The following story contains gargantuan spoilers from Ray Donovan‘s fifth-season premiere — proceed at your own peril.
Ray Donovan kicked off its fifth season on Sunday with a twist that was as game-changey as it was heartbreaking: Abby is no longer among the living.
Early into the time-tripping episode, it was revealed that Paula Malcomson’s cancer-battling matriarch passed away during the intervening 10 months between seasons. The tragedy sent her surviving kin on dramatically divergent new paths, with son Connor enrolling in military school, daughter Bridget fleeing to Chicago presumably in search of closure (in the form of a boy whose connection to her late mother remains something of a mystery) and widower Ray attending court-ordered therapy sessions as penance for a violent, grief-fueled altercation involving his dad and brothers.
Below, showrunner David Hollander reveals when and why he decided to kill off his leading lady, and sheds light on how this season’s twisty timeline will ensure Malcomson — and Abby — get the sendoff they both richly deserve.
TVLINE | When did you decide that Abby would die?
Between Seasons 4 and 5.
TVLINE | Why did you decide to kill her off?
It was a narrative decision. It was about finding the best story to tell to get deeper into the character of Ray. And I thought it would give the show a chance to explore how important she is in a way that we’ve never been able to do.
TVLINE | So by killing Abby, she can reach her true potential?
One hundred percent. And because of the non-linear way the story is structured, she is the lead this year in many ways. She and Ray share that.
TVLINE | So Paula will remain a big part of the show throughout the season? She remains a series regular and not a recurring guest star?
That’s right. She is absolutely integral to the show this year.
TVLINE | This is Abby’s farewell season, though, right? If the show gets renewed, it’s not like Paula will continue to play an integral role via flashbacks, right?
That is very fair to say.
TVLINE | What was Paula’s reaction when you told her this was happening?
It’s always painful. It’s painful because we’re a family, and it’s painful because we care deeply about each other as artists. So initially it was hard for everybody, including myself. It was a compelling thing to do creatively, but I didn’t personally want to do it. However, the story always comes first. We don’t make the show to keep everyone around all of the time. We’re telling a grand story that’s bigger than we are. But it’s hard. Paul is an incredibly talented actor and one of my favorite people. And, to her credit, she got a hold [of the material] and turned in a performance that’s just extraordinary.
TVLINE | Did you get any pushback from anyone at first? Showtime? Liev Schreiber? Paula herself? Did anyone attempt to talk you out of it?
TVLINE | How much time has lapsed between seasons?
About 10 months.
TVLINE | Are you intentionally creating an air of mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death? At first I assumed her cancer had returned, but then she was in that car accident with Ray, which she appeared to walk away from…
There’s mystery in the sense of us telling the story in a non-linear way. It’s not so much a sleight of hand, it’s more of us saying to the audience, “There’s a much bigger story here than you think.” And we’re spending a lot of time this season devoted to it.
TVLINE | The half-naked girl Ray swerved to avoid hitting — safe to say she becomes integral to the present-day storyline?
Yes. She is the centerpiece of the Hollywood story.
TVLINE | Bridget’s new friend Smitty — I assume we’ll gradually learn what his tie to Abby is? We know there’s a Sloan Kettering connection, but that’s about it.
Yes, they know each other from Sloan Kettering. The story of Smitty and Bridget is another integral piece of what happened to Abby. There’s nothing in that first hour that isn’t a beginning, or the middle or the end of a very large story that will play out over the course of the year.