Why We Love “Damages”

Blood, guns, suicide, sex, corruption, money fraud, billion-dollar busts. In a word, litigation.

The new season of Damages began on Jan. 25 with its third intense installment following the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Glose) and her ambitious young protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). The season commences with a James Bond-esque opening montage of all of the insanity and corruption from the past two seasons. This montage served more as a hell-raiser, keeping us wondering: How could they top the past two seasons?

While I was skeptical within the first half-hour, I was mystified and hooked by the beginning of episode two. Here are the top three reasons why this season can keep up with the rest and why you should tune in.

1. New, unlikely (but awesome) characters

For those new to the four-time Emmy award winning FX production, Damages surveys the high-stakes litigation world of New York’s premiere prosecuting attorney, Patty Hewes (Close). Each season captures one intense case within a six-month time frame. All of these cases have involved untouchable, corrupt billionaires and the shareholders they unrightfully rob out of their financial cuts.

In season one, we saw the haunting Ted Danson as the corrupt and broken CEO Arthur Frobisher. In season two, we witnessed Hewes embody her inner Erin Brokavich and attack corrupt billionaire Walter Kendrick (John Doman) and his environmentally destructive business, Ultima National Resources. This season, Hewes has been appointed by the U.S. government to recover billions of dollars in stolen assets from the largest investment fraud in history – a fraud perpetrated by financier Louis Tobin (Len Cariou), cable’s romanticized Bernie Madoff personality.

It’s a world where men’s lawyers are their best friends, their greatest confidants and stand-in family members. And such is the case for Leonard Winstone, the family’s attorney, fascinatingly portrayed by Martin Short. (Yes, the Martin Short.) This brilliant casting allows Short to introduce his classic one-liners while still maintaining this disturbing dark role of the corrupt alias.

In the fourth episode, there is a quintessential scene in which Martin Short stands purposefully in front of an electronics store. Maybe he is there to prove he isn’t about to murder someone; maybe he’s there to make a phone call. We don’t know. All we see is him walking past the store, only to slowly turn around and stare in the window. There he is – a corrupt lawyer staring into five other iterations of himself on flat screen televisions. He stands there, blankly looking into his soul. Then out of nowhere, he makes a perfect Martin Short blowfish face, leaving us with the Short we love embodying a demented, broken, old character willing to stoop to lows we have never known Short to stoop to – in any of his characters.

Finally, the brilliant Lily Tomlin guest stars as Louis Tobin’s scarred but protective wife, Marilyn Tobin. Damages has been known to introduce a strong female or two to counteract Patty Hewes, but they finally found her housewife parallel in Tomlin. As Hewes states to Ms. Tobin in the first episode, “Men have their secrets, but so do women – and I find that women are better at keeping them.”

Indeed, Hewes is so successful because she is just as dirty and corrupt as the people she prosecutes – which makes us hope that Ms. Tobin is up for the challenge.

But why is the wife’s role so important? Because the question of the season arises: is the Tobin family involved in the debacle? Thus Kesslers and Zelman introduce us to the new, complicated plot twist of season three: family.

2. The family dynamic

What lengths would family go to in order to protect one another? How do our mistakes affect and destroy those around us? While the media spotlight lingers on the Tobin family obliteration, Damages weaves in parallel family stories of its supporting characters. Hewes follows through with her divorce; the intelligently beautiful Ellen Parsons (Byrne) confronts a family member’s drug addiction; and the lovable Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) loses everything in a single bad investment call.

By the third episode, we realize that this season focuses more intently on the dynamics and fluctuations, controversies and secrets of family – all of which make for a much more vibrant fabric with which to drive the story.

This season is all about the familial meltdown, and it is juicy (and genius)!

3. A brooding, progressive plotline

For creators Glenn Kessler, Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman, Damages is a magically severe game of puzzle pieces. Though relatively novice writers/directors/producers, these men seem to have struck small screen gold. Indeed, Kesslers and Zelman have more acting credits under their belts than producing nods. But it seems like the Kesslers’s short-lived involvement in The Sopranos (in 2000-2001) and the less-than-successful Robbery Homicide Division (2002-2003) provided them with the resourceful insight to create a small yet significant masterpiece in Damages. (Of course, a brilliant industry savvy cast helps.)

With a sort of Law & Order lens, Kesslers and Zelman expose us to one or two pieces at a time, at either end of the chronological timeline, leaving us to insinuate all of the unimaginable holes on our own. But speculation does not stand a chance against the genius structure of Damages.

However, in a culture where we constantly look forward to bigger, better and more devastating plot twists, Damage’s season three opener is less than appalling. In the quintessential “6 MONTHS LATER” flash-forward tag, we are told what terrible forecast we can look forward to in the coming season. In the past, we’ve seen a bloody Ellen Parsons run out of a New York City high rise and vengefully shoot an unidentified person at close range. This season, someone hits Hewes’s car in a hit-and-run homicide attempt. We infer: someone is trying to kill Patty Hewes.

BIG surprise, LAME way of going about it. The disappointment sets in heavily: where is our bloody, psychological American Psycho thriller?

This is why I appreciate the writers of Damages. Nothing is as it seems. And instead of laying all of their cards on the table as they have in seasons past, they decide to lay them down carefully, one at a time, so as to create a progression of deeper, more powerful insight. Don’t misunderstand, it is all still shocking – but it builds in mastermind astonishment.

For those dedicated to Damages, be happy to know that the new threads in the litigation tapestry seem to fit accordingly. Yet so many things remain the same: Glenn Close dominates once again as Patty Hewes, assuring us that she is still willing to get her hands dirty and hit under the belt. And, as always, Damages will leave you astounded after every episode, constantly thinking, “What the…?”

Of course, we won’t actually find out what is really going on until April.

Damages was created by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, who also serve as executive producers/showrunners. The series is produced by KZK Productions, FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television.

Tune in to Damages Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on FX.

About Elizabeth Ward

I am a candidate for a Master of Arts in Arts Management at American University. Originally from Kansas, via Texas, I have a background in the performing arts. I grew up with theatre, dance and music as my soul-enriching extra-curriculars, only to follow them more intently in college. I received my B.A. in Music and Communication from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas with an emphasis on arts journalism and arts marketing. While relatively new to the D.C. area, I have been pursuing the arts scene passionately. Working under Philippa Hughes for The Pink Line Project has allowed me access into the multi-faceted world of the arts and D.C. culture. I currently do event planning, graphic design, and arts writing for Pink Line's many arty happenings around town. I am currently working on my M.A. thesis, which centers around naturally- and corporately-created artistic communities and those residing in them. I would love your input on this exciting project!