Friday, May 25, 2018
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'Damages' continues course as a dramatic soap opera


Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), left, continues to work for Patty Hewes (Glen Close), but only so she can find a way to ruin the older woman.

Craig Blankenhorne / AP Enlarge

FX's Damages created quite the conundrum in its first season. It was another high-gloss series with a big-name star - Glenn Close - airing on FX, a network known for creating edgy basic cable series such as The Shield and Rescue Me. But it was perplexing to see some fans of quality dramas - The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield - flock to Damages, a chilly series that plays as a low-grade Grand Guignol.

Damages is a fine, puzzle-like soap opera that's elevated by the presence of Close, but it lacks a signature element of any true quality drama: Any semblance of reality. The world of corporate law that's created in Damages is so heightened, if not totally removed from reality, that it's a bridge too far to suggest Damages is a true television treasure.

That doesn't mean it's a bad show; it's just not believable. But Damages engrosses with plotting, backstabbing, murder, and revenge in its arsenal of dramatic devices.

As season two begins, super-lawyer Patty Hewes (Close) is haunted by events of the recent past, most notably the suicide of Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek, returning in Patty's imagination) and the hit she put out on her young protege, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne).

Patty has yet to take a new case after winning the fortunes of Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), last seen suffering from a gunshot wound in a vacant field.

These stories continue in season two, which may confuse new viewers. Actually, fans of season one may be lost, too, because it's been more than a year since the first-season finale aired in October, 2007. For a show that regularly traffics in time shifting, the who-did-what-to-whom-and-why becomes murky.

Fortunately, season two also introduces a new story that's easier to latch onto. Daniel Purcell (William Hurt), a mystery man from Patty's mysterious past, sends her a box of documents pertaining to a toxic chemical used by an energy company. He claims his family is being threatened. Before long he's caught up in a murder investigation; Marcia Gay Harden turns up as in-house counsel for the energy company.

One drawback in the show's second season is that we know Patty Hewes well enough that her plotting becomes more obvious. In the first episode, there's something she wants and the process she engages in to achieve that goal is easier to suss out than it was in season one, although the writers continue to play it with subtlety.

Ellen continues to work for Patty, but only so she can ruin her (Patty is the Road Runner to Ellen's Wile E. Coyote). Ellen is also an informant for the FBI, which is trying to establish a case against Patty, and Ellen finds time to attend group therapy for the trauma she's been through (Frobisher had her fiance killed). At these meetings she gets to know Wes (Timothy Olyphant), who quickly emerges as a bit too interested in Ellen's well-being.

The show's trademark time shifts continue, although it's initially unclear if they're connected to the season one story that carries over or to the season two plot. Tomorrow's premiere opens and closes with Ellen, six months in the future, asking someone for "the truth" while brandishing a gun.

As a serialized, character-driven show, Damages embodies the unexpected left turns and mind games that are standard-issue in modern thrillers. By bringing it to television and stocking the cast with fine actors such as Close, Hurt, Ivanek, and Danson, Damages provides TV viewers with a high-class melodrama, a soap that takes on the semblance of quality despite its over-the-top nature.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

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