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Damages: Save or Sayonara?

A woman emerges from an elevator with blood painted across her skin.  Her hair is disheveled and her body quivers and shakes uncontrollably.  She’s wearing a coat and is naked underneath it.  She runs through the streets, passing pedestrians and cars along the way until she’s finally stopped by the police.  It’s clear there’s an interesting story here, and as this woman says, “Get me a lawyer,” we know that we’re in for a bumpy ride.  However, the action suddenly shifts six months earlier as we begin to learn how exactly this curious set of events came to occur.  That was the beauty of “Damages,” a legal drama on FX that was recently canceled after its third season finale.  The show mixed the future and the past, flashing to the past so that there would be a contrast between what happened six months ago and what was happening now.  The show was infamous for pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes, and even during the season finale, the writers wouldn’t completely reveal what their true intents were for certain characters and plot points.  

As the television season comes to an end, people are beginning to write about on-the-fence shows that they believe deserve a renewal.  Unfortunately, “Damages” has already been canceled due to low ratings.  It’s disappointing to hear that FX won’t give the show another chance, because the show still seems to have an abundance of ideas.  Unfortunately, “Damages” sometimes suffers from the same problem “Lost” and other serial dramas do: too many twists and turns in a single episode, making it difficult to keep track of what’s going on.  Regardless of the minor flaws the show sometimes has, if I had to choose one show to bring back for another season, it would be “Damages.”  

“Damages” revolves around a young lawyer named Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) who is a talented young graduate looking for a new job.  She’s surprised to learn that she’s been accepted into Patty Hewes’ firm.  Hewes (played by Glenn Close in the role of a lifetime) is a vicious lawyer who is brutally honest, stern, and two-faced.  Ellen gladly accepts the invitation and soon learns just how fast-paced of a life Patty Hewes lives.  She’s no normal lawyer; she deals with high publicity litigation and attempts to take down high profile defendants who have wronged the middle class.  During Season 1, she sets her sights on Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), a businessman who is charming yet conniving at the same time.  He realized his business was not doing well and decided to leave his shareholders in the dark about the company’s condition.  He sold his stock and made millions upon millions of dollars while his employees were left jobless and bankrupt.  While he claimed he did nothing wrong, Patty Hewes sees through his lies and sues him, attempting to take him down and strip him of every cent he earned that he didn’t deserve.

To reveal anything more about the season would ruin it for people who have not seen it yet.  The show begins six months in the future, when we see the aftermath of the case and continually flashes back to six months earlier, when Ellen first began working for Patty Hewes.  The show benefits from pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes and leaving them guessing until the last few moments of the season.  Even though we’re given the ending of the season in the first episode, we still have no idea what is going on or how any of it makes sense.  In a way, “Damages” is even better at letting the tension boil at a slow simmer than “Lost.”  It feels as if the writers of “Damages” thought out a story and stretched it over thirteen episodes instead of making up much of it as they went along (sort of like “Lost” did).  

The show premiered to great ratings for FX, with 3.7 million viewers tuning in.  The show maintained great ratings for much of its first season, but they quickly plummeted in the second and third season.  At times, the show struggled to even beat shows on HBO and Showtime, which are able to get away with ratings under a million.  As incredible as the quality of the show was, “Damages” was difficult to follow if you were a new viewer.  It was necessary to see each and every episode of a season, even the filler ones, to understand what was happening.  By missing an episode, you would be missing key details necessary to understanding the season as a whole.  Early in the show, viewers could get away with seeing “Lost” even if they had missed an episode or two.  We all know that as the show went on, it became more difficult to do this, but the early seasons made it a possibility.  However, with “Damages,” it’s difficult to do, which makes the low ratings understandable.

But enough with the flaws of the show and the reasons why it should have been canceled.  I want to explain why the show should not be canceled.  Above all else, the acting is the best reason.  The characters that this show introduced to us are all extremely complex who are all capable of human error and are as realistic as any other character I’ve seen on television.  Glenn Close as Patty Hewes is one of the best characters created, right up there with Tony Soprano, Walter White and President Jed Bartlett.  She’s vicious on the drop of a dime and every smile she gives is hiding a frown.  We frequently see the human side of her and we learn that she’s a good person who believes deeply in the power of the legal system.  However, her power corrupted her and as a result, she became the type of lawyer who would do anything to see somebody behind bars, even if it meant exploiting friends, hurting innocent people and lying constantly.  Glenn Close becomes the character, and at times, we forget she’s Glenn Close.  For forty minutes a night, she becomes Patty Hewes.  Rose Byrne finds an interesting character in Ellen Parsons.  She begins in the show as a fresh lawyer straight out of school who seems hesitant to follow Patty’s path of moral ambiguity.  The more we learn about Patty and how she uses people, the easier it is for Ellen to forget about what’s right and wrong.  I’ve never been a fan of her character, but as the show goes along, she becomes more enjoyable.  In Season 1, she was sort of like a puppy who had not been house-trained yet and was still getting used to her new living quarters.  In Seasons 2 and 3, she’s a vicious animal who is willing to do anything to protect herself.  Rounding out the main characters is Tate Donovan as Tom Shayes, Patty’s partner in her firm.  Shayes is an interesting character throughout the entire show since we get to see him do literally anything for Patty.  It’s fun to watch him doubt her orders or follow through on them with the obedience of a dog.  

For me, despite how great Close, Byrne, and Donovan are, the guest stars that Damages is able to draw is incredible.  Seeing Ted Danson as a villainous, greedy business owner who will stop at nothing to clear his name was incredible, especially since his character returns from season to season.  We get to see him evolve perhaps more than any villain on television, and even if people still hate him (they have good reason), he becomes a more three-dimensional character over time.  In the show’s second season, the writers were somehow able to draw William Hurt and Marcia Gay-Harden, two critically acclaimed Hollywood actors, to guest star in a season-long stint.  William Hurt was particularly impressive as Daniel Purcell, a scientist who attempts to get Patty’s help in suing the company he used to work for.  In the show’s third season, they were able to draw Campbell Scott and Martin Short to guest star.  Martin Short, who is mainly known for comedy roles, was particularly impressive as attorney Leonard Winstone.  The show is able to take guest stars who are well-known and make the audience forget that they’re stars.  The actors melt into the role and become the characters, making them more realistic.

Although I chastised the show for its confusing plot twists, the complex plot structure is also an upside and an example of how the show stands out above the rest of the dramas on television.  If "Lost" is like a spider web in its plot structure, then "Damages" is like twenty spider webs that are criss-crossing, creating a massive jungle of silk threads that occasionally gets tangled up in itself.  I applaud the writers of "Damages" for being able to take a single legal case and carry it over thirteen episodes.  Some people may feel like a victim of misdirection as each episode provides a new twist, but I feel like I'm reading a compelling mystery story that needs every line deciphered to understand completely what's going on.

FX announced that it would not be bringing back "Damages" for a fourth season because of ratings that dipped below 1 million (for much of the season, it hovered somewhere in between 800,000 and 1 million).  However, it's been recently announced that DirecTV, the channel responsible for bringing back "Friday Night Lights," would perhaps pick up the show for a fourth and final season.  For all "Damages" fans, this is incredible news, but there's no knowing whether or not the idea will actually work.

Even if "Damages" were to be canceled for good, at least the show did a good job of tying up most of its loose ends.  However, I feel as if these characters should be around longer.  There's still a lot of story left to explore with Patty Hewes, Ellen Parsons and friends, and if I were asked to bring back one show that was being canceled, it would be "Damages."  The show is too good to simply leave by the wayside.


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