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Confessions and Secrets: Lying in the Gutters on the Season Premiere of FX's "Damages"

Everything is disposable.

That applies, apparently, to mobile phones, $3,000 Chanel handbags, and indeed corpses; everything eventually ends up in the trash to be picked over by modern society's answer to the Victorian rag and bone man: the destitute scavengers of Manhattan, picking through the trash and collecting the refuse into the reusable, the resellable, and the useful.

The lawyers of FX's Damages are no strangers to digging through the trash but last night's third season premiere ("Your Secrets Are Safe"), written by Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Todd A. Kessler and directed by Todd A. Kessler, took this to a whole new level, rendering Season Three's financial scandal storyline into a class-oriented drama that fused together Charles Dickens and David Lynch. (Think of it as "Bleak House" or "Little Dorrit" by way of Mulholland Drive.)

You had the chance to read my advance review of the first two episodes of Season Three of Damages but, now that the first episode has aired, we can begin to discuss specifics of the latest case. (Note: while I've seen the first two installments, I'm keeping my comments restricted to just the season premiere.)

I thought that "Your Secrets Are Safe" was a masterstroke of a season premiere, shuffling the deck and giving us new situations for our core trio of characters, while introducing a new case, a new overarching mystery, and several intriguing story threads to ponder while we wait for the next installment. Roughly a year has passed since the end of Season Two and the characters have all seemingly moved on from the events of the last few years. Ellen's office at Hewes & Associates remains empty though Patty has clearly been unable to fully let go of her protege; Ellen has changed sides and taken a position with the narcotics team at the D.A.'s office; Tom is about to finally get his heart's desire: his name on the wall, beside Patty's.

But this is Damages and things can only remain static for so long. This season's case is clearly meant to evoke the recent Bernie Madoff financial scandal; in this case, it's Wall Street financier Louis Tobin (Len Cariou) who has swindled thousands of investors out of billions of dollars thanks to a Ponzi scheme. Patty Hewes has been appointed by the court to aid in the restitution process and track down any hidden funds following the house arrest of Louis Tobin and the freezing of the family's assets. Ellen isn't working the prosecution side of the case but it's only a matter of time before she's pulled back into the orbit of this case.

Just as in the first two seasons, the producers have created two separate but interlocking storylines that will eventually meet up as the season progresses. In this case, they're set six months apart and, unlike the second season's "I lied too" storyline, this manages to ensnare all three members of the core cast and will have lasting repercussions on the series. A chance car accident involving Patty (as she listens to someone denigrate her on the radio) seems less like a chance as the moments tick by. Just what the incident means and how and why it was orchestrated will provide the season with a strong throughline and a sense of dread.

The Tobins. Here's what we know so far about the Tobin case... On Thanksgiving, Louis Tobin confessed to his family, including his recovering alcoholic son Joe (Campbell Scott) and his wife Marilyn (Lily Tomlin), that his entire business was a house of cards, an elaborate Ponzi scheme that was about to come crashing down around them. After making this confession, he made a phone call to... someone; when Joe attempts to deny Marilyn access to her grandson, she relents and gives him the phone number, which he turns over to Patty. The number belongs to a mobile phone which a certain pivotal homeless man has rescued from the trash. (Hmmm...) Louis is sentenced to house arrest but he's allowed to venture out only to see his attorney, Leonard Winstone (Martin Short). Marilyn is deposed by Patty but claims to have known nothing about her husband's criminal activities and claims that, if Louis hid money anywhere, she doesn't know anything about it. But then Louis tells Joe that there is money "out there." And Joe is in a pretty tough position already; he's attempting to cooperate with Patty and clear his name but she pushes him to assault a plaintiff in the case. Naughty, naughty...

Patty. Interesting that the season should begin with Patty so vivacious and, well, happy. It's a state that the ruthless Patty Hewes is so rarely in, after all, but we glimpse her at her freest: laughing at a restaurant before she's approached by the "sort of architect" Julian Decker (Keith Carradine), who seems to be romantically pursuing her. But Patty's only just concluded her divorce from Phil and she's not ever been one to fall for a cheesy pick-up line or desperate flirtation. But it is clear that Patty's lonely and likely has been since Ellen left.

It's my belief that the only person who ever saw Patty's true self was her protege Ellen... and Patty's inability to truly let go speak volumes about just what's missing in her life. Ellen's office has sat untouched for nearly a year and, despite Patty's insistence that it be cleaned out, she can't help herself but look at and touch Ellen's things. It's a chance to remember, to hold onto the pain and loss. But it's not Ellen's newspaper clippings and photographs that Patty sends on to the District Attorney's office; rather it's a luxurious Chanel bag. A peace offering? A bribe? Or just a gift? It's pretty rare for there to be no strings attached when it comes to Patty Hewes.

Ellen. Ellen seems to have moved on from thoughts of vengeance, either against Patty and against Arthur Frobisher. She's settling into her new job in the D.A.'s office and is doing a cracking job. Working a drug case, she pushes a dealer to flip and become a cooperating witness against a major supplier but she can't quite get him to flip. So when some thugs show up at his place and total his Harley with some baseball bats and he finally flips, her boss is suspicious: did Ellen have anything to do with it?

While I wondered whether Ellen had learned a little too well at Patty's feet, it quickly becomes clear that she had nothing to do with his change of heart. But she did happen to mention her situation to Tom... So did Patty apply a little leverage to the witness? She claims no but Ellen thinks otherwise. Maybe the Chanel bag was just a precursor to her true gift, bestowing praise upon her former associate by having her save the day with this case.

I thought that having Ellen and Patty come face to face again in the ladies' restroom was a stroke of genius, a move that gives the episode a sense of full circle from the pilot. (After all, the first time they met was in a restroom at Ellen's sister's wedding.) Regardless of whether Patty was or wasn't involved in getting Ellen's witness to flip, Ellen makes it clear that Patty doesn't have to play games if she wants to talk to her; she need only pick up the phone. Could relations be thawing? Certainly seems that way.

Tom. Tom, meanwhile, is still slaving away at Hewes & Associates after eleven years of working for Patty. But the fateful day arrives in which he's finally rewarded for his hard work and penchant for morally grey situations: Patty tells him, rather unemotionally, that she wants to put his name on the wall. That it's in the same breath as her command to hire a new associate is just par for the course with Patty. But he's finally gotten what he's always wanted... and, following his piece of good news, he gets in touch with Ellen for a chat that's cut short. Things are going well for Tom, though. And that's never a good thing in the universe of Damages.

Six Months Later. Which brings us to the future storyline, as Patty is involved in an automobile collision in Manhattan. What makes the incident all the more alarming--and indeed odd--is that when Patty staggers out of the car to see if the other driver is injured, there's no one in the driver's seat, though the air bag was deployed... and the passenger door is open. After a trip to the hospital, she meets with Detective Victor Huntley (Tom Noonan), one of my favorite supporting characters on the series. The car's VIN number is run down and found to be registered to none other than Tom Shayes, Patty's newly minted partner. But the apartment that the car was registered to is a squalid hole in the wall. There's no sign of Tom but there are dozens of empty water bottles, a mattress in the corner, hundreds of print outs, and some blood on the wall. A quick check out of the window reveals a familiar-looking homeless man, the same one who answered the number that Louis Tobin called...

And that's not all. Said homeless man has, among many other pieces of detritus, Ellen's Chanel bag--the one Patty gave her six months earlier--and it too has blood on it. Plus, the homeless man can't tell Huntley or his partner where he got the bag, saying only that it was maybe a gift. Worse, right next to his half-constructed shelter, the police have found something else in the dumpster: a body. Tom Shayles' body, in fact.

Just what does it all add to up to? Why did someone try to kill Patty using a car registered to Tom Shayles and a potentially fake address? Why deposit Tom's body behind that apartment in a dumpster? Whose blood is on the wall and on Ellen's bag? And how does this all tie into the Louis Tobin case?

What did you think of the season premiere? Has it hooked your attention? Any theories about what's to come this season on Damages? What did you think of the gorgeous opening montage/recap? Discuss.

Next week on Damages ("The Dog Is Happier Without Her"), Patty Hewes digs deeper into the secrets of the Tobin family; Ellen Parsons provides valuable assistance to Tom Shayes.


Sooz said…
I was jolted out of my seat when the accident happened.

Did you notice the Statue of Liberty bookend in the passenger seat of the other car? My guess is Tom did not return those boxes to Ellen. And we don't know yet that Ellen actually kept the purse.

Also, isn't the homeless guy the drug dealer?

I don't think the relationship between Ellen and Patty is thawing. That would require some form of trust to happen.

Because of a clue I picked up on another site, I'd figured out it was Tom in the dumpster. Too bad. That reveal should have made me jump as high as the crash did.
Jace Lacob said…

Someone else mentioned the Statue of Liberty bookends to me as well but I didn't spy them in the car. Will have to go back to my DVD and take a look.

As for the homeless guy, he just happens to look like the drug dealer but they are not the same person.
Alma said…
Great opening. I'm hooked again. I think Ellen was behind the car accident. Maybe she hasn't forgiven Patti?
abbytaz said…
Amazing premiere and really enjoying the ride the show is providing this season. Can't wait for next week's episode.
Mazza said…
Amazing write up as always, Jace. How you haven't been snapped up by EW or TV Guide is beyond me.

As for the ep, I thought it was perfect way to start the season. I didn't think they'd kill Tom in first ep so I was very surprised by that and Patty's car accident. Was it the bookend in the car? Why would that be in the car? Wasn't it evidence in David's murder case?

Can't wait for next week!!!
Kenge said…
Definitely hooked and loving the new cast members (Scott and Tomlin particularly). Was very surprised by Tom's death and can't wait to see how this all comes together!
Ally said…
I noticed the Statue of Liberty bookend as well. Or at least something w/a statue of liberty top. I assumed it was the bookend.

I LOVED the premiere. I was so mixed about last season, more to the bad, and I wasn't looking forward to this premiere as much as I should have been. I was definitely turned around, and am now really looking forward to the season.

The addition of Lily Tomlin, Martin Short, Len Cariou, Campbell Scott (a personal fave) and Ben Shenkman is very exciting. I'm totally invested already.

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