David Hollander is following up his terrific first season as Ray Donovan showrunner by… starting up his next season as the Showtime drama’s showrunner, just a week after Sunday night’s Season 3 finale. That means he’s “already in the thick of outlining” Season 4, and that he was in a great place to break down Season 3 and dish many a good hint at where Ray (Emmy nominee Liev Schreiber) and his family will find themselves when the show returns next year. Hollander discusses Schreiber’s “brave” (and yet again Emmy-worthy) performance during Ray’s season finale confession about his childhood abuse by a beloved priest, why fleeing Donovans Mickey (Jon Voight) and Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) will be back to live dysfunctionally another day, how the Donovans’ Season 3 enemies could also return, and the Season 4 pairing that could shake up the family in ways even Mrs. Minassian — R.I.P. — couldn’t.
You set up so many things in this finale. It was a sentimental ending, but there was also a sense of urgency about a lot of the things happening throughout the episode. What was your thinking in ending the season this way?
It was an emotional ending, not a plot ending. The design of the year was to have the penultimate episode handle the plot mechanisms that were hard at work this season. The finale was designed to do what the season was really chasing, which was an emotional unearthing of not just Ray, but all of the characters. The translation of the title, “Exsuscito,” is to awaken, to wake up. Thematically, every character is having some nature of an awakening, which, for me, was enough climactically, emotionally.
Plot-wise, yes, there’s a lot of strands to follow. That was important as well, as storytellers, to give each of our characters a chance to dive deeply into the next phase of their life, so that we can bring the audience back into a world that is ever changing and layered. I didn’t want to tie things up at the end. I wanted to leave it ambiguous. I also wanted to leave [everyone] in a place where the audience felt they had a deeper understanding of each character’s life. Ray’s confession [to Romero] is quite a confession. Abby and Terry’s awakening is quite an awakening, and Bridget’s speech to Ray is quite a speech to Ray. Mickey’s grief and acceptance of his need to go, Daryll’s realization, Bunchy’s coming to terms with his greatest fears — [it] all leaves us in a place where we can explore things in a much more energized and complex way next season.
Ray’s confession to Romero (Leland Orser) about being abused by Father O’Connor — the details of it, the emotions of it — was haunting. What specifically pushed him to share all that at this point?
I think when Terry whispers the word “priest” to him in the hallway, then he ignores that and resorts to vengeance and hears Bridget say he doesn’t love, he controls, and then sits by Terry’s bedside and sees that cross on his brother’s arm, that Virgin Mary staring down at him… I think he believes that by going to Romero he’s going to save his brother. He ends up, in a way, saving himself. It’s a confluence of events and one that, I think, consciously, Ray Donovan isn’t aware of. He’s always been a very reactive and instinctual character, kind of a black-and-white guy: these are my rules, you break them, that’s a problem. He comes to the priest and says, “You excommunicated me, [now] I told you the truth, now save my brother.” It’s a very religious and almost infantile idea. “You made me a promise, I told you the truth.” Instead, Romero says, “Why did you do it? I don’t need to know that you did it, I need to know the why.” He’s telling him the why… “Because I cared for him.” To admit a deeper, much more complex relationship to this man, then to be told faith is the evidence of things unseen is a very challenging, ambiguous idea for a character like Ray Donovan. I believe, having done this, it’s heady and intellectual speak, but as writers, that’s where we begin. That’s the idea of the show. We lead the show in ambiguity in faith. There is no evidence at the end of the show to give the audience a quick hit of relief. Bridget is in the wind, Terry’s eyes are open, Ray’s eyes are closed, the city is in the distance, Romero is driving, Mickey’s driving to Vegas. Once he has accepted a new reality, Daryll has stated a new identity. Now what?
The biggest reveal in Ray’s confession is that there’s such an element of guilt on his part. We knew something had happened, we knew there was a situation with him and O'Connor, but we certainly didn’t know this depth of it. Is he capable of dealing with that now?
That’s the question. That’s where we go next. What’s exciting to me about a show like this is that we get to ask some very hard questions against extraordinarily entertaining backdrops. The harder the questions that we’re asking, the more rigorously and vigorously do we go after the lampooning and the wildness and the energy and the violence and the audacity. We’re really excited about next year in the sense of, the table is set to explore things in a very deep way and yet also set to get back to a lot of the old Ray Donovan stuff.
This could be the thing that brings Ray fully back to his family.
Absolutely, it could bring him very much back, or it could bring him to other places, too. Self-knowledge is a tricky monster.
On the family front, marriage-wise, Ray let it be known that he noticed how much Abby and Terry had bonded. Will that scenario continue to play out in Season 4, assuming Terry survives, of course?
It’s not meant as a triangulated love story in a long-term way. Eddie Marsan does a lot of writing behind his lines, as a gorgeously Mike Leigh-trained actor who finds his own inner monologues. It came to light that Terry was channeling the mom, his mother, Ray’s mother, and when we started to have that discussion about that, it became clear to me that he was the source of morality and comfort and also judgment. I think that the moving into the house and comforting Abby and treating her as he thinks she should be treated creates a momentary confusion and warmth that is not meant to be sexually-charged… I don’t think it’s something that’s going to confuse Ray and drive a wedge. I think Ray’s had enough confusion in other places.
It almost felt like, if not for Terry being there in Ray and Abby’s house, if not for him treating her with the respect she certainly doesn’t always get from Ray, that she might have left again, she may have gone back to Boston permanently.
Absolutely. Ray built that bedroom for Terry selfishly. In a controlling manner. Abby acquiesced because it was like having another child that might save the marriage. What it turned into is having a man in the house who listened, communicated, felt looked after. That was confusing to Abby a little bit.
The smallest moments — when he helped her put away groceries, when he brought her a glass of water — those were such powerful moments throughout the season.
Yeah. One of my favorite scenes of the year was when she comforted him after he wet the bed, and Ray was there. Just two brilliant actors, in a very [intimate] moment, observed by a third brilliant actor. Those moments were the ones that would give me goosebumps at the monitor.
You touched on Ray’s vengeance, his reaction to finding out about Bridget and Mr. Donellen (Aaron Staton). This was something we knew was going to come to some sort of very dramatic ending, especially since Ray didn’t know how far the relationship had, or rather hadn’t, gone. What made Ray stop where he did, which, again, given how little he knew, was a relatively tame reaction from Ray?
Bridget. Hearing Bridget’s voice… slow confusion building in him. His brother’s been shot, he just killed a comical number of people [in the showdown with the Minassians]. He’s been shot himself and is not telling anyone. His daughter is in duress, and there’s something happening in Ray that is changing. You can see it when he drives up to the hospital with Bridget, the silence in the car, the guilt. He’s guilty. He says, “When you’re older you’ll understand, he got what he had coming.” You can feel that he doesn’t really believe it.
Bridget had promised Terry she’d run away if anyone did lay a hand on Donellen. She appears to be making good on that at the end. She has proven herself again and again to be smart and capable, but does she really believe she’s capable of being on her own?
She’s going to find out. She’s 17, almost 18-years-old. She has [had] a lot of complexity run her way in the past year of her life. What [running away] will be for her could be as simple as a couple of nights away or as complicated as months. The damage is done by walking out the door. Then the next question is, what happens? It’s not my great curiosity to create a season built on a father searching for a daughter. That, to me, is the least interesting element of storytelling, because it’s frustrating to the audience, and it’s not really drama, it’s suspense. I’m not going to be lingering and forcing the audience into confusion around it. I want to deal with the aftermath of it.
It really isn’t a surprise that a character like Bridget would develop feelings for an older man. How could she possibly be interested in someone her own age: given everything that she’s gone through and seen at this point, what would they have in common?
Yeah, no, it’s not possible for her. It’s not going to teach her what she needs to learn. I think she knows that intrinsically.
The Finneys, another really great part of this season… Andrew (Ian McShane) would seem to be out of commission after the burning body of Varick and the fireplace poker were planted on his property, but we’ve also seen how connected he is. Should we not count him out?
I would never count out anybody that’s still living and walking.
Do we know for certain that the Finney family will be a part of Season 4?
It’ll only emerge if it conflates with greater tales in ways that are interesting and dynamic. I wouldn’t bank another season based on that relationship. I would certainly be curious to see, in a tertiary backdoor way, if we can bump back into them. I’m always interested in seeing how that might happen.
Ray’s football team ownership dreams are probably just that at this point?
That’s done. Yeah, that’s done.
Hank Azaria’s return as Cochran and the always amazing Grace Zabriskie as the head of the Minassians… She’s not coming back, but she promised the Donovan men her family would avenge her death. Yet more enemies for the family next season?
Yeah, it’s one of those things that you put in the back pocket. When it’s calm and quiet, that’s the fun of the show. The show was never designed to have a straight line from A to B. That’s the challenge of writing the show, and it’s also, I think, a joy of the show. As much as I love Breaking Bad, we are not that. We don’t have that type of design, that brilliant simple line. We are like Hollywood itself, we reinvent. Yeah, who knows? I love Grace Zabriskie. Mrs. Minassian may never come back, but Grace might. She’s a chameleon. People like Hank Azaria, I just can’t get enough of. Of course I’ll go out of my way to find Cochran again.
On to Mickey. I know we should never count him out, but it was sad to see him drive off to Nevada. Did he finally have to admit to himself that good things do not happen to his family when he’s around?
For a moment, yeah. Again, that’s the joy of these characters. Mickey is a ghost. Mickey’s a flight of fancy. Yes, he has deep feelings, and he does amazingly impetuous things, and he’s also a guy who will end up in fascinating places, and that’s why we love him. He’s the David Bowie of the show, if you will. He’s the least static image. You always find Mickey in a new environment… and that’s the fun of it. Where will Mickey be? How will Mickey, somehow, wherever he is, be using wherever he is to aid himself right back into the heart of his family?
Ray’s talk with Romero sheds a lot of new light on his relationship with Mickey, how deeply he was hurt by O’Connor, and why that would make him look at his father more harshly than the other brothers do. Does that make it any more hopeful that, having acknowledged the past, Ray can improve his relationship with Mickey?
God, I think there’s always hope. I think that this season alone showed levels and colors through a scratching at some moments of real connectivity. I love those two together. I also think that there’s a chance that there are things they still have to learn from one another. Whether it’s love, that’s one thing; but I think there’s something about learning from your son or from your father that’s still the thing to unearth.
Speaking of fatherhood, Bunchy (Dash Mihok)… If there is a happy ending in the finale, Bunchy finding out he’s going to be a father is it. What is the plan for that? I love the idea of seeing Bunchy be a father.
Me, too. The plan is exactly that. Occasionally I’ll indulge myself and follow the comments, and everyone keeps expecting Teresa to be shot dead. The truth is, she’s a character that is built to bring out other colors in the family. Bunchy, as a father, is a very intriguing idea to me. The other thing that intrigues me is that the Donovans are a family stuck in their own family of origin, and that’s why their own new family suffers so badly — they don’t really let go of their brotherhood and of their resentments and of their connections to ghosts of the past. They’re bonded forever by their abuse and by the death of their mother, the death of their sister, and the behavior of their father, and the fact that they’re strangers in a strange land. Bunchy’s relationship to a wife and child will be very interesting — to see how he can do that while still attending to the fact that I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to let go of the Donovan brotherhood.
I’m picturing some great interaction with Teresa and Abby. The two of them together could take over the family.
Definitely. We’re eager to match them up. It’s going to be a way to invigorate both characters and also to create new dynamics in the family stories.
What were your other favorite moments of the season?
It’s interesting, because I have more like “feeling states.” I had a really strong feeling state during the end of the season premiere, watching Ray looking out over the pool and the city… the scenes ahead of him. Terry killing that guy in the fight in prison. Ray smiling as he went to embrace his brother, taking the ghost of his sister away for a moment. I love Ray walking away from Romero after beating him and that look on his face that was just so bewildered. The weird moment between Ray and Finney as they sat in silence and mourned the death of Varick. Ray and Mickey in the fight club bathroom, when Mickey asks him for help and says, “Please.” Little moments between Terry and Abby were, I thought, really powerful. I thought Dash, all season, kept bringing gorgeous colors. I think of all the things we did this season, for me personally, as someone who can be a fan as well as someone working on the show, I just thought the work Liev brought to that confessional scene in the finale was startling and brave and just… we were all taken to such a new level. He was so devoted and brave. Being able to direct him during that was a privilege. Being able to also watch him take it to that place was really, I thought, extraordinarily trusting on his part.