The Surprise of ‘Ray Donovan’ Season Finale: A Happy Ending?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Ray-donovan
‘Ray Donovan’ (Credit: Showtime)

Going into the fourth-season finale of Ray Donovan, the show had more dangling subplots than a year’s worth of The Young and the Restless. How was Ray going to escape the wrath of the Russian mob? Would boxer Hector Campos take a dive so the Donovans could collect on a big bet? Would Abby’s cancer pose an urgent threat to her life? Would Ray break out his mighty baseball bat for one last swing of the season? (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE SEASON FINALE OF RAY DONOVAN.)

Throughout the first half of the finale, written and directed by showrunner David Hollander, there were sprinkled images of sleep that could have easily been interpreted as suggestions of imminent death. We saw Avi, beaten by thugs, asleep in a hospital bed as though he were in a coffin. We saw Ray watch his father, Mickey, sleeping. We saw Abby sleeping deeply — communing with the angels, perhaps. It was easy to imagine that any of these characters might be slipping away from life. This atmosphere was so pervasive that when Hollander gave us a shot of Ray’s daughter, Bridget, ascending an airport escalator to wing off to an NYU visit, I looked at it as though she were ascending into heaven. The series — and in particular, Ray — had placed all these characters in danger, and these might have been our last glimpses of them.

Related: Ray Donovan‘s Season 4 Finale Postmortem: Showrunner Talks the Family’s New Closeness, Hints at Season 5’s Hollywood Focus

But these turned out to be sly feints. Yes, there was one significant death: As Ray (and we) expected, Dmitri (Raymond J. Barry) had Sonia (Embeth Davidtz) killed. Let’s pause here to acknowledge what a superb job Davidtz did in a small but significant role, and how good the fine character-actor Barry — Arlo Givens in Justified, among many other roles — was as the slick gangster.

Hollander’s script did an efficient job of wrapping up the season’s subplots in ways that ranged from satisfying to almost ridiculously easy. Ray did indeed pull out his baseball bat to slug a few bad guys. One theme was hammered home, articulated by the hero as he prepared for a last-ditch battle: As Hollander’s camera panned across the cast, Ray said, “I got nowhere else to turn but family,” and everyone pitched in.

It resulted in a true surprise: a happy ending! Abby said her cancer was in remission and that “it’s a miracle!” (But, hmmm—do we think this is true?) The Russian mob finally seemed to be off the backs of Ray and his loved ones. Avi lives! Campos was able to do the right thing and win his bout. (Granted, he reverted immediately into being an egotistical jackass, but at least the win made trainer Terry feel better.) Ray’s marriage was as strong as we’ve ever seen it.

This series has come a long way from the bleak noir that Ann Biderman created, and I still miss that early tone. But there’s also a lot to be said for the way Hollander has opened up the show to many different kinds of stories — indeed, the storytelling, along with the acting, make up for some of the more ludicrous coincidences and repetitions (how many tough gals are going to fall for Terry? Will Lena ever be given something to do that gets sincere thanks from Ray and does justice to Katherine Moennig?) that sometimes make Donovan an eye-roller.

That said, a happy ending may have been just the right way to clear space for a different kind of Ray Donovan season, and I’ll certainly be watching it.