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Confession and Repentance: Patty Unburdens Her Soul on "Damages"

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution." - Oscar Wilde

Patty Hewes has always been plagued by nightmares. Perhaps its the fact that hers is a guilty conscience, no matter how much she might try to hide behind the seemingly impregnable armor she wears so tightly around herself.

In the second season finale of Damages ("Trust Me"), Patty is fighting off attacks from all quarters, from her lecherous husband Phil and her headstrong son Michael to her treacherous protege to a widespread conspiracy that involves a Washington power broker, a corrupt FBI investigation, and a duplicitous energy tycoon.

It's the very weight of the forces mounted against her that propel her into a nightmare in which she's forced to face up to the betrayal of everyone around her, as she sees the men in her life--both past and present--laughing at her and then must come face to face with Ellen herself, a woman she too sought to destroy.

But does Patty destroy Ellen in the end... or save her? Does Ellen enact her revenge against Patty for her attempt on her life? Or does she too move past the seed of anger that has taken hold of her soul? Let's discuss.

There's still a few holes in the labyrinthine logic of Damages this season, a few things that don't quite add up. First, I think it's safe to say that the original FBI investigation of Patty Hewes, the one that Ellen finds herself enmeshed in thanks to Hollis Nye, was unencumbered by the corrupt that pervades it later, when it's taken over by power broker Dave Pell. There was no reason for Pell to want the FBI investigating Patty in Season One, so one has to assume that his involvement with the case stemmed from her position on UNR and her involvement in the Aerocyte case and Christine Purcell's murder. And that Pell was the real villain here, while Kendrick is yet another pawn in a colossal game of chess that Pell is playing. After all, Kendrick knows nothing about Pell's FBI investigation of Patty or that Patty has a leak in her firm; this is something that Pell keeps in his back pocket to use at the right time, when their case seems to be falling apart.

Second, David's wedding present to Ellen seemed such a vital piece of characterization and a token that connected Ellen to her past and David's murder-by-proxy by Arthur Frobisher. That we wouldn't see Ellen open David's gift seems an intentional move but I did think it was odd that there was absolutely no mention of this gift whatsoever in the season finale, whether or not Ellen chose to open the package. I thought for sure she would be sitting at David's grave and finally open the box, finally choosing to let go of the past and move on. But in not opening it, Ellen continues to carry around that piece of David with her. I just wish that the audience had been privy to seeing a scene that explored her choice.

Third, Daniel Purcell never learns that it was The Deacon, acting on Kendrick's instructions, who actually ends Christine's life. But, in a way, that doesn't matter either: Daniel knew what he was doing when he started to strangle Christine, even if he wasn't entirely successful. When he calls for help, he believes he has murdered his wife and looks to cover up his involvement. That it would be The Deacon rather than himself who inflicts the final injustice on Christine doesn't impact Daniel's guilt or his confession. Will his children forgive him? Who knows. But he believes he may have saved his immortal soul by telling the truth about his sins and attempting penance.

Patty. It would have been obvious and far-too-potentially game-changing to have Ellen shoot Patty in the hotel room. After all, where can you go from there? Ellen has the opportunity to enact revenge against Patty, to punish her for her crimes against her, to take her Biblical justice, but she chooses not to. So the reason for the blood? Far more interesting and shocking. After attempting to get energies trader Finn Garrity to testify about the GPS codes (and failing), he follows her to Ellen's hotel and tries to get her to change her mind now that Kendrick has attacked his hooker girlfriend and threatened him. When Patty refuses, he stabs her in the gut. That Patty would go through with the meeting with Ellen is a testament to how much she (A) cares about Ellen (more on that in a bit) and (B) wants to nail Pell, Kendrick, and the rest. Patty is no pushover. Bleeding out, she sits in Ellen's hotel room and watches Ellen draw a gun and then force a confession out of her about the murder attempt.

Does Patty believe that she is dying? Does she heed Ray Fiske's advice that there are worse things than death and offer a final confession to Ellen, an unburdening of her soul as she slowly bleeds from the wound Garrity has inflicted upon her? Does she listen to Daniel Purcell who tells her that she has to confess? Most people would have called for help after being stabbed. They certainly wouldn't go through with a sting operation involving the bribing of a high-profile judge. And yet that bribery wasn't actually going to land Ellen in the slammer, after all. Despite what Patty promises Dave Pell in order to get the evidence about Aerocyte, there are other forces at work here. Even as she bleeds out, Patty confesses to Ellen what she's been dying to hear and tells her to make the payoff... not because Ellen will be arrested by the FBI but because it will flush out the corrupt agency on Pell's payroll and prove that Pell was instructing them in an unsanctioned investigation. Patty has Pell on tape discussing what will happen to Ellen and, sure enough, there are the FBI goons--led by Agent Werner--to arrest Ellen at the courthouse.

In the end, Patty saves Ellen's life. It's a payoff for an attempt on it, yes, but it sets the cosmic scales right again. Despite Ellen's betrayal of Patty (her betrayal, after all, consists of six months of passing information to the FBI), Patty opts to save her protege instead of destroying her. Could it be that Patty does care for her after all? That Phil's warning that Patty focuses on her enemies more than those who care about her rings true? Or that, despite the line Ellen gives about them "both" finally being able to move on, it's the right thing to do for a change?

Ellen. I was very surprised that Ellen's gunshots actually take out the FBI surveillance equipment in the hotel room after she passes Patty a note that says that they are being watched b the FBI. So why does she change her mind about getting Patty to confess on tape about the murder attempt? After all, Ellen now has a photograph of Uncle Pete and Patrick, the man who attempted to kill her, and the folder that Stephania gives her from Uncle Pete that shows the detailed instructions for the attempt on her life. What more does she need than to have Patty confess, at gunpoint, on tape that she was behind the attack? Could it be that she too has moved on from the need for revenge? That what she says to Patty about not being loyal to her but believing in what she does is actually the truth? Could it be that Patty doing her job is more important than Patty being behind bars?

In the end, the two women save one another. They both come clean about their betrayals, confess their sins to one another, and manage to tie up the loose ends of the UNR case. The bad guys do go to jail this time: Kendrick, Pell, and Garrity are arrested, the world knows the truth about Aerocyte, the cleanup in West Virginia begins. Tom retakes his place at Patty's right hand. And Ellen turns her back on Patty to start a new life somewhere else. After getting handcuffed at the courthouse (and sprung by the AUSA's office), Ellen disappears. She moves out of the hotel, shuts off her mobile, closes out her email account, and vanishes.

It's only fitting that she visits David's grave to tell him that she's met someone (Wes) and has a new job offer and is going to take it. Just who she'll be working for is a mystery but I can't help but hope that it's Claire Maddox as I'd love to see Marcia Gay Harden return for Season Three. Regardless, Ellen has finally grown up, she's flown the nest, and she's ready to start life on her own two feet.

I couldn't believe that Patty had Michael's stuff packed up and shipped to Jill's house once she learned that he hadn't even applied to college. I can't say that I blame her. Michael tries to pin the reason for his deceit on Patty's need "to have a man around the house," but she throws that right back in his face, saying that if she wants a man, she'll have a real one. (Burn.) I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Michael; he shone as a character this season in particular. Yet, he's right there in Patty's nightmare, laughing at her with the other men in her life: Uncle Pete, Phil, Kendrick, Tom, Ray Fiske. They want to punish the "bitch" and their laughter is humiliating to her. Michael ends up being no different than any of them, far too willing to put Patty in her place, to mock her and humiliate her. In the end, if he wants to be with Jill and be an adult, he'll have to do so while not living under her roof. Cruel? You bet. But this is also the woman who had him kidnapped and sent to a rehabilitation center against his will. Mailing his stuff to his girlfriend's house is child's play in comparison.

Tom. I'm glad that in the end Tom ended up being the hero for a change. I thought it was odd that he didn't question why Ellen would need a gun, considering she was working for the FBI, and just went and picked up the pistol that she had purchased from Wes' contact. And despite Patty firing him for refusing to bribe a judge, he does go back to the office to try and warn her what's coming... and ends up saving everybody's skin by going to see his sister, an Assistant US Attorney, and filling her in on everything that's happened so far. Together, they are able to set up a sting that reveals the corrupt agents, save Ellen's hide, and prevent Patty from getting disbarred. All of their actions then seem like they were leading towards a sting operation, rather than some unethical and illegal behavior. Happily, Tom seems to be back as a partner at the firm, judging from his scene with Patty at the dock. I can't think of a better place to leave the two of them and hope that Season Three gives Tate Donovan's Tom Shayes more to do overall.

Wes. In the end, Wes was assigned to tail Ellen and then murder her in order to prevent her from connecting Frobisher and later Rick Messer to David's death. But over the course of the six month period that comprises Season Two, Wes falls for Ellen and can't bring himself to kill her. Instead, he becomes her protector, moving into her hotel room to guard her against Messer and saving her life on more than one occasion. I loved that he was hiding in the hotel room when Messer comes to shoot Ellen whilst she's in the shower and puts a gun to his head, promising him that next time they see one another, they won't be having a conversation. He follows through on this promise, showing up in Messer's car after learning that he had made contact with Ellen in his guise as an upstanding police detective... and blows his brains out.

Yes, it was obvious all along that Messer was killed by Wes but this episode showed the depth of his devotion to Ellen, even as he moves into the room across the hall so he can keep an eye on Ellen. And it's a good thing he does as he's the one who ends up saving Patty's life after she collapses in the elevator and takes her to the hospital. The epilogue with Ellen at David's grave reveals that Wes and Ellen are still together a month later. Whether she will ever discover the truth of Wes' involvement with Messer and what he did to protect her remains to be seen but I have a feeling that Season Three will dive into the cracks forming in their relationship from all of these dark secrets.

Frobisher. And no season finale could be complete without an appearance from Arthur Frobisher, seen here excited about the near-competition of his new environmentally green offices. He even reaches out to his ex-wife Holly to share his excitement and new outlook on life. He seems to have moved on from the past and Messer's murder would seem to break any connection that Frobisher had with David's death. Or has it? Will we see Frobisher in Season Three as he's tied to some rather illegal dealings with the crooked police detective? I certainly hope so. But for now, we're left with the sense that Frobisher has moved on and is trying to do good for a change. Let's only hope this isn't the last we see of Frobisher or of Ted Danson.

While Season Two of Damages as a whole lacked the sort of intense, driving tension and high, personal stakes as the freshman season, I do have to say that the season finale's ending, which reset Ellen and Patty's relationship and pushes the series into a new dimension, set up what will hopefully be a fantastic third season.

In the end, this season of Damages was about Ellen and Patty finding themselves on equal footing, accepting their sins and confessing them, and hopefully moving towards forgiveness. What their relationship will be when Season Three begins remains a mystery but I can say wholeheartedly that I can't wait to see what fate holds in store for these two, whether they do end up working together... or, more probably, working on opposite sides of the courtroom.

FX has already ordered a third season of Damages, however don't look for the series to return until 2010.


rockauteur said…
Wouldn't Ellen find out about Messer's murder between the FBI-USAA's showdown and the month later visit to David's grave? With him dead - who she believed to be helping her - wouldn't that give her less closure and more of a continued aggression about finding out who was responsible for David's death? Seemed to be a bit of a disconnect for me... but maybe this will rear its head during season 3 and the cracks that form with her relationship with Wes... Frobisher is still out there, and both Patti and Ellen will want their revenge.

Yeah I was disappointed the gift box wasn't opened...

Also... did we see Garrity get arrested? I can't remember that scene.
Unknown said…
Wondering if Patty is perhaps setting up Ellen's new job? - Could she be working for Frobisher in some way now that he's all "green"?
Still a great show but this season wasn't as strong as the first. I liked the ending but there are some holes that bother me. I don't think that Tom would get Ellen a gun without questioning her. If he were not yet working with Patty, wouldn't he wonder why Ellen, if backed by the FBI, would need a gun? And if he was working with Patty then, would he not be afraid that Patty's life was in danger and that he was handing Ellen the instrument of her destruction?

It also bothered me that we saw Messer getting shot earlier on in the season. It was obvious that Wes was his killer which took any tension out of the final episode.

And once Garrity got in that elevator, I figured that he stabbed Patty which, again, kind of took the suspense out of the scene between her and Ellen.

This season had some brilliant moments and tremendous performances but, overall, I just don't think the writing was as intelligent as in season one and I hope they get it back up to that level for the third season!
Ban Johnson said…
a very tenuous and slender thread of logic holds together the twist-ending -- and it leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

Why couldn't they have shown us Patty pulling some of these final machinations that ended up being so crucial? How long did Patty know that Ellen was "betraying" her with the FBI? Why is Tom so generous and forgiving to Ellen in that final scene?

I didn't really get it -- too vague, especially in its emotional and character logic. That twist deserved a whole 'nother episode, not just one sketchy, hardly believable scene.
Unknown said…
So, it appears that the "punk rock girl" at Jill's gallery was just a red herring after all. I kept expecting her to reappear, and that there as more to that story.
Unknown said…
I also thought Ellen should've opened David's gift at the graveside. She would've moved from needing to anticipate a shared activity with him to having something from David as a touchstone. I hope she does eventually open it and that it's not something so prosaic as jewelry. But my wife will have to keep me updated because I'm not going to bother watching season 3. Too many flash-forwards and -backs, too much loose writing. This story could easily have been told in half the time. (For example, why do we care about Claire's father?)

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