SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Horses,” the Oct. 1 episode of “Ray Donovan.”
While we’ve known from the start of the fifth season of Showtime drama “Ray Donovan” that matriarch Abby (Paula Malcolmson) passed away, the details of when, why and how were left looming. But those questions were answered in the eighth episode, titled “Horses,” as Abby’s daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) and brother-in-law Terry (Eddie Marsan) helped Abby slip away peacefully in her sleep thanks to some little red pills — after Abby learned she did not get into the surgical trial and decided not to continue with other cancer treatments.
“I wanted the story to be an empowering one for her character,” “Ray Donovan” showrunner David Hollander tells Variety about Abby’s choice to die with dignity. “This was a story about someone who exercised the right to choose the way they went out.”
Hollander says that although he was not met with opposition from his cast, crew or network when deciding Abby would ultimately kill herself, he was “deeply torn” in his heart over the idea. “I knew it would be polarizing and I knew it would be provocative, and I knew it wouldn’t initially feel good,” he says.
Hollander, who lost his own mother to cancer when he was around Bridget’s age in the story, says he did an “enormous amount of research” on the topic to make sure the show depicted events accurately and respectfully. “I wanted it to feel honest,” he says.
One of the main reasons he was interested in telling Abby’s story this way was because of how it would be a catalyst for change for all of her loved ones. “It would create an agency and power for Abby’s character and force Ray to look at himself in a way that perhaps he never has before,” he says.
“Horses” jumped back and forth between Abby’s decision at home and Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) journey trying to disqualify one of the surgical trial candidates (surprise, it was Smitty!) so that Abby could take his spot. That put the couple at odds one final time and caused Ray to completely lose control and lash out at everyone in his life when he came home and realized what his wife had done. In future episodes, as we see her in flashbacks and memories, per Hollander, she will act as a “conduit” for Ray.
Hollander says that a big part of the reason he wanted to frature the narrative of the story this year was to “give the audience a feeling of what life was like after” Abby died. While Bridget’s exploration with Smitty (Graham Rogers) was a direct response to her grief and “trying to accept what her mother chose,” Hollander points out that Ray didn’t know the whole truth for those first eight episodes. In that way, he was in the same place as the audience, and now that he has the missing pieces, he is going to begin his own true process of grieving.
What that means as the show inches toward its season finale, Hollander says, is that many of them will find “incredible footing” but others will fall a bit farther. “Last year ended up with a lighter ending. Everyone was at their highest high and the family was together,” he says. “This year it’s not that type of ending, but it’s also a little more spread out of who’s where and why. It’s not going to be completely wrapped up.”
“Ray Donovan” airs on Showtime Sundays at 9 p.m.