Glenn Close, left, plays the charming but ruthless attorney Patty Hewes, and Rose Byrne is Ellen Parsons, a recent law-school graduate who joins Hewes firm in Damages.
High-powered legal eagle Patty Hewes is on her way up the steps of a courthouse, where a jury is nearing its decision on the multimillion-dollar negligence lawsuit that she's filed against a huge corporation. The corporation's lawyer trails in her wake, reluctantly but steadily bumping up his settlement offer: first $25 million, then $50 million, finally $75 million.
Hewes just laughs him off. Then one of her assistants announces that the jury is just coming back in with its verdict. Hewes turns to her frustrated opponent on the steps below. "This is your last chance to get off cheap," she says archly.
After a brief pause, the lawyer folds, jumping his offer to a cool $150 million, the precise amount that Hewes had been looking for all along. Seconds after he phones in the settlement to the judge, the jury foreman walks by on her way back from lunch, and the lawyer realizes that he's been hoodwinked.
Seething, he confronts Hewes, "If you were a man," he snarls, "I'd kick the living [daylights] out of you."
"And if you were a man," she counters coolly, "I'd be worried."
And so goes our introduction to the indomitable Patricia Hewes, high-stakes New York City litigator, master manipulator, and the morally ambiguous central character in FX's edgy new series, Damages, which premieres at 10 tonight. Playing the lead role with the perfect mix of conniving ruthlessness and icy charm is veteran film actress Glenn Close.
This is Close's first full commitment to series television, although the award-winning actress had a taste of FX two seasons ago with a recurring guest role on the network's gritty cop show The Shield. For her Patty Hewes character, she brings a touch of the dangerous unpredictability she displayed as Alex Forest in Fatal Attraction and even a dollop of her Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations.
Playing opposite her is young Australian actress Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later) as Ellen Parsons, a smart, confident law school graduate who's in demand by a number of blue-chip New York law firms. When she chooses to go with Hewes & Associates, a senior associate there provides a hint of what's to come. As she's checking out her new office for the first time, he offers a bit of advice.
"Don't make it your own," he says. "Patty doesn't want family photographs, tchotchkes, knickknacks, and don't bring anything you can't carry out in one trip when she fires you.
"I'm kidding," he adds. "Sort of."
Hewes specializes in class-action lawsuits, representing the "little guy" against corporate goliaths. But though she paints herself as a crusader, she's more interested in power, and she's not above doing anything to win a case, ethics notwithstanding.
Her target in the season-long story line is multibillionaire Arthur Frobisher, a ruthless businessman who sold his own company down the river, dumping his stock in it for a fortune while leaving his thousands of employees penniless.
Frobisher is played with delicious villainy by Ted Danson, familiar to most TV audiences for his Emmy-winning comedy roles (Cheers, Becker). His resourceful Frobisher will prove a formidable foe for Hewes, because he's just as determined as she is, and may have even fewer scruples.
Conferring with his own lawyer, he dismisses the notion that his opponent can't be bought off with a settlement offer. "If she's got a pulse," he says, "she's got a price."
Though Damages is billed as a legal thriller, it's far from your typical courtroom drama. In fact, few if any scenes this season will take place inside a courtroom. It's the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and dirty tricks that are the focus of the show.
But there's something much darker than gamesmanship going on here, too. A few minutes into the pilot episode, we see a dazed and blood-spattered Ellen stumbling out of a building and down the streets of New York, clad only in lingerie and a trench coat. The police pick her up, and she's mute.
What happened to her? We probably won't know until quite a few episodes into the season, because her story, and that of Hewes, Forbisher, and the rest is told largely through flashbacks.
It's always risky to dive into a serialized drama like this one, because if its ratings aren't good, then poof! It could suddenly be canceled, and viewers never get a resolution to the season-long mystery.
But in this case, it doesn't seem likely to happen.