his mom.
Yeah. Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s imperfect either. I think what we love about writing this show is that we’re not there to criticize or to tell people what’s right and what’s wrong. We’re there to sort of talk about human frailty and confusion and where we’re addicted and where we’re confused and where we’re lost and where we hurt and how we act out. That’s our main interest here.
What is most exciting for you about moving the action to New York?
The thing that scares me the most is always the most exciting thing. I mean, if I’m paralyzed with terror about how hard it’s gonna be — anxiety is a really good drug for breaking into new ideas. I think the New York move is gonna create the kind of terror in me that will hopefully focus my brain to tell a good story.
My first practical thought when I heard the show is moving to New York was that Ray spends a lot of time in his car in L.A. Will Ray be a car owner in New York?
I’m thinking no. L.A. is L.A., and New York is New York. There’s no reason to try to take an East Coast kid and when you send him back to the East Coast, have him try to whiz around Manhattan in a Mercedes. We won’t get the street closures anyway.
So lots of walking and Uber-ing for Ray?
I’m thinking we’ll find interesting ways for him to get around town. Maybe he’s a bike messenger.
That has to be the most unlikely Ray Donovan job ever, but it’s a fun possibility to think about.
Yeah. Ray Donovan, bike messenger, Season 6.
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