'Ray Donovan' Showrunner Talks Bloody Season Finale, Season 5 Time Jump and Endgame

David Hollander also talks to THR about that "polarizing" season four moment and why he doesn't plan to end the Showtime drama with Ray's death.
Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Sunday's season four finale of Ray Donovan, "Rattus, rattus."]

Things weren’t looking so swell for Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) heading into the fourth season finale of the Showtime series. The title character was backed into a corner thanks to Sonia (Embeth Davidtz) informing on the Russian mob, and so it was either join her in the quest to take down the dangerous men or face jail time for the rest of his life. Needless to say, Ray was forced to come up with some pretty clever solutions in order to solve his hefty problems.

But in the end, it was Mickey (Jon Voight) who was at least partially to thank for getting Ray out of the situation. When he happened upon the mob’s drug stash while hocking a piece of the family’s art, he provided the necessary inspiration for Ray to spring into action.

Along with his family, he set up the mobsters by not throwing the fight as anticipated and by teaming up with his family for one last shootout. Oh, and the FBI problem? It was solved when Ray led the agent in charge right to the drug stash, effectively making him a hero.

It was actually a fairly peaceful ending for what’s been a season full of high-stakes situations. Even Abby (Paula Malcomson), who has been dealing with breast cancer all season, had a miraculous recovery when the doctor said the disease is just going away on its own. To find out whether it all means Ray can now be happy in the previously ordered fifth season, how it affects his ongoing struggles with religion and what comes next for the show, THR spoke with showrunner David Hollander.

Was the plan always to end the season with a nice tidy bow?

This year was about wrapping it up and moving on to new places. It was not just about the mob story per se, that was an engine, but it was about where Ray’s condition and his character and his heart and his head were. And what was ready to happen next in the sense of what the by-products of that story was, which was a different dynamic with Ray and a different dynamic within the Donovan family.

How do you feel Ray’s relationship with God evolved over the season?

He was rejecting the idea that he could be saved from the outside, and many of the other characters may still have more spiritual or metaphysical ideas, but Ray was accepting who he is and accepting his own family in place of a fantasy of the Catholic Church or God or another human being fixing him.

Ray’s family has always been a source of conflict. Why was it important to keep them in sync this season?

That was part of the idea of this year’s story — a man was hoping to keep his secrets from the people he loved most and took those secrets to a priest or another stranger who shared his past. He ends up becoming vulnerable in front of the people who matter most to him because they’re consistent, because they’re known.

How does that change Ray’s relationship with Mickey going forward?

This year, Ray came to see his father in a new light. His father did many things for him — he traded himself for his freedom. He did a lot of bad things too, but by the end of the year, Ray allowed Mickey to help him. Ray is a very loyal person so Mickey is sitting in an interesting place in his relationship to Ray in that there’s the beginning of a formation of trust.

On the opposite end of that, is Ray slowly turning into Mickey or becoming more like him?

We all evolve in a direction like that. Whether he’s turning into Mickey, because Mickey is so incredibly reckless, I don’t know. But he is certainly turning into somebody that is allowing people around him to help him. And not being an island.

Given that evolution, could Ray ever try to go on the straight and narrow?

We’ll see. You never know. The thing is that Ray’s “career” is one of his own creation. It’s kind of an illusory, make-believe… not just in a dramatic form, but what does a fixer really do? Ray will be investigating what it looks like to be in the world as Ray Donovan moving forward.

Did the FBI scare knock some sense into him?

It reminded him of who he was. He’s never going to be an informant. He doesn’t want to be that person. It reminded him to stay clear of certain things. He knows what he deals in is very combustible stuff. What we’ll see Ray do next is look back to Hollywood a little more because it’s a little more controllable. He’ll try to stay away from the things that his father has wrought. That’s really what these past two seasons have been, the ripple effect or the Mickey effect.

For next season, does that bring the show back to its roots in a way?

It’s a different kind of beginning because the characters have changed, but my focus is very much on Ray working in Hollywood and with his family in Hollywood.

Is this the last we’ll hear about Abby’s cancer storyline?

She says her cancer is going away. Whether we trust her as an audience is a different story. It’s an ambiguous ending when she says, “Nothing can touch us.”

Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) got on an airplane to start exploring school. How will the kids factor into next season given that distance?

We’re never going to part from them, but Bridget and Conor (Devon Bagby) are at an age... where the dynamics are going to change because the kids are moving on. The characters will always be part of the storyline, the question becomes where do they live and what are they doing.

Conor began to show mannerisms similar to Ray this season. Will you continue to explore that?

I’m really curious about Conor finding himself away from Ray. The idea that he will become his father is interesting when he’s a 17-year-old kid, but when we come back to the show with a little under us following that clean end, I’m guessing we’ll want to jump a little time. Conor may have a different agenda.

You’ve had some notable guest stars like Lisa Bonet and Katie Holmes the past couple of seasons. Are you looking for someone big to come in next year as well?

We’re really dependent on story being generated by guest stars. There is no big bad guy that Ray has to fight year in and year out, and there is no procedural element of whodunit. So we use new characters to bring in what we feel like the zeitgeist is. I highly doubt we would do a year without bringing some sort of guest star in.

What’s it like when you bring Hank Azaria back on set?

Hank is an important part of the story and it’s become not just a tradition, but elementally he represents the consequences of knowing Ray Donovan. His changes are all impacted by how he knows Ray — every wound on his body, where he lives, what he’s got, what he’s not and could be. He’s a really important part of our story so whenever it feels organic, I love to bring him back.

What went into the karaoke scene earlier in the season with Hank and Ray? Did Liev need any convincing?

It was a dynamic shift in character to have Ray sing karaoke and it was probably a polarizing event for the audience. The idea was sitting there with Cochran, who for years has been a wannabe rock star. So the only reason I felt it was doable was that Ray was in a great amount of need and Cochran had a great need to humiliate Ray the way he had been humiliated. I thought the scene played out in a way that it wasn’t that humiliating for Ray. At the same time, it was a bit of a new look into who Ray could be under certain circumstances.

As you’re crafting this fifth season, are you looking at an endgame?

I’m beginning to seriously think of an endgame, I think it’s essential. This is a series and a story that in its inception was never designed with a grand design of where Ray Donovan was going. That was the design. And it worked in an interesting way, it was an instinctive and — in a beautiful way — disorganized show. So I’m always gentle with thinking of larger plotting for the show because I don’t want to hurt what [creator] Ann Biderman designed initially, which was a show that took wild swings and had flights of fancy. Yet there has to be a narrative to bring us to where we want to go. I’m doing the dance between the style of the show and the greater narrative of who is Ray Donovan within his family and who is this man and where is he going next? We have to reach a point with Ray where we say goodbye to him, and the goodbye shouldn’t be death. Goodbye needs to mark a time in his life where we felt like we’ve seen what we needed to see.

So specifically, you never want to end this show with Ray’s death?

Oh lord, no. No, no. That would be the easy way out of the storytelling.

Does season five feel like the end or are you looking beyond?

I think two ways. You have to tell stories as aggressively as you can in this environment and if I had my way, we would all live on an episode-by-episode contract, not year-to-year. We have to do our best work every time within the confines of the story we’re telling. My first priority is to dream up a really gorgeous year five, to make sure it delivers a show that, should it live for a sixth, seventh or eighth season, will be satisfying to the audience and artists. We who are making it need to be engaged and in love with it otherwise the audience won’t like it. 

What did you think of Ray Donovan's finale? Sound off in the comments below. 

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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