Sony // 2011 // 502 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // July 12th, 2012
"The war will go on forever."
Legal thriller Damages began on FX in 2007. With a top-notch cast led by Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, the morally ambiguous series racked up awards and attracted big name guest stars, including Ted Danson, William Hurt, Lily Tomlin, Martin Short, and Campbell Scott. After three seasons, the combination of falling ratings and an expensive production put it in the crosshairs. It was canceled by FX, but picked up almost immediately by DIRECTV with the promise of two more seasons. The first of those final seasons, Damages: The Complete Fourth Season is available on DVD. The network may have changed, but the show's signature twists, turns, and double crosses haven't.
It has been a couple of years since the end of the Tobin case. Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, X-Men: First Class) has moved on to a new law firm, while Patty Hewes (Emmy winner Glenn Close, The Shield) has added to her workload the care of her granddaughter after the disappearance of her son, Michael (Zachary Booth, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist). Ellen hears that an old high school friend, Chris Sanchez (Chris Messina, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) has returned from Afghanistan after leaving the employ of private military service High Star. She meets with Chris in hopes he has information that will help her bring a lawsuit against the company, and its founder, Howard Erickson (John Goodman, Community). When Chris is resistant to her questions about his final mission, Ellen begins to suspect something happened overseas. Her inquiries put her on High Star's radar, and in the sights of a mysterious operative named Jerry Boorman (Dylan Baker, Trick 'R Treat). Joining forces once again with Hewes & Associates, Ellen's investigation brings her closer to the truth, even as it puts her and the people she cares about in danger.
[The following contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Damages.]
There are plenty of TV series with unlikeable characters. Damages has lots of those, but it ups the ante by putting everyone's motivations in question, all the time. This is a fascinating, frustrating show where nothing is as it seems, and the best way to tell someone is lying is if their lips are moving. The main character, Patty Hewes, is manipulative, opportunistic, and secretive. Over the course of the series, Ellen Parsons -- Patty's protege and the closest we have to an audience surrogate -- has followed in her footsteps. They are surrounded by people who are just as duplicitous. Everyone has an agenda, and the only thing worth rooting for in any given season is to see the "bad guys" (a relative position) lose.
Like the seasons that came before, Damages: The Complete Fourth Season begins by flashing forward several months to a disturbing event. The show then rewinds to the present, building the mystery and gradually revealing the horrific endgame. Where the first three seasons' flash forwards showed major characters in peril -- Ellen in Season One, Patty in Season Two, and poor Tom Shayes in Season Three -- this season asks us to care about people we hardly know. It's a risky move that never quite pays off.
The switch from FX to DIRECTV means that Damages is no longer bound by the rules of basic cable decency. This new freedom translates to a lot more swearing and some nudity. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate to better TV. After three seasons focused on personal grudges and local threats, Season Four abandons corporate corruption for the shadowy world of private military contractors in Afghanistan. The plot moves forward with enough teases and twists to keep the viewer reaching for the next disc, but the formula is more apparent than ever. In the absence of relatable characters, Damages relies on non-chronological storytelling to build suspense. After four years, it's hard to keep falling for the same tricks.
This season's arc might not be as compelling as years past, but Damages: The Complete Fourth Season continues the series' strength of putting great actors in supporting roles. John Goodman joins the cast as Howard Erickson, the focus of Ellen and Patty's investigation. He brings weight to the part, playing the character as a complicated mix of profit, war, and religion. Goodman elevates the stereotype, and gets better as the season goes along. He is joined by Dylan Baker as Jerry Boorman, the real villain. Baker gives the season's best performance, especially once his allegiances and motivations have been fully revealed. As Chris Sanchez, Chris Messina has the tough job of making us believe he's someone that Ellen would do anything to protect. It's not his fault that the relationship rings hollow, but he excels at the wide range of things he is asked to do, and to endure.
Damages: The Complete Fourth Season has 10 episodes (fewer than the first three seasons' 13-episode runs) across 3 discs, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Surround. The standard def video transfer is noisy at times, especially in low light scenes, but this is still a great-looking series. Audio is mostly dialogue-heavy, with the occasional effect during flashbacks and flashforwards.
The set comes with the following bonus features:
* A Case for War: The Cast and Crew Discuss the Fourth Season" (13:47): Series co-creators Todd Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman break down the season's changes, characters, themes, and the move to DIRECTV. It's a decent overview of the season you likely just finished watching.
* "The Evolution of Patty Hewes" (7:02): A profile of the series' complicated lead, from the first season until now.
* Deleted Scenes: Nine extra scenes, spread out across all three discs, that flesh out a few subplots, including Michael's return, Ellen's deal with Erickson, and Boorman's suitcase.
* Outtakes (4:20): A surprisingly goofy collection of gaffes for such a serious show.
Damages makes the leap from one network to another without missing a step, even if it is missing a few episodes. Season Four will feel familiar to those who have watched the series before, with shocking twists and a stellar season cast that includes John Goodman and Dylan Baker. However, the change from New York elite to global politics makes for a story that focuses more on new characters than Patty and Ellen's central, turbulent relationship.
Not damaging, but not the best the series has to offer. Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 502 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes