Damages review – 5×06: ‘I Need to Win’

Courtesy of DirecTV

This week on Damages it was all business as we focused primarily on the McClaren (Ryan Phillippe) case. Patty (Glenn Close) and Ellen (Rose Byrne) also put aside their differences and do the unthinkable: they work together.

Let’s bitch it out.

Clearly the big trend on Damages this season is the use of dream sequence. We’re averaging a minimum of one per episode, and although we’ve seen dream sequences before (I distinctly remember Ellen having dreams of Chris Messina’s Chris Sanchez last season) they’re factoring in much more significantly this time round. We’ve already seen Patty scolding granddaughter Catherine (Kiley Liddell) in her office twice now, and Ellen’s having her fair share of nightmares concerning the attack she endured in S1. Looks like Ellen’s repressed emotions are rapidly bubbling up to the surface.

The episode opens as Ellen turns up at Patty’s apartment where Patty forebodingly welcomes her. Patty’s tone is sinisterly sweet, which immediately identified this as a dream sequence. Close’s delivery reminded me of the witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel”  as she coaxes Ellen to enter and “take a bath”. Completely random and utterly creepy (aka I loved it.)

Somehow Ellen is drawn into the bathroom, her reflection oscillating between S1 and S5 versions of herself before Noah Bean pops up as her murdered fiancé, David. Throughout the episode Ellen continues to have visions: seeing her bloodied S1 self wandering the street, as well as hallucinations (?)  of her attacker (Jeff Binder). I’m not sure what to make of all these dream sequences, but I find them more refreshing than the flashforwards we saw in the first two episodes (and which I’m dreading the return of). At least these visions offer us additional information into Ellen’s psyche and tease an explosive standoff between her and Patty (it seems that inevitable confrontation about the attack will finally go down in next week’s episode). We’ve waited five seasons for this and I’m certain it’s going to be awesome. As it stands, all of these dreams/visions/illusions visually suggest that both Patty and Ellen aren’t magically “okay” after all the craziness they’ve experienced and this ensures they’re more accessible, realistic and nuanced as characters. I’m glad that Ellen is continually haunted by David’s murder and her attack, especially considering she hasn’t fully dealt with these traumas. It shines a light into her motivations and subsequent behaviour.

The dream sequences also play with our expectations. Take one of the final scenes of the episode: Patty and Ellen talk about how they’ve outsmarted their clients by preventing a settlement between them. This “real life” scene is a deliberate callback to the opening dream sequence. First, Patty offers Ellen a drink, almost word for word with the opening. Ellen politely declines in both scenarios as Patty smoothly invites Ellen to come out of the doorway and into her space. When Ellen declines again, Patty purrs, “You’re not afraid of me, are you?” with the same loaded sweetness she expressed in the opening. It had me wondering if this final scene was yet another dreamscape. Instead, the commentary of the opening scene on the closing one highlights the importance of Ellen’s subconscious and suggests that her increasing awareness of the former will factor more significantly in the latter in subsequent episodes (especially if Ellen can make the connection that Naomi were murdered in the bathtub based on her vision of David in the same position). It serves as an ingenious way to present Ellen’s character development.

Courtesy of DirecTV

We also spend time flashing back to the scene of Naomi and McClaren meeting in the Montclair hotel room. Back in 5×03 ‘Failure is Failure’, we got two versions of what went down in the room: in the first McClaren stated that Naomi had reservations about the leak, but that she ultimately delivered in the information. The result was a completely professional exchange. The second version, recounted by Naomi’s daughter Rachel (Alexandra Socha) suggested a different series of events: Naomi refused to provide the leaked information, which caused McClaren to violently assault her.

Now we’re presented with a third alternative, in which McClaren arranges a secret meeting with Rachel to tell “his side” of the story, and of course, it’s different from his original account to Ellen. This version is a blending of the two we’ve previously seen. In this account, Naomi still has reservations about the leak (this prompts the meeting), but ultimately she agrees to send McClaren the files. This time however, he admits that he did try to force himself on Naomi, but the assault doesn’t come off nearly as violently as in Rachel’s account.

I still don’t buy that this version is the true version. And the reason I come to this is another nagging motif we’ve seen over the last two episodes: a close-up of the cigarettes in his cigarette case. In this third version, the cigarettes are all lined up the same direction. Last week, we were shown two close-ups of McClaren’s meticulous positioning of  cigarettes – three up, one down. Could the way in which the cigarettes are organized be a “tell” that reveals which version of this story is the truth? I won’t be convinced we’ve seen a true account of what went down in that hotel room until I get a close up of those ciggies in three up, one down formation.

Or perhaps I’m reading far too much into a pack of smokes. Nevertheless, I guarantee that we haven’t seen the last of that hotel room.

Other observations:

  • ‘I Need To Win’ saw the return of Naomi’s boss, Bruce Davies (David Gautreaux). He publicly humiliated Rachel in a restaurant, calling her a greedy little b*tch just like her mother. I found it hilarious that Rachel’s friends (a party of at least eight people) all got up and left when Davies’ requested to speak to Rachel alone. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if Rachel had gotten up and talked to Davies, since – I don’t know – she’s ONE person as opposed to eight?!
  • McClaren visited Rachel after her choir practice in church and, wow, Alexandra Socha has some beautiful sounding pipes. As one of the stars of Broadway’s Spring Awakening, it was nice to hear her flexing those musical muscles.
  • We got more Chris Sanchez action as he seems to be a full-on boyfriend to Ellen. I still don’t buy these two as a couple, but some of their interactions are bordering on cute. I’m still hoping Byrne and Messina can rekindle some of the chemistry I saw from them last season.
  • Poor John Hannah is given another two measly lines of the dialogue in the entire episode. I’m hoping that he’s going to get more action soon; he’s clearly up to the task.
  • Interesting that there isn’t even a mention of the whereabouts of Samurai Seven. Doesn’t any one care that he’s been murdered? Also, no progression on the information he was selling. Are we to assume that the only juicy discovery in those files was Patty’s discovery that led her to the SEC? Why isn’t Ellen freaking out a bit more over losing half a million dollars? You’d think she’d want that investment to be worth a little more…
  • The final, final scene is a quick flashforward to everyone in court two months after Patty and Ellen collude to keep the trial going. We know from previous flashforwards that Ellen is found unconscious in a pool of blood three months later, so the hearing will take at least a month. Mark this on your Damages calendar. Will the month-long difference be important? Who knows, but this is an interesting development in the future timeline nonetheless.

What did you think, viewers? Are McClaren’s cigarettes just a coincidence? How do you think the showdown between Patty and Ellen regarding Ellen’s attack will go down? What do you think really happened in that hotel room between Channing and Naomi? Let us know in the comments section below.

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.

8 thoughts on “Damages review – 5×06: ‘I Need to Win’

  1. Someone screwed up the timeline. In this episode, the first flashback to Naomi and McClaren meeting in the hotel room is labeled “6 months ago.” However, that would have taken place during the first episode (since McClaren had to fly to NY to meet with her). The flash forward in 5×01 took place “3 months later.” So it’s already happened by now? :P

    I’m thinking 1 month has probably passed since 5×01, and Ellen lying in blood takes place about the same time as the ending court flash forward of this episode. Maybe she and Patty conspired to fake her death during the trial to bring out Naomi’s killer?

    • Oh my gosh- that’s a really interesting theory! Mind bending that Ellen and Patty could be working together (again) to flush out the killer. But do you think either Patty or Ellen could put aside their quest to out-do one another to actually solve the crime? I still need some convincing. But your theory would definitely be a shocker if it turned out to be true!

  2. Definitely noticed the cigarettes. I’m of two minds about it. It could represent how oblivious McClaren is about his obsession, as this is him retelling the events. But why give us a clear shot of the ciggies? I, too, think it was a tell that he was lying.

    Also thought it was strange that everyone cleared out from the table just so boss man could talk to Rachel. But even stranger, in a room full of diners she tells Patty that there were no witnesses and Patty just lets it pass.

    Poor Samurai 7, so quickly forgotten. And McClaren’s investor, we haven’t heard from him again either.

    We’ve hardly touched upon McTeer’s/Kate Franklin’s subplot. So far Kate has pretty well been confined to looking concerned.

    So many loose threads to tie up.Can they do everything justice? We’re bound to be left with questions. A few less flash backs/forwards please, and a few more plot developments. However, what I find most fascinating is how layered this season has been. It’s really the closest experience I’ve found to reading a good novel. I’m just jealous of the time that is left. Only four more episodes.

    • I do agree with you – we’re bound to have some unanswered questions. But I have faith that they won’t be the really big questions. I’ve never been let down by Damages before – but with only four more episodes – I think things will ramp up quite quickly!

    • This is true, but I figured she would be mining that info without taking her eyes off it – or at least have Kate go through it with a fine tooth comb. Especially since she had to take out such a substantial and ill-advised loan for it. Patty’s got some juice out of it – I think it’s unlike Ellen to just accept that it’s a dead end.

  3. Ellen died in the very first episode and everything since then has been what has gone through her head. It will end with her expiring in a bathtub mere moments after being attacked in Patty’s apartment. Anyone remember LOST? or even Bobby Uwing?

    • That would be an interesting take – but I believe (or hope) Damages will take a more unique approach. Then again, perhaps all the dream sequences are setting us up for the ‘ultimate dream’? Hmm…

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