Created by Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman, Todd A. Kessler
Oh Patty Hewes, you conniving little bitch. You better watch your back.
Hewes may be less of a backstabber in these two seasons but she still has her cold, wily ways. She’s a terrific character; complex, angry, overachiever and damned good at what she does. She’s not a Cruella de Ville (pun intended) but a human being with a past that can harden any individual. That’s the great thing about Damages - over the course of these four seasons, the writers have peeled many interesting layers of Patty Hewes. There are a lot of reasons why she is the way she is.
After the outstanding first season and the damned good second one, I feel that Damages season 3 falters a bit. I think the writers were struggling with keeping the twists fresh and ultimately went in over their heads. At this point in the game, we’ve come to expect that nothing is what it seems at first glance. (24 fell into the same rut; it’s how a show’s rigid structure can harm itself). One thing we can still expect from Damages is a remarkable cast acting the hell out of their meaty roles. In season three, there’s something undeniably appealing about Martin Short, as an oily lawyer, snaking his way around his client’s troubled family business. It’s a shady, layered role, a dramatic and welcome departure for Short. Lily Tomlin also fares well as the wife of the Bernie Madoff-esque tycoon who still supplies money to his family, even after his arrest for fraud. Campbell Scott is terrific as the son who rises to the occasion and “takes over” the family affairs. Meanwhile, Ellen and Patty deal with the ongoing mystery of Tom Shayes, which has a few intriguing bumps along the way. The twists and turns that are expected from Damages are not nearly as shocking and carefully plotted as in previous seasons, but the show remains a compelling, superbly acted piece of entertainment.
After three seasons (at 13 episodes apiece) on FX, the show decreased its episode count to 10 when it moved to Direct TV for season 4. And it made a tremendous difference. The 4th, penultimate season was its tightest and most enthralling season since the first one. Again, the outstanding cast has a lot to do with it. Not only do we have Dylan Baker at his sleazy best as a CIA agent who pulls some (illegal) strings for his own personal gain (it’s a nuanced performance by a reliably good actor), we also have a towering, magnificent John Goodman as the season’s major villain, a religious family man who made some bad judgment calls and tries to worm his way out of trouble. Goodman’s Howard Erickson is the show’s best character since Ted Danson’s Arthur Frobisher from the earlier seasons. The least the Emmy voters could have done was nominate Goodman for his performance here. And if that weren’t enough, we were given a strong arc involving a military extraction gone wrong, resulting in the deaths of three soldiers and the souring mental health of the sole survivor (played by the excellent Chris Messina). The great Judd Hirsch pops up as Hewes’s former mentor who can help crack the case. This season had taut storylines, surprising twists, and more of the great acting showcases we’ve come to expect from the show.
So despite the ups and downs of these four seasons, I’m relieved and thrilled that Damages is as good as it was when it started. The show’s fifth and final season may not be available on DVD for some time now, but I’ll be riding into that good night with high hopes.