'Ray Donovan' Season 5 premiere postmortem: Yes, that character is really dead

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan (Photo: Showtime)

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the Ray Donovan Season 5 premiere episode, “Abby.”

You’ve seen the Ray Donovan shocking Season 5 premiere, and you’ve got questions… so many questions. So did we, which is why we went straight to the source, showrunner David Hollander, to get some answers. He provided many to Yahoo TV, along with hints about when we’ll get the rest, and discussed what sparked the storyline — the death of Abby (Paula Malcomson), the Donovans’ most beloved, and most unifying, family member — that will unfold across the season.

I think people are going to have a ton of questions after the premiere, and I think this promises to be one of the best seasons yet.
I hope so. We’ve worked really hard on it, and the actors brought an incredible amount of passion and dedication to it, and we worked months and months ahead of time writing the scripts and really detailing the process and getting everything very precise and as clear and as beautiful as we could.

By the end of the premiere, we definitely think Abby has died. Do we know that for sure?
I think that it’s not clear by then. We never say it outright, but boy, the clues are pretty overwhelming, and there’s no trick behind it. The audience is meant to have that feeling by the end of the episode.

We have various hints about how she might have died, and of course we know about her past health issues, which maybe aren’t in the past. Is that something that will unfold, that we will get an answer to definitively as the season goes on?
Absolutely. A huge amount of the season is devoted to that story.

Which is great in that Paula Malcomson will still be very much a part of the show, then.
In a huge way.

Why this storyline now? Was it motivated by anything other than storyline — is Paula going to do another show, or did she want a break from such intense, emotional work?
No. No, it was motivated by story and story alone. We’ve done years of Ray fixing outside problems and inside problems, and for the most part, being successful. I think part of the storyline and evolving look at this character was to look at [the things] that he couldn’t change. So the story begins many months after the event, and [will] also bring us back through the entire event to watch what happened with him and with her over that time.

Why the choice to have it unfold with us knowing the outcome and then going backwards and unfolding the specifics?
Psychologically, I wanted to study the impact of the events at the same time that I was writing about the events themselves, and I also felt it was important that we weren’t obligated to tell that type of story, a death story if you will, because when you have an obligation like that in real time, in a way the story only becomes about that. You have to show these moments. They’re necessary. When you fracture the narrative, you can show any moment you want and it all adds up to choosing the more important moments, which oftentimes aren’t the moment’s plot or effect. We wanted to write more about the feelings of it.

You mentioned that Ray has been so successful, for the most part, in taking care of many problems. This was something he couldn’t fix. In last season’s finale, Abby told him they were untouchable, which we know now has proven to be untrue. That scene from the Season 4 finale is going to reverberate through everyone’s head after seeing the premiere.
Absolutely.

We’ve learned just how much Abby is the glue of this family, even during her own health crisis, throughout her own emotional issues and Ray’s infidelities. Yet it still feels like an understatement now to say that the loss of her is probably the biggest, worst thing that could happen to this family in terms of having an impact on every single member of it.
Absolutely. It’s utter and complete chaos. Not to get too meta about it, but during the time of its writing, I just felt culturally like we’re in chaos, and I wanted to write about chaos and mess and the rugs being pulled out from beneath people. And in our little way, in our story, as big as that idea is, it allows us to capture that feeling that I think we’re all feeling.

There are really lovely moments springing from this, too. The family is scattered right now, except for the very last two people you would’ve expected to be living together at a time like this: Ray and Mickey. I really love that.
Me, too. Again, it’s a reflection of what happens in the face of such drastic change, and where need trumps, if you will, history or feelings. Ray needs somebody with him. Mickey has nowhere else to go. They’re a very odd couple, and we play with that for quite a while.

I also love that Mickey’s new best friend is Abby’s dog. Which makes so much sense, because that dog, as we saw with Abby, really bonds with someone who’s carrying a lot of emotional weight or sadness, and that’s certainly Mickey.
For sure, and the dog is Abby to Mickey. Mickey so deeply loves Abby that he’s transferred his love to the dog. He and the dog become inseparable just because of what the dog represents to him.

The dog is even his screenwriting critic.
Everything. Yes. The dog has become Mickey’s true best friend.

C. Thomas Howell, as Ray’s court-appointed therapist, looks so different than we’ve ever seen him look, and he’s so calming. I want to book an appointment with him myself. He seems capable of making an impact in Ray’s life.
He’s something, isn’t he? He’s going to try. Again, there’s no way Ray would ever choose therapy, so we have chosen it for him, and the events that unfold in memoryscapes — the fight in the bar — have a lot to do with the entire Abby story. Ray is in court-ordered therapy because of his response to Abby’s story and the violence that he focused on his own family because of it. Those are big clues to, in a way, where the story is going.

We don’t know any of the specifics of that fight, even who exactly is in it. We know Mickey was, but we don’t know which of the Donovan brothers was involved. Is that something we’ll find out soon, or is it going to come to us further along this season?
By the middle of the season, we almost entirely fall back into the past. What will happen over the course of the season is that just when we’ve [unfolded] all of these new Hollywood issues and all of this new stuff, the show will fall back — in one episode, entirely, in other episodes, in the majority — to what happened.

With the fight and with —
Everything. Everything will catch up to itself, and everything will reveal itself over the course of the season.

For Terry, the brain surgery made such a dramatic difference with his Parkinson’s, but there’s no surgery for being a Donovan.
[Laughs] No.

We all love Terry so much, and it’s so great on the one hand to see this new possibility for him. Is there any chance that he’s going to get the happiness that he wants in other areas of his life?
Terry is the truth teller. Terry is the voice of the Donovans’ mother, the truth teller, the heart, and I think Terry doesn’t know what’s going to make him happy. This season, I think there’s a lot of experiments. By the end of the season, he’s certainly found a place for himself — it’s definitely a new place.

We see the luchador career does not seem promising for Bunchy. What will his journey be this season?
Bunchy’s journey begins with wanting very much to be a part of Ray’s world and not fitting into that, and then wanting very much to be part of Teresa’s world and not fitting into that. Bunchy endeavors to go into business with Harriet [Ray’s financial advisor], and God help us.

Does that promise some of the lighter moments of the season?
Some of the lighter, and of course, because of who we are, some of the darker.

Bridget and Smitty: she seeks him out for a reason that is hinted at having something to do with Abby. He seems like a genuinely good guy, a good person in Bridget’s life. Is that a ruse?
No. No. He’s exactly as advertised. His story is complicated, but he is a pure heart in the middle of our story.

Daryll is working with Ray; he has always wanted and tried to become a closer member of this family. Is this finally his way to do that?
Yes and no. He’s going to find a lot of opportunities, [but] wherever there’s more low-hanging fruit to be grabbed, there’s always Mickey. The minute Daryll starts to have a little success, he’s going to have a friend.

Daryll’s Hollywood connections — Mickey is going to be using those to his advantage if he can, to pursue his screenwriting dream?
Exactly. He’s going to be using Daryll to get into Hollywood.

That brings us to Samantha Winslow, Susan Sarandon’s Hollywood mogul. I think all we need to know about her is that the other fixers warned Ray about her. You can’t really be clearer about how dangerous she potentially is.
When you take two big fixers, and they both say, “Stay away,” and Ray goes in anyway… She dances in and out of the first half of the season, and [is] interesting in strange ways, and then by the end of the year, she and Ray are very tightly connected.

Is she a part of actress Natalie’s storyline, too?
She’s a big part of that storyline. As complicated as it looks at the front of the year, everything runs together. The Waterfall movie is part of [Samantha’s] studio. Doug Landry is her studio boss. Natalie, and her situation, impact them directly. Ray and Natalie. It’s very much a 1940s movie starlet, ripped from that era, story. Just transposed into today.

What about Avi (Steven Bauer)? Will he pop in at all this season?
Avi has a huge arc this season, just in a more surprising way. When Avi shows up, he shows up with a vengeance and for a long time.

That’s good news. What would you say to fans who watch this premiere and have a gazillion questions?
Come back next week. It’s really about living with us for the year and letting the story unfold. This year is going to demand some patience. It’s going to demand some attention. But I think it’s an extraordinarily compelling and entertaining year. I always believe that the audience is extraordinarily smart, so the longer we work, the longer we have our audience, the less I feel like I need to spoon feed. When you’re a show that’s been around this long, you’re just a co-owner of it with your audience. They’re filling in so much more than they did. Every year they fill in more for you, so my only suggestion would be, it’s all there, it’s all coming, and if there are questions that are maddening and you really feel like you need to have answers, then wait ‘til next Sunday. You will get more information.

Ray Donovan airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.