Judge Clark Douglas wonders how many of his reviews would be taken away if he were being sued by a major law firm.
Our reviews of Damages: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published February 2nd, 2008), Damages: The Complete Second Season (published January 19th, 2010), Damages: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2012), and Damages: The Final Season (published July 25th, 2013) are also available.
Ellen: "Working with you has taught me one important lesson."
Created by Todd and Glenn Kessler, along with Daniel Zelman, Damages is one of the ambitious new programs (along with The Riches) from the FX television network. The show is a legal drama that focuses on the conflict between famous litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close, Dangerous Liasons) and powerful billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, Cheers). Frobisher's ex-employees are filing a class action lawsuit against the wealthy CEO, and the stakes are very high. Thrown into the middle of this tense situation is young lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, Sunshine). Ellen doesn't know it, but she has just stepped into a world full of lies, corruption, and murders.
However, the show also takes a tactic that raises the level of intrigue for the viewers at home. We flash forward several months, and are given a few key pieces of information. First, Ellen Parsons is in prison on charges of murder. Second, Ellen's fiancé (Noah Bean, Stay) is dead, his bloody corpse lying in the bathtub at Ellen's apartment. Third, everybody is acting sneaky and suspicious. We don't know how these situations could possibly come about, and the entire season slowly but surely come closer and closer to the clips from the future that we see in each episode.
Facts of the Case
The first season of Damages ran for thirteen episodes, and they are spread over three discs.
• Get Me a Lawyer: After Patty handpicks Ellen to be a first-year associate at the high-profile law firm "Hewes and Associates," life will never be the same for either one of them.
• Jesus, Mary, and Joe Cocker: When Ellen and David gather with family to celebrate their recent engagement, Katie reveals her paranoia surrounding her involvement in the Frobisher case and her safety.
• And My Paralyzing Fear of Death: When Patty and Ray Fiske are called in by the judge about the Frobisher case, Patty is asked to come up with a substantial reason to continue with their litigation by the end of the week.
• Tastes Like a Ho-Ho: Katie's past catches up with her and she soon finds herself in the middle of the Frobisher class action lawsuit with Patty's team preparing Katie for the deposition.
• A Regular Earl Anthony: Frobisher pushes Ray Fiske to take a more aggressive approach with Patty, who is on shaky ground with the clients.
• She Spat On Me: Patty cautiously pursues Gregory, eager to learn his secrets before it's too late.
• We Are Not Animals: The Frobisher case now hinges on Gregory's deposition, which has Patty committed to keeping him sage from the nefarious forces of the opposition.
• Blame the Victim: With the key witness missing and Frobisher's camp taking extra measures to maintain the momentum, Patty must find a new strategy for the case.
• Do You Regret What We Did?: Both sides continue to fight for the upper hand as the mystery behind Gregory's disappearance deepens.
• Sort of Like a Family: Titans collide as Patty and Frobisher square off in his deposition. Ellen has been relegated to the sidelines, where she contemplates a few risky moves that might get her back in the action.
• I Hate These People: Pressure from the trial is taking its toll on Patty and Frobisher alike, as both sides intensify their tactics despite potentially dire ramifications. Ellen's secret information could be a huge help to Patty, but will the reward justify the risk?
• There's No 'We' Anymore: The story of Ellen's incarceration for David's murder converges with the tumultuous events surround Patty's efforts to take down Frobisher.
• Because I Know Patty: The season comes to its shocking conclusion.
As Damages progressed through the first few episodes, I found myself a little detached and unconvinced. It seemed at a first glance to be just another legal show about kinda-corrupt-but-lovable lawyers, sporting only a gimmicky storytelling technique as the unique reason for its existence. But darn it, around the midway point or so, I found myself hooked by the thing. What begins as a conspicuously ordinary legal show continues as a surprisingly extraordinary legal melodrama. Damages is juicy, addictive pulp, and that's not a bad thing.
The first thing that seems to set the program apart from other legal shows is the long-arc storyline. This is not one of those shows with 13 self-contained episodes held together by some long-arc subplots. The show almost plays more like a miniseries. An uninformed viewer could not tune in to, say, episode 11, and understand very much of what was going on. Thus, DVD is probably the best way to experience Damages, so you don't miss any of the many important details. That, plus you won't want to wait a week to see more episodes once this show draws you in.
When I saw ads for Damages on television, it was being billed as a Glenn Close star vehicle, looking a bit like Shark or something along those lines. However, it should be noted that Close is only a part of a large ensemble cast. There are a lot of players here, and equal time is granted to quite a few. However, Close is the big name here, so let's start with her. At a first glance, her character seems to be that powerful, ruthless woman that Close is so good at portraying. You've seen Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liasons, and, um, 101 Dalmations…no one is better at playing a powerful villainess. Patty Hewes is a unique creation, though. Yes, she is capable of the same depths of cruelty and manipulation as those other famous Close characters, but she is given a surprisingly touching human element. Patty seems to be genuine and heartfelt as often she is caustic and cold, and the scenes she shares with her husband and son contrast nicely with the scenes she shares with her co-workers.
Ted Danson also takes a surprising approach in his portrayal to multi-billionaire Arthur Frobisher. "Villainous CEO" is a role that generally begs for the typical combination of Trump-n-Turner sleaze and charisma, but Danson offers a complete unique character that is quite different than we expect him to be. Yes, he's certainly guilty of everything he is being accused of, but somehow it's hard not to love the guy. Frobisher is almost childlike in his ineptitude at times, a man who has managed to convince himself that he is a good, ordinary, lovable guy. We almost feel sorry for this corrupt man who ruined the lives of thousands of innocent people.
There are a couple of lawyers on both sides that are also compelling. Tate Donovan (Nancy Drew) plays Tom, a longtime lawyer from Hewes and associates who gives Ellen his friendship and support. Donovan is a little mysterious in the role, often seeming just a little bit too nice and friendly for us to trust him. Zeljko Ivanek (Live Free or Die Hard) plays Frobisher's attorney, a chahmin' Suthin' lawyah who starts by oozing corruption and slowly reveals rather sympathetic sides of himself. So it goes with everyone…we begin to love the people we should hate, we begin to dislike the people we should root for, and after a while we don't know what to think.
The DVD set provides a reasonably generous batch of bonus features, beginning with two episode commentaries. Both feature all three creators, while the first commentary has participation from Glenn Close and Allen Coulter (who directed the pilot), while the second gets some comments from Zeljko Ivanek. These are decent, with no pauses, but a bit dry and dull at times. Two featurettes (running for a combined 35 minutes) have a lot of interesting commentary from the cast and crew, and quite refreshingly, there are spoiler alerts! A batch of clips about "Understanding Class Action" are a little uninteresting, but some may find this to be diverting fun. Finally, some deleted scenes are included on each disc, which range from throwaway to engaging.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one weak casting point is Rose Byrne as Ellen. She is a crucial character, because she is the only character in the show who we are absolutely confident in. There is never any chance that Ellen will do something that shocks us, she is a young woman of reliable character. Unfortunately, Byrne is a little bit of a blank space, failing to really add many dimensions to the character. She seems to have received directions instructing her to "look lost and confused all the time." She does that well enough, but can't quite muster up a whole lot during the more intensely dramatic scenes.
The visuals in the show are also a little bit disappointing, particularly during the flash-forward sequences. These scenes use the typical, clichéd desaturated and shaky camera footage in order to add a "gritty" feel to the scenes. In order to add some more dramatic effect, there is usually a red filter on the camera. All of this feels like an annoying attempt at injecting extra suspense into the proceedings. The rest of the show ranges from flat to acceptable, and the transfer is really quite weak…With nearly four hours of material on each disc, the bit rate was undoubtedly quite low. Audio is okay, though James S. Levine's original score is mundane sound design.
The most compelling element of the show is the increasing level of moral ambiguity in the cast of characters. Almost everyone you trust becomes untrustworthy, and you can't really rely on any character to act any particular way. People make right decisions for the wrong reasons, wrong decisions for the right reasons, and most of all, wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. It makes for incredibly involving material, and the contrivances we endured in the first portion of the season are compensated for by the rewarding and revealing elements of the final few episodes.
Only guilty of making me very eager to see Season Two.
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