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Paley Festival: "Damages"

After the excitement of last week's jam-packed Paley Festival events saluting the likes of Pushing Daisies, Chuck, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was a bit of a rare treat to have last night's Damages panel be such a low-key affair. The crowd was positively sedate in comparison to previous evenings (not to mention a hell of a lot older), though that didn't stop them from proclaiming their love for FX's labyrinthine legal thriller Damages.

Nearly the entire cast was in attendance last night--including the ones who portrayed dead characters!--other than Aussie Rose Byrne who was in her homeland shooting a film and unavailable to participate. So who was there? Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, Tate Donovan, Noah Bean, Anastasia Griffith, and executive producers/creators Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman.

After watching a clip from Close and Danson's riveting 1984 television movie Something About Amelia (you didn't really think this was the first time they worked together, did you?), we were presented a fantastic clip package that pulled out key scenes from the first season of Damages, including that final, amazing scene between Close's Patty Hewes and Byrne's Ellen Parsons on the dock. The result? I wanted to rush home and rewatch the entire first season all over again. (I'm definitely suffering some Damages withdrawal.)

While the producers were definitely mum about what to expect for Season Two (the writers have only now started to plot the season's arc), we did learn that there will be several new characters popping up and that Season Two will continue some of the storyline threads introduced in the first season (like, oh, Ellen out for revenge against Patty by investigating her for the FBI) while integrating some new strands as well.

As for whether Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) survived that gunshot wound in the season finale, we'll have to wait to find out. Hell, even Close wanted to know the answer to that one and Danson turned to his agent in the audience for an answer, only to get a shrug in reply. (Personally, I'd rather not know now and would love to be surprised down the line if and when he does pull through.)

While the writers had some hard and fast "tentpole" events that they knew would occur over the course of the season, they specifically didn't paint themselves into a corner with the outcome to certain storylines. The identity of both David's killer and the mastermind behind Ellen's attempted murder was something that the writers heavily debated and, at the beginning of the season, specifically gave themselves several options down the road by planting a number of red herrings and possible killers.

One of these--the woman I like to call the Cassavetes-averse Soda Skank (a.k.a. Lila) was never intended to be Ellen's attacker... or David's murderer but was always intended to be a red herring. As for whether the writers dropped the stalker storyline, Zelman was quick to point out that they didn't actually drop it, it faded into the background. Lila was never actually a key player but had entered the story through "a side door" that was outside of the Hewes-Frobisher case or the larger legal world. Lila was always a possibility for David's killer but fans of the show had a feeling that his death was connected to the larger conspiracy at work rather than his insane stalker.

Still, Zelman pointed to the paranoia that infected many of the series' fans (myself included) in which every character's seemingly innocuous actions seemed to take on larger meaning. In the end, Lila may not have bludgeoned David to death with that Statue of Liberty bookend but she inadvertently caused his death by leaving his apartment door open after she paid him a visit that fateful night... a fact no one on the panel seemed to recall.

Close admitted that it was difficult not to invent a backstory for Patty Hewes though the writers specifically asked her not to create one. The end result is that Close still doesn't know anything about Patty's past, including where she grew up or who her parents were ("acting 101," said Close), though she did give them a note about Patty's husband. Originally intended to be her college sweetheart with whom she had been together since an early age, Close felt that "impossible" and suggested they make Phil her second husband.

Ivanek knew that his character Ray Fiske was not going to make it out of Season One alive but had no idea that his end would be quite so "spectacular," as when Ray shoots himself in the mouth in front of Patty, an action that reverberates through the entirety of the season. Oh, and Ray's Southern accent (from Louisiana, perhaps?) was an intentional thing, despite Ray having lived in Manhattan since the 1970s; it was part and parcel of his showmanship as a lawyer.

The writers have seen Murder One and enjoyed that series but didn't feel that they set out to do anything specifically derived from that classic series. Instead, they wanted to do a legal drama that expanded on FX's edgy mandate about interesting and innovative storytelling. To that end, they made a important decision not to set the action in the courtroom but rather behind the scenes, focusing on actions (such as depositions and discovery) that normally aren't addressed in legal series. Additionally, they wanted to play around with time in a challenging way that wouldn't insult the intelligence of the viewer and would further set the series--with a single case running through a season--apart from other series in the legal genre.

When the Kesslers and Zelman devised the series, it wasn't specifically with the idea that Patty would be a lawyer. Instead, they wanted to explore power structures through the prism of two strong women and looked at professions (entertainment, pharmaceuticals, etc.) in which a woman could rise to the top and become immensely powerful in her field. They ultimately settled on the law, making Patty Hewes a ruthless litigator. They felt that explorations of male power hazing had been done many times before and wanted to explore the key issues in a power struggle between two women.

Ultimately, it was a fantastic evening catching up with the cast and crew of Damages and I am hungry with anticipation to see just what happens next when Season Two kicks off... hopefully sometime later this year. Until then, fingers crossed that we get to see Patty Hewes, Ellen Parsons, and all the others sooner rather than later.


Anonymous said…
Sounds like a very interesting evening. I am salivating for season 2!

Have you ever seen "Something About Amelia?" It's really great.
I'm very torn about whether I want Frobisher to survive or not. I love Ted Danson in the role but kind of feel like his storyline has come to an end. But not having him or Fiske around might be too upsetting. The new characters they bring in are going to have some very big shoes to fill.
Melissa said…
I was there last night, but found it very dull. The moderators at these events are rarely good at moderating, the secondary players sit at the end of the row not contributing anything important (and I always feel so sorry for them). I haven't been to a lot of these Paley Fests (about five since 1995) and I'd have to say this was the dullest of the ones I'd been to.
The CineManiac said…
I guess I need to watch this show.
Giulie Speziani said…
I was there too and found it a little boring. The moderator needed some Jolt cola or something. But nonetheless I found the panel quite entertaining. Glenn Close was great to point out the difficulties of being a woman in power in a male centric world like litigation. Also, Tate Donovan was a riot. He reminds me of a boy in a candy shop, just hyper and happy to be there.

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