Saturday, January 10, 2009

Damages: Worth the Wait?

This week saw the premiere of season 2 of Damages, the much-acclaimed and not-as-much-watched legal thriller starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne (I'd mention the male actors involved, but they're not the reason to tune in.) As it began, I found myself struggling to remember what happened last season. I recall the grainy unfinished flash-forwards that I had to
endure throughout every episode, and that it was all resolved by the end, but in terms of hard facts I only clearly recall who died, who survived, and who told the FBI she would help bring Patty down.

I was secretly hoping that the device of showing scenes from the future, and then switching back to the present would be retired after the first year, as they on occasion make my head hurt (its dry enough trying to follow the legal machinations) and drive me crazy by teasing the meat of the plot and ending the episode before I get to taste it. However, instead of seeing a scrappy screaming Ellen (Byrne) getting attacked and surviving in the classic man-tries-to-murder-woman, man-falls-on-womans-kitchen-knife, we get a glimpse of a dark-eyed, whiskey drinking Ellen, civilly menacing an unidentified hostage.

I have to say, I've never fully made up my mind about Rose Byrne. Perhaps I haven't seen her in the right role, since the Brits speak very highly of her. Certainly Troy was an unfortunate showcase for the American audience, and I didn't find Sunshine particularly remarkable, if rather disturbing. (I've not had the courage to brave her performances in movies like Wicker Park, 28 Weeks Later or Marie Antoinette, nor the resources to find her and David Tennant and Peter O'Toole's Casanova.) She has neither won me over, nor incurred my dissatisfaction. But after this week's premiere, and what looks like an escalating arc of iniquity and conviction, this season of Damages may be the turning point in our relationship.

While last year we dealt with the slow, methodical crumbling of her impending marriage, old friendships, and to some degree her moral center, this year finds Ellen filled with a burning righteous desire for vengeance. And with her unflinching brilliance, expect a creative destruction of Patty--nothing so simple as two bullets point blank (yes thats right, I don't think it's Patty in the chair.) The grief and rage that Byrne channels gives her a kind of glow, a steady gait of purpose in a life where all her previous goals have either lost their appeal, or been bashed in the head by a bookend. Also her hair looks great.

Glenn Close's Patty, another hair style improvement, also feels richer. Watching her forced smile as she deals with opportunistic businessman and Regis and Kelly makes you think she might flip out at any moment and murder someone (my vote's for Regis) with her bare hands instead of simply ordering a henchman to do it. But then she has some powerful Lady Macbeth moments, and we realize her impending psychotic break is fueled by guilt, not rage. Suddenly we are almost sympathetic with her once-purely-villainous character, highlighting the reversal of roles between Patty and Ellen, the obfuscation of justice vs. vengeance that leads them both down darker paths.

The tone of the show remains grave and unchanged, but the two main characters are increasingly dynamic. The inevitable showdown between Patty and Ellen is reason enough to keep watching, and the rising level of acting chops as Close and Byrne feed off each other's considerable skill will keep you enjoying it.

As for the legal material, look for Patty to take on the HMOs who have destroyed the noble practice of obstetrics with her usual fervor. Talk about inspiring sympathy; I'm starting to love counselor Hewes.


  1. Oh Patty Hewes scares me!! I am totally hooked and can't wait to see who Ellen offs this season. Also interested by the Big Chill recall of William Hurt. How could anyone have a murky past with Patty and live to tell us about it?

  2. Oh good call! I didn't even make the Big Chill connect. Perhaps, as they try to humanize her evilness, we'll find that people like Hurt...well, hurt her in the past and caused her to become ruthless and uncompromising. Seems plausible. Plus, with his wifey dead, he'll probably do anything and Patty will have another footsoldier under her thumb. She sure does the whole man-thing better than any of the men.