Damages returned last night for its fifth and final season. Looks like we’re finally going to get a long awaited courtroom showdown between Patty (Glenn Close) and Ellen (Rose Byrne). The reveal that Ellen might be dead would normally have been a Damages’ jaw-dropping shocker come episode’s end, but instead elicits indifferent shrugs because we’ve seen it months ago in the Season 5 teaser trailers. Is this poor marketing tactic an indication of a disappointing season to come?
Let’s bitch it out.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the season premiere seeing as we only get 10 episode left in the entire series (EVER). However, some of the elements that I love about the show are still very much present, hugging me like a familiar old friend. Right at the top of the list is the stellar acting and writing. I would pinpoint Glenn Close’s appearance on the show way back in 2007 (when Damages first premiered) as the green light for big movie stars to migrate to the quality small screen dramas. Her ruthless Patty Hewes is perfectly counteracted by Byrne’s Ellen Parsons, who, although having undergone quite the evolution over the series’ run, still maintains a certain innocence and naivety. Make no mistake: you want to watch this show because of these two actresses and the intricate cat and mouse labyrinth that the writers lay out for them.
We pick up right where we left off last season: Ellen gets ready to testify against Patty in her impending hearing as she battles son Michael (Zachary Booth) for custody of grand-daughter Catherine. Patty confides in Bill (Judd Hirsch), who appears to have been promoted to full-time consultant, that Ellen wants to “hurt” her, knowing Patty’s deepest, darkest secrets and not afraid to spill them on public record. We get a peek into Patty’s messed up subconscious via the dream sequence that opens the episode. Patty irrationally screams at little Catherine who refuses to leave Patty’s desk chair (read: throne) innocently proclaiming “You’re nobody’s Mommy” before the little girl turns into the bloody Ellen we saw way back in season one. A shrink could have a field day with this dream. Looks like all of Patty’s guilt concerning the bad choices she’s made to get to the top are clearly being repressed somewhere. But this sequence opens up a new tactic we’re likely to see all season long: flashbacks to season one.
Damages has always employed the concurrent flash-forward, jumping months ahead and showing us information that doesn’t quite make sense until the “present” storyline has caught up (usually around season finale time). It’s a little bit gimmicky, but there’s a certain satisfaction in having the puzzle pieces fall into place by season’s end. For this final season, Damages throws another timeline into the mix – plenty of flashbacks from season one. I think it’s quite fitting that we return the dangling emotional threads when we first meet Patty and Ellen as these moments further complement the Patty/Ellen rivalry. It’s a nice touch. It also reminds me of how much Ellen has changed throughout the series and how much Patty has not.
Another of Damages wonderful aspects is its ability to completely reinvent character actors. The big case of the season comes by way of Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe) as a Julian Assange-type web editor. We’re also introduced to his right hand man, Rutger Simon (John Hannah – whose face you’ll recognize but not necessarily his name. I remember him as the lovable lead from Sliding Doors) and corresponding whistleblower, Naomi Walling (Jenna Elfman). Though the jury is still out on Phillippe, (who seriously cannot hold his own when he’s tête-à-tête with Close), but any annoying remembrances of Elfman’s Dharma (from ABC’s long-running Dharma & Greg) are completely obliterated in her first scene. Not only does this woman seems to be getting hotter with age, she shows a wide range of acting talents despite minimal screen time. I don’t know what it is about Damages, but it just has a way of transforming actors (Martin Short, Ted Danson and John Goodman are notable examples from seasons past). I have high hopes that Rutger will turn into the deliciously evil villain that Dylan Baker’s Jerry Boorman was last season.
Time will tell, but really the premiere focuses primarily on pitting Ellen against Patty. McClaren initially solicits Patty as his lawyer (in the aforementioned scene where Phillippe gets totally schooled by Close in the acting department) fearing a big lawsuit coming his way. She rejects taking him on, saying he’s too arrogant and dangerous for her (ironic, isn’t it?). Instead, Patty pawns him off to Ellen. Once Ellen gets word that Patty’s recommended her, she’s quick to deduce that Patty is likely setting her up in an elaborate screw-over. How Patty could have foreseen recommending Ellen to McClaren as benefitting her in advance of the case exploding is unknown to me. Perhaps Patty has ties to the source that actually leaked out the information about Naomi prior to meeting with McClaren? Regardless, it plays out as it should – Patty knows Ellen will take on the high-profile case, and they’ll duke it out head-to-head with Patty representing the other side of the coin.
The episode ends with the diluted cliffhanger I mentioned before. Three months later, Patty is interrogated by detectives who are looking for a missing Ellen, while Patty coldly maintains her ignorance. Ellen is apparently back on track to testify against Patty in the custody hearing, which foreshadows something going awry in the McClaren vs. Walling case (as if we had any doubt!). We get a long pan of the city eventually hovering over Ellen’s presumably lifeless body as a pool of blood surrounds her head. Is this really the end of Ellen? Is Patty somehow involved? I guess we’ll find out over the course of the season. Remember last year we got the fake out death of Chris Sanchez (Chris Messina) so my gut tells me not to jump the gun and take this scene as fact. Then again, we also had the same treatment of series regular Tom Shayes’ (Tate Donovan) death in season three, so who knows. This being the final season, I’m inclined to say that poor Ellen is going to bite it by series’ end as all the rules are thrown out the window.
- Speaking of Chris Sanchez, he’s returned and ready to start dating Ellen (Yay!). At least I think so… let’s just say that their scenes together don’t exactly scream out puppy love. After all she did for him last season, you’d think he’d be more inclined to be all lovey-dovey with her. Then again, he was tortured for a good part of last season, and likely has never recovered from his PTSD, so maybe I should give him some slack. It’s unfortunate because I think Ellen is deserving of some serious “happy” considering all she’s been through and I think Messina and Byrne had some serious chemistry last season. The hopeless romantic in me will continue to root for these two.
- I’m totally not feeling Ellen’s new bowl-cut hair. Is the bad hair an indication of her morphing slowly into Patty from season one?
- Although Ellen’s “death” wasn’t very shocking, Naomi’s staged suicide totally came out of left field, as was Patty’s revelation of it in court. If I can steer clear of trailers (and spoilers), I might find this season more enjoyable.
Best lines of the night:
- Patty trying to discredit Ellen as a witness against her: “Miss Parsons is single and childless. She doesn’t know the first things about being a parent.” Ouch.
- McClaren trying to convince Patty to take his case: “You’re an old woman. You have just a handful of productive years left until my generation suceeds you.” OUCH!
So what did you think viewers, do you think this premiere episode is a good start to the series’ swan song? Are you looking forward to an Ellen/Patty courtroom showdown? Do you think Ellen is really done for? Sound off in our comments section.
Damages airs Wednesdays at 9:00pm EST on DirecTV’s Audience Network and on Netflix in Canada.