Damages review – 5×03: ‘Failure is Failure’

Courtesy of DirecTV

It’s back into the ring as Patty (Glenn Close) and Ellen (Rose Byrne) duke it out in round three of the final season of Damages. After having bested Ellen last week with the judge switch-up, does Patty lose this round to even things out?

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

The simple answer is yes, Team Ellen wins this round with a smackdown during deposition as she discredits Patty’s client, Rachel (Alexandra Socha), about a missed phone call. The interrogation leading up to this predictable revelation is the epitome of what Damages does best. The tension builds as Ellen calmly and collectively questions poor Rachel, who clearly doesn’t have a chance. The questions repeat with just a slight alteration in the wording. The viewers know that Ellen is building up to something huge and just waiting to go in for the kill. The camera slowly pushes in as we get close-up after close-up of the two, occasionally broken up with a shot of Patty or Ellen’s new associate, Kate (Janet McTeer), looking on. As I said, it really is quite obvious as we get the recounting of the phone call that it didn’t actually take place, but that doesn’t deter from the enjoyment of the scene in the least. The slow, tense build-up just makes Ellen’s small win that much more gratifying to see. Make no mistake, we’re meant to root for Ellen, whereas Patty functions in a love-to-hate-her role. Predictability doesn’t matter when the direction, writing and acting talent is as on point as we see here.

This sequence is followed by a wonderful match-on-action as we see both Patty and Ellen take a swig of bourbon in their respective offices. The same drink but in two very different scenarios. Patty throws hers against the wall in a rage, clearing off her desk in a Hulk-style fashion. Honestly, I felt a certain catharsis in watching Patty’s little ‘episode’. For me, the tension throughout the deposition was only adequately broken when I saw Patty go a little smashy-smashy.

Ellen’s win was just one part of a significantly stronger episode than last week’s offering. We also didn’t get a single flash-forward to poor Ellen lying in a pool of blood. I, for one, am truly grateful for that. No flashbacks from season one either. Perhaps they were just meant to remind us of Patty and Ellen’s long and sordid history, or to accustom new viewers to the show of the bad blood between them? I’m not averse to seeing more flashbacks to season one, but let’s ensure they’re significant rather than redundant. I think omitting any significant jumps in timeline during this episode (there were just a couple of instances) served it well. Damages is known for its temporal gymnastics, but I definitely appreciate its selective use of them this week.

Where predictability didn’t matter in the final showdown, it was employed in a much more tiresome way during the whole Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe) cigarette case debacle. From the moment McClaren’s mistress Gitta (Gillian Alexy) gifts him a new one and his response of “I lost my old one,” it’s painfully obvious what will follow. He annoyingly fills the new one when Ellen confronts him about lying and we get numerous close-ups of his old one in the hotel flashbacks with Naomi (Jenna Elfman). It all functions like a jack hammer of obviousness that this cigarette case is going to factor significantly into the case. Sometimes I feel like Damages wants it both ways. Moments like these are likely to appeal to those viewers who just want to passively engage with the plot, while in others, the show employs extremely complex twists and turns that only an attentive viewer can really appreciate.

Take for example, the time gaps that are finally filled in once McClaren admits he’s seen Naomi prior to the leak. We learn in the premiere that she couldn’t go through with downloading the files onto the encrypted USB, and are left to infer that the next morning the files had somehow been leaked. Leaving aside the different accounts of what exactly went down in the hotel room, in this episode we learn it is likely that Naomi eventually provided the files to McClaren. We get further confirmation of this as Gitta confirms that Naomi had sent them “too much information” because she didn’t know what she was doing. McClaren also confirms that his organization unknowingly leaked the personal emails. Up until this point, I had considered that a third party (likely Bill Camp’s ominous Samurai Seven character) was somehow involved, but I guess I was way off on a tangent. Since most of these revelations are discussed without ceremony, the onus is on the viewers to piece it all together. I, for one, enjoy this aspect of the show rather than having things spelt out for me.

Going back to what went down in the hotel room: I believe that neither account is the correct one. Looks like Damages is going all Rashomon on us, but I don’t think either one makes much sense. Firstly, McClaren has proven himself to be a liar, and based on that alone, I don’t buy his recount. Second, Rachel’s story doesn’t hold either, because if McClaren attacked Naomi as she said, he would have left the room before her. According to the surveillance footage, Naomi is the one shown leaving the room first. What’s puzzling is the dented cigarette case. I still have no idea how that happened, but it’s doubtful that McClaren threw it while trying to rape Naomi as Rachel says. Plus, I don’t care how close you are to your mother – what kind of mother would scare her child like that and recount a potential rape in such detail so soon after it happened? It also doesn’t explain how McClaren would have gotten the information to leak if he was kicked out of the room like Rachel says. It’s likely that Rachel is enacting some of her rage toward McClaren for his role in humiliating her mother through this little story. Bottom line: Both of them are big fat liars and we have yet to discover “the truth”.

Courtesy of cadebordedepotins.com

Other observations:

  • I’m not quite sure what to make of the subplot of Ellen’s mother (Debra Monk) and her secretive job at the pharmacy (Dun Dun DUN). I’m not really intrigued but it does give us some face time with Chris Sanchez (Chris Messina), which is always a bonus. I was happy to see Chris and Ellen “dating” although they still aren’t conveying a couple in love. Plus, how awkward is it bumping into your girlfriend’s mother while buying condoms? Hopefully Mrs. Parsons’ subplot won’t stall the momentum of the central narrative
  • Still hating Phillippe’s acting. Sorry.
  • The ending scene shows Kate paying a visit to Patty and nudging her to contact “him” because “he” is dying. Are these two sisters with a dying father in common? That would explain the inexplicable tension between them, and falls in line with Patty ostracizing every single person in her life, family included.
  • I loved McClaren’s foreign benefactor played by character actor William Sadler. Best line of the night: “He thinks with his ‘pay-ness’ (aka penis)”. Love.

What did you think viewers? Were you happy to see Ellen get the leg up in round two? What about when Patty finally cracked at the seams and went all postal in her office? Any predictions on whose going to take this case “on a nice big stage”? Let us know in the comments section!

Damages airs Wednesdays at 9:00pm EST on DirecTV’s Audience Network and on Netflix in Canada.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

4 thoughts on “Damages review – 5×03: ‘Failure is Failure’

  1. I really liked this episode as well as the rest of the season so far. I think i’m the only one who thinks Kate is “married” with Patty’s father and they’re not sisters, that’s what i think tbh.
    Anyway i’m loving the recaps :), it’s difficult to find reviews from this show since is such an underdog

    • Oh that’s a good theory was well. Younger stepmother. Another possibility is that Kate could be Patty’s ex-husband’s new wife? But it looked like she lived alone when she first decided to contact Ellen while watching McClaren on TV. I guess we’ll find out…hopefully soon! Thanks for reading!

  2. Kate mentioned in a previous episode while talking to ellen that her husband died and daughter isn’t at home (that’s why she was getting back into law) so i think that debunks the stepmother theory. I definitely believe it’s her sister. I love how they left that open but made it so you knew exactly what was happening. Love this season so far! Patty and Ellen as opposing attorneys? Genius.

  3. I think Kate represented Patty’s father in that small domestic case against Patty who may have represented her mother back in 1987. Patty hates a bully and her father is one.

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