Ray Donovan closes out Season 5 this Sunday (9/8c, Showtime) and one of the finale’s biggest spoilers is already out there: Liev Schreiber’s titular fixer is putting down permanent stakes in the Big Apple. Although it’s unclear what — or who — puts Ray in a permanent New York state of mind (something to do with daughter Bridget, perhaps?), it’s safe to assume something drastic and game change-y occurs in the episode.
During a recent Q&A with TVLine, executive producer/showrunner David Hollander shed light on the decision to flee Hollywood for NYC in the just-ordered Season 6, previewed Sunday’s Season 5 finale, and (very thoughtfully) responded to my criticism regarding the death of Paula Malcomson’s leading lady Abby.
TVLINE | When did you make the decision that Season 6 would shift to New York?
About a year ago.
TVLINE | And why did you make it?
There were several factors that came into it, and many of them were [about] trying to avoid making the show go totally stale. It forces us to reinvent ourselves. And I think for a show that the network wants to have on the air for a long time and that we want to keep working on, we wanted to stay challenged and not get into a rote place. So we made the decision to consciously change the dynamic and direction of the show.
TVLINE | Ray driving around L.A. in his car while talking on his cell phone has become one of the show’s trademark visuals. What will replace it? As a New Yorker, I can tell you cell service in the subway remains spotty at best.
[Laughs] There are going to be a lot of changes. The silhouette of Ray Donovan will, in many ways, remain untouched. But there’s also an opportunity to have him inhabit the city in a way [that regular New Yorkers] truly inhabit it. He surely won’t be whipping around Manhattan in a Mercedes. I’m sure he’ll be much more on foot, and much more outside of the city, too.
TVLINE | Ray’s drinking has been out of control this season. He is an alcoholic, yes?
He is certainly an undiagnosed and untreated one.
TVLINE | Any plans to address this in Season 6?
I don’t think we plan to send him into the recovery model. In Season 4, [we] sort of addressed it when he stopped drinking and referenced getting help for it. And that didn’t last long. Ray as a character has been very much built on that ’70s [leading man] model that almost doesn’t exist in this era. He does drink a lot. He’s always turned to whiskey to deal with his past, his emotions, his sexuality. He has all the telltale signs of an alcoholic for sure.
TVLINE | The scene this past Sunday between Ray and Mickey (Jon Voight) in the bar — did Mickey know Ray was about to stab him in the back?
He had a pretty strong sense of it.
TVLINE | What did he mean when he said, “Good night, son.” Was it a goodbye?
It was more of a warning. I think Mickey was trying to warn Ray not to [frame him for murder], without saying it in so many words. And when he did it, it really opened up a different side of Mickey.
TVLINE | I want to talk about Abby’s cancer storyline. There were aspects of it I really enjoyed — particularly the way it brought Abby and Ray closer, and, of course, Paula’s incredible performance. But I didn’t buy the circumstances surrounding her death. I did not believe that this mother of two would take her own life when she was still relatively healthy. In Sunday’s finale, Terry tells Ray, “Abby was so far gone. She was in so much pain.” But we never saw that. Hours before she took her own life, she was standing in a bar smiling and cracking jokes. It sounds horrible to say, but I feel like we needed to see her suffer more in order to believe that this woman would make the decision to leave her two children motherless. Did you wrestle with how much of her struggle the audience would see?
Of course we [wrestled] with it. We did an enormous amount of talking and thinking about what we wanted to show and how we wanted to show it. We did a lot of research frankly on end-of-life stuff. My mother passed from cancer when I was a boy, and I was privy to many stories of women her age dying. Each person is [unique] and deals with it differently and has a different threshold for what they want to experience or how they want to be remembered. We did a lot of research particularly into brain cancers. There are a lot of stories out there of women who wanted to take things into their own hands before they were made helpless, before they were deeply devastated, before things took a really horrid turn… I do believe that we have a right to make a choice, and sometimes going through enormous pain is not the best for your children.
Where we made the decision mainly came from wanting to respect the character and also, secondarily, because of the way we fractured the narrative [this season]. The idea that we had to show the march, the deep march [towards death], became unnecessary, because we were jumping in and out of time. Had we gone in a linear fashion, we certainly would’ve shown the horrors of it more. But we weren’t linear, and thankfully so because we were able to make this more of a memory piece and a memory play.
TVLINE | Was there a concern that perhaps Ray Donovan viewers wouldn’t want to see a dark cancer storyline?
My concern was not wanting to tell that [kind of] story. I don’t know if it was about the audience so much. I wanted to tell it differently. When we decided to fracture the narrative, it did allow us to pick and choose when we wanted to come in and out [of the storyline] and what we wanted to show. So we didn’t really do full-on episodes about the pain. We did pieces. But we didn’t go, “Hey, now we’re going to hold this story’s feet to the fire and watch her suffer.”
I get the concern. I certainly get the criticism. It was a choice and I live with the consequences of that choice creatively. I think it was polarizing, as sometimes bigger questions are. It certainly wasn’t for lack of thought or respect of the process.