The Damages battle between Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is in full force in the second episode of the final season. Hewes takes round one as Ellen ends up shooting herself in the foot by playing right into Patty’s hands.
Let’s break it down after the jump.
I’m not sure if it’s just been too long since I’ve seen previous seasons of Damages or if it’s losing a bit of its edge, but I don’t remember plot points being as painfully obvious as was exhibited in this week’s episode. There’s not much going on to advance the central narrative with the exception of one point: McClaren (Ryan Phillippe) and Naomi (Jenna Elfman) had indeed met prior to the information being leaked, likely having some sort of affair. This little nugget is going to be pretty damaging (heh) in the case against McClaren but there’s not much investment into its discovery. Earlier in the episode, Ellen straight up asks McClaren if he had ever met Naomi prior to the leak, which he denies in a mumble. Phillippe’s delivery of the “no” response was akin to that of a snot-nosed teenager, not a drop of nuance in it. It’s very clear to the audience that he’s lying – especially when he refuses to look Ellen in the eyes and her corresponding disbelief. So it comes as absolutely no surprise when Ellen discovers his lie.
This ‘big reveal” falls short as we see Ellen discover McClaren in disguise on hotel security footage leaving Naomi’s room (with the help of The Wire‘s Gbenga Akinnagbe as her PI). It’s slightly intriguing that Team Ellen catches this while Team Patty, led by Bill (Judd Hirsch) sees the same footage and doesn’t put the pieces together. But I’m more inclined to say it’s a predictable plot-point that eats up a lot of screen time for such an obvious conclusion. And no doubt, we’ll waste more time on this going forward as a) Ellen will have to confront McClaren for lying to her (again) and b) we’ll need to see how Team Patty will eventually get hold of this information, which they inevitably will. All this amounts to going through the motions which means yawn-worthy television.
In the same vein – the flash-forwards. Albeit a clever device, the flash-forwards unnecessarily repeat the same scenes over and over. To say they’re redundant is putting it mildly. It’s only episode two of the season and I’m already sick of seeing Ellen’s presumed dead body and Patty’s stoic expression in a police interrogation room. Not only were these scenes repeated three times in this episode alone, I think they were shown another three-four times last episode. We get it Damages, Ellen fell (or was pushed) from a building and Patty has been hauled in for questioning. Do you need to show us these scenes SEVEN times in your first two episodes? Repeating these scenes also significantly lessens the shock of them. Seeing poor Ellen over and over dilutes any investment I have in how she got there, that by the time we actually discover whether or not she’s dead, I seriously doubt I’m going to care. And damn those pigeons!
The strategy here is to slowly, and I mean slowly, expand these scenes to give us more information. But the advancement of these scenes is so minimal in ‘Have Your Met The Eel Yet?’ it’s hardly worth it. We see Patty given a phone and calling Ellen’s cell (WOW! So shocking!) while waiting in the interrogation room, and a blurry figure looks down on Ellen’s body from top the building. Big deal. Although I do remember last season’s flash forward of Chris Sanchez’s (Chris Messina) presumed hooded dead body and Ellen weeping over it functioning similarly, I don’t remember it being as annoyingly repetitive as we have here.
And the spoon-feeding doesn’t stop as we follow Ellen’s plight to get Judge Haring (the late Sam Coppola), aka “The Eel,” off the case. Initially it appears as though Patty is in cahoots with Haring and Ellen worries that he’ll play favourites during the trial. As we go through the episode, we learn that Patty has actually been pulling the strings, fueling Ellen’s paranoia. Turns out the judge would have actually dismissed the case, which, in case we weren’t able to piece it together ourselves, is shown to us via an in-episode flashback montage. I would have appreciated a more subtle approach, perhaps just having Patty’s explanation as she taunts Ellen over the phone rather than showing us everything. The montage, coupled with the annoying flash-forwards, is overkill in the showing vs. telling department. Come on Damages, let’s tighten things up shall we? Let’s put some more faith in the audience to piece things together themselves.
- I was glad to see another The Wire alumnus, Michael Kostroff, drop in as the new judge in the case, but I was disappointed that he was a judge who appears to be in Patty’s pocket. Another all-too-convenient plot point.
- I really do not like Ryan Phillippe. There’s absolutely nothing interesting about his performance. Surprising for a show that I’ve touted as being amazing at transforming actors. Sadly, Phillippe is not one of them…so far (Perhaps he’ll change my mind?)
- Thankfully, there is one intriguing new character: Kate Franklin (Janet McTeer). An ex-employee of Patty Hewes, Kate comes to Ellen hoping to work together against Patty. It appears that Franklin has been burned by Patty (big surprise) and I’m hoping her impromptu visit to Hewes & Associates quashes any possibility of her acting as “double agent”/ mole going forward. McTeer is clearly a wonderful actress on par with Close and Byrne in the limited screen time she had. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.
- I love how Patty explains things to Naomi’s 17-year-old daughter Rachel (Alexandra Socha) it allows all that legal jargon to be presented to us in an easily digestible fashion. Here’s an instance where I don’t mind the spoon-feeding.
- Byrne is doing fabulous work in showing Ellen’s evolution into a tough-as-nails lawyer. When Kate introduces herself to Ellen in the street, Byrne totally perfects the steely professionalism that Ellen needs to embrace if she wants to be a hotshot lawyer. Furthermore, when Rutger (John Hannah) tries to bring up being unable to pay Ellen’s legal fees, she dismisses him with wonderfully bitchy ease. It’s wonderful to watch.
- We don’t get any flashbacks to S1 in this episode, which is disappointing. I would have traded a S1 scene over another repeat of those flash-forward scenes any day.
So a pretty lackluster episode overall, with Ellen coming up short this round with all the judge-swapping business. Do you think Ellen will have a comeback next episode? Will the ping-pong match continue as these two duke it out or will the focus be more on who was really behind Naomi’s murder? Give us your predictions in the comments section below.
Damages airs Wednesdays at 9:00pm EST on DirecTV’s Audience Network and on Netflix in Canada.