After a shocking death and a mysterious incident, the Donovans are a splintered family
Episode 501
Credit: Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

At the end of last season, everything was looking pretty great for the Donovans. They’d just pulled off a huge job, getting the angry Russians off their backs and dishing out some justice for Avi in the process. Sure, Abby was still being stubborn about treating her cancer, and Mickey lost the newest love of his life earlier on, but as the season came to a close, the whole family was dancing together inside the boxing gym. They were united for the first time in a very long time.

Which is why it’s pretty jarring to see the family not exactly getting along as the fifth season gets underway. They seem fractured, as if something irreparable happened. We’ll get to the mystery of what exactly happened — or rather, how something happened — a little bit later, but as the season premiere begins, everybody seems downtrodden. Mickey is buying boutonnières for Terry and Maureen’s wedding, but he hardly seems happy about it. He mumbles through the order and can barely muster any enthusiasm when the clerk offers her congratulations.

There are a few reasons why Mickey might be so sullen. First, he visits Sylvie’s gravesite and brings her fresh flowers. He’s still distraught that he lost someone he had such a beautiful connection with; their future was all planned, and then it was taken away. But that’s not all. As Ray sits down for some court-ordered therapy, a mystery begins to build. A flashback sequence sees Ray fighting with Mickey and maybe Bunchy; it’s all a little unclear. What we know is that something explosive happened, Bridget witnessed it all, and now Ray has to complete 12 sessions of therapy and the whole family is tense.

Just what Ray did to his father, and what caused it all, isn’t the season’s only mystery by any means, but it’s perhaps the most intriguing of the season premiere. I say that because Ray Donovan isn’t usually the type of show to draw out a story line using flashbacks. It’s a change in storytelling that could bode well for the series, which is certainly in need of a shakeup after four seasons. There’s the potential for this story line to get frustrating if Ray Donovan plays things too close to the vest, but for now, the enigmatic cloud that hangs over the Donovans provides some welcome intrigue.

The other bit of mystifying business involves Abby. At the end of last season, she was struggling with cancer; now, she’s nowhere to be found. The episode, aptly titled “Abby,” teases her death. We know she died based on all the pretty obvious context clues, but it’s unclear what happened. That tension is used to great effect late in the episode when, in a flashback, Ray and Abby plummet down a hill in their car after swerving to avoid a woman in the road. Abby doesn’t die in that moment, and we’re left to wonder just what happened when she did; one scene sees Bridget sitting outside her parents’ bedroom crying, but no answers are provided there either.

While we wait for answers, we catch up with the Donovans. Bunchy is preparing for a luchador tryout in the hopes of going on the road with Teresa; Daryll is still dumb as a bag of hammers, but at least he’s trying to court big clients for Ray’s business, this time going after movie star Jay White; and then there’s Terry, whose Parkinson’s is being controlled by a pacemaker in his head, gearing up to marry Maureen. All of that sounds pretty normal, but it isn’t long before “Abby” throws a couple of wrenches into all of these plans. (Recap continues on page 2)

I know exactly what you’re thinking: So most of the adult Donovans are probably on a path to something bad, but what about those precious kids? As it turns out, they might not be much better off. Conor is off at some sort of military school, trying out for the wrestling team while also being cold with his father on the phone. Then there’s Bridget, whose circumstances are a little more hazy.

In “Abby,” we see Bridget connecting with a kid named Smitty, someone she apparently met in the cancer ward. Does that mean Abby eventually got treatment? We don’t know yet, but initially it seems like Bridget is just looking for a friend. The two get high together and talk about death, like all teenagers do. Then things get weird and, yet again, mysterious. Bridget calls her father and says that she “met the kid,” referring to Smitty. That’s it. That’s all we get. Who is Smitty and why is he important to the Donovans? How is he connected to Ray and Bridget? There are so many questions on the table in “Abby”!

While the Donovans are warring with themselves, there’s a whole lot else going on in the season premiere. “Abby” is focused on setting up multiple story lines, and while it makes for a bit of a chaotic premiere, it at least suggests that there’s plenty of material to dig into once everything gets rolling. For instance, one of the episode’s most interesting story lines has to do with that woman in the road. Abby and Ray may not know her in that moment, but in the here and now she shows up on TV and is revealed to be Natalie James (played by Banshee‘s Lili Simmons), an actress who’s dealing with a nude photo leak. Certainly their paths aren’t done crossing.

On top of all of that, Ray seems to have been roped into another strange job for some Hollywood elite. At the behest of Doug Landry, Ray helps Pacific Pictures get back a number of files for their chairwoman, Samantha Winslow, and finds himself immediately in her orbit. Winslow, played by Susan Sarandon in a delightfully weird turn, is a strange woman. She’s powerful and forward, yet also ambiguous.

After she tells a meandering and surreal story about her husband and a lion — something tells me Ray is stuck in the den — Ray’s tasked with driving her son George back home. He’s a weird character, too, going on about how he saw his sister die and peddling that hoax about a dead munchkin on the set of The Wizard of Oz.

All of this adds up to one very beguiling season premiere. There are numerous story lines floating around, and the show is being purposely vague with many of them. As the season rolls on, the answers will come, but for now we’ll have to settle for the lack of clarity. Just when you think you’re out, Ray Donovan pulls you right back in.

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