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GUEST BLOG #4: Ed Martin on FX's "Damages" Season Finale
March 31, 2009  | By Ed Martin
Here's another guest blog, featuring one of our new contributors, Ed Martin. This time he takes on the season finale of FX's Damages, with a specificity, and an enthusiasm, that make him so much fun to read.
"Damages" Sublime Second Season Reaches Shocking Conclusion

damages-season-2-hurt-close.jpgBy Ed Martin

One of the things I enjoy most about the experience of watching episodic television on its own terms is the feeling of breathless anticipation generated by the run up to a sizzling season finale. This can happen with a reality series (as we saw with the Battle of the Davids last year on American Idol), sitcoms (Friends comes immediately to mind) and most especially serialized or semi-serialized dramas (think 24 or the recently concluded Battlestar Galactica).

When you watch every episode of a series throughout an entire season on the nights they debut and wait a full seven days (or more) between them, the show becomes an exciting part of your life for an extended time...

(This can also happen when watching via DVR or the Internet, but only if something like the seven-day wait is self-administered. Racing through consecutive episodes is fun, but it's a completely different experience.) Watched in the traditional way -- with the viewer taking whatever small amounts of new information he is offered every seven days and then being made to wait for more, obsessing over what he has seen while wondering what will come next -- a serialized show will tighten its grip as the need to see how it all turns out thrillingly intensifies.

After several months of this, the wait between the penultimate episode of the season and a revelatory season finale can be electrifying in itself ... kind of like that slow climb to the high point of a roller coaster.


That's where I am this week as the extended ninety-minute season finale of FX's legal thriller Damages approaches (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET). In recent months we have seen the White House under siege by bloodthirsty terrorists on 24 and humanity cascading toward its final fate on Battlestar Galactica, but during that time the twisting, turning tangle of death and deceit on Damages has been every bit as gripping.

As was true the first time around, the complex drama of Damages' sophomore season has been consistently heightened by frequent flashes into the future that allow us to see how the story will end, or appear to end, which makes the experience of watching this show twice as exciting (and, perhaps, twice as challenging). We aren't simply watching a riveting story play out. We're wondering how it is going to get to the designated climax, and what kind of shocks and surprises will follow that. It's sort of like watching Lost, but not as trippy.


The narrative flashpoints so far have revealed the reviled, high-powered litigator Patty Hewes, played to stone cold perfection by Glenn Close, held at gunpoint by young attorney Ellen Parsons, who was taken under Patty's wing in season one and is convinced Patty tried to have her killed (this after Patty's fiance was murdered, leaving her understandably freaked).


We have seen Ellen fire her gun twice, seemingly in Patty's direction, and Patty later stumble out of Ellen's hotel room, her faced bloodied as if she has indeed been shot, with Ellen nowhere in sight.

But what exactly has happened, or will happen?

Ellen (played by Rose Byrne) may have shot Patty -- or someone else in the room. Or she may have simply intended to terrorize her evil employer and someone else is responsible for Patty's injuries. All we know for certain is that one should never assume anything about Damages, which is best experienced without any knowledge as to what may happen next.

So stop reading here if you haven't been watching and plan to do so on DVD, because the following sentence gives away some of what has happened so far.


With Damages already renewed for a third season, it would seem that the widespread carnage of the current storyline -- during which Patty has grown increasingly suspicious of Ellen, learned that the FBI is working to bring her down, seen her happy marriage literally shatter around her and lost her beloved uncle and right-hand man Pete -- has rocked her world so significantly as to set the stage for a total narrative overhaul next year.

The highest compliment I can pay any dramatic television series is to say that watching it evokes fond memories of sitting in movie theaters in the Seventies and watching the dozens of modern American classics that graced the big screen during that decade, when literate, thought-provoking, timely stories were powered by performances that were extraordinary in their complex realism. I can certainly say this about Damages.

As strong as its stories are, they are taken to greater levels by the magnificent actors on hand, most especially Glenn Close, who was honored with an Emmy for her first turn as Patty and will likely be singled out a second time (if only for the scene in which a significant witness turns against her on the stand and Patty storms out of the courthouse, her face locked in an expression of deafening silent rage).


If this season of Damages had been conceived as a theatrical film (which it very well could have been, and a damn fine one at that), co-stars William Hurt (as Daniel Purcell, the man from Patty's past at the center of one of the toughest cases of her career), Marcia Gay Harden (as opposing counsel Claire Maddox), Ted Danson (as lethal former billionaire Arthur Frobisher), Michael Nouri (as Patty's husband Phil Grey) and John Doman (as Walter Kendrick, the sinister CEO at the center of the evil-doing) would all deserve award consideration.

So would long-time Saturday Night Live funny guy Darrell Hammond, a revelation here as a killer for hire known as The Deacon. He's as slimy as he is scary and he makes my skin crawl. He won't soon be forgotten.

The characters on Damages may be wealthier and more powerful than most of us, but that doesn't make it impossible to sympathize with them, at least some of the time. One doesn't have to live as they do to experience personal and professional crises: Dishonest employers, cheating spouses and deceitful acquaintances lurk in the shadows at every economic level.

Of course, if you can't identify or sympathize with them, there is much to enjoy in the satisfying spectacle of watching rich bastards suffer. After all, most of them are involved in the legal process. As Murphy Brown once quipped, "Why did the lion chew on elephant droppings? He had just eaten a lawyer and was trying to get the taste out of his mouth!"

Enough said.



Ed Martin is the television critic and programming analyst for the media industry Web site JackMyers.com. The former senior editor of the award-winning, much-missed television and advertising trade magazine Inside Media, Ed has also written for USA Today, Advertising Age, Television Week, Broadcasting & Cable and TV Guide.
Earlier in his career, Ed was publicity director for the independent feature film production and distribution company Vestron Pictures, where he orchestrated publicity campaigns and produced electronic press kits for dozens of movies including the one and only Dirty Dancing. The fact that it is now referred to as a "classic" makes Ed feel old.




Greg said:

I've never seen any of this series and always have wanted to. I missed season 1 without really knowing about it and then missed the beginning of season 2. I have this On Demand but not in its entirety. I hope they replay it on demand fully someday, and I know about it, so I can catch it.

Seeing the shot with William Hurt in it makes me very sad for missing this.


Comment posted on April 1, 2009 3:05 PM
peetu said:

I'm always crazy to watch Damages Episodes. The story of these episodes is very interesting. It's a very scary and thrilling show. It shows that Greed is the most predominant force of motivation.

Comment posted on September 11, 2009 5:33 AM
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