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Our reviews of Damages: The Complete First Season (published February 13th, 2008), Damages: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published February 2nd, 2008), Damages: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2012), and Damages: The Final Season (published July 25th, 2013) are also available.
Win at all costs.
"There will be no more betrayals. No more lies."
Facts of the Case
When the first season of Damages concluded, up-and-coming Attorney Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, Knowing) was attempting to recover from both the death of her fiancé and the attempt that had been made on her own life. A businessman named Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, Becker) was responsible for the former; Ellen's boss Patty Hughes (Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons) was responsible for the latter. Now Ellen is going after both with a vengeance, albeit in her own subtle and secretive way. She's attempting to cope on a personal level by going to group grief therapy sessions, where she strikes up a relationship with a man named Wes Krulik (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood).
Meanwhile, Patty takes on the case of a scientist named Daniel Purcell (William Hurt, Body Heat), who claims that his research company is falsifying reports for companies engaging in environmentally irresponsible behavior. However, Daniel is more than just a client. He and Patty have a long and complicated history, so working together again might just bring a few skeletons out of the closet.
Thirteen episodes are spread across three discs:
I found the first season of Damages to be a very compelling season of television, and I'm pleased to report that the second is even better. Damages: The Complete Second Season builds on the strengths of the first, improves upon the show's weak points, and adds an even more impressive supporting cast. The result is a 13-episode thrill ride that kept me involved both mentally and emotionally from beginning to end.
The season begins with a flash-forward, just as the first season did. The image is striking. A dashing Ellen Parsons sips whiskey while Ray Charles' "Just for a Thrill" plays in the background. Ellen delivers some ominous lines of dialogue to an unseen person sitting across the table from her. Then she pulls out a revolver and fires two shots. It's a sensational scene, and as the season progresses other flash-forwards slowly but surely start to fill in the context. Just when we think we've figured everything out, the finale delivers a thrilling sucker-punch that changes the context yet again. I wanted to applaud.
Meanwhile, in "real time," Damages delivers a series of fascinatingly complex and layered sub-plots involving a variety of intriguing characters. Honestly, things start to shift dramatically within the first couple of episodes and don't stop shifting until the end, so I can't really talk about where some of these stories go without spoiling too much. However, I will tell you that this season's unifying element can be heard in the show's single-lyric theme song: "When I am through with you, there won't be anything left." On the board are dangerous players intent on destroying the lives and souls of their opponents. When the credits roll at the end of each episode, the theme song seems increasingly like a fierce promise.
The writers provide us with an endless supply of clever plot twists and red herrings throughout the season, but the show primarily succeeds because the writers give the characters time to live and breathe. Much like AMC's superb Mad Men, Damages doesn't necessarily move in the direction you expect it to from episode to episode, approaching new angles and digging into unexpected areas with frequency. Even seemingly insignificant supporting players are fleshed out. Relationships are developed and little often-ignored details are contemplated. True, many of these things actually prove to be of real consequence eventually, but they don't stick out like post-it notes saying, "Remember this stuff, because we're using it later!"
The performances are impeccable throughout. Let's start with the returning players. Damages is still more or less billed as "The Glenn Close Show" despite its ensemble nature, but that's understandable given the commanding presence she has. To an extent, Patty Hughes seems to be an even more human character in this season, showing her more vulnerable and caring sides on a surprisingly frequent basis. Her moments of savagery are made all the more terrifying because we are fully aware that there is a real human being underneath this cold-hearted monster.
In season one, I felt that Rose Byrne was the weak link in the cast. That's no longer the case, as Byrne turns Ellen into a much more compelling individual. Interestingly enough, the once-innocent Ellen may very well be the coldest character on the show, her moments of warmth and friendliness only part of her tenacious attempt to bring down Patty. Tate Donovan (Space Camp) radiates decency and goodness as Tom, while Ted Danson continues to delight with his bewildered portrayal of Arthur Frobisher. Frobisher has a less significant role this season (Danson only appears in about half of the episodes), but every time he turns up it's likely to bring a goofy grin to your face.
Good as these folks are, it should be noted that the supporting cast this season is nothing short of remarkable. William Hurt does marvelous work as tormented scientist Daniel Purcell; an essay in grief and guilt that grows increasingly compelling as we learn more about the character. Marcia Gay Harden too frequently gets cast as shrill, one-note characters, but Damages provides her with a rich, nuanced role worthy of her talents. Timothy Olyphant gives us a playfully enigmatic turn as Ellen's new maybe-boyfriend, a perpetual cat-like grin masking whatever motivations may be percolating in that brain of his. Tom Noonan (Synecdoche, New York) is excellent as a detective investigating a murder during the first half of the season, while Daryl Hammond (Saturday Night Live) proves darkly hilarious as a hit man who seems to have connections to half of the primary characters.
The show receives an excellent standard-def transfer, nearly on par with HBO's stronger standard-def releases. Detail is solid throughout, blacks are satisfactorily deep, color bleeding is kept to a minimum in some scenes that practically beg for it, and flesh tones are warm and accurate. Audio is also excellent, with the music coming through with particular clarity and strength. Dialogue is clean and clear, while the slightly busy sound design is well-distributed. Extras include a handful of cast and crew audio commentaries, some character profiles, an extensive recap of the first season, deleted scenes, and a featurette called "Season Two: Post Mortem."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The flash-forward technique is well-employed this season, though there's one slightly troubling element: I'm not sure that the writers worked out their timeline very well. As the show progresses, the flash-forward sequences start getting closer and closer to where the show is (6 months later, 4 months later, 2 months later, etc.). There is a moment when a guy is killed. After that scene, we get a flash-forward that says "6 weeks later." Okay. Then there is a scene in which some people find the dead guy's body the next day. This is followed by a flash-forward that says "1 month later," despite the fact it's depicting the same thing that happened in the "6 weeks later" flash-forward. What? This probably won't bother some people, but it was a nagging issue for me.
Additionally, great as most of the plot twists are, there were a couple that came across as being too easy and contrived. I suppose that's what happens when you try to surprise people with some sort of unexpected revelation just about every single episode.
Smart, superbly-acted, and incredibly addictive, Damages: The Complete Second Season elevates the series from a "should-watch" to a "must-watch." Highly recommended.
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