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Life in the Present Tense: Family Plots on "Damages"

This week's episode of Damages featured a first for the serpentine legal thriller: no flash-forwards. Instead, the plot unfolded in a linear fashion and was confined to the present-day, focusing on both the machinations of the Tobin family, Tom confessing to his in-laws about the financial fraud, and the domestic squabbles at the Parsons' home in New Jersey.

There were no flashbacks, no six months later flash-forwards, and I missed the nonlinear structure of the series. Yes, the writers tried something different but what works best about Damages is that it is the television narrative equivalent of a Rubik's cube; I love twisting the various elements together, twirling the plot threads, to resemble something complete and whole.

Last night's episode of Damages ("Flight's at 11:08") therefore placed its emphasis on Patty relentlessly pursuing the Tobin case and engaging in some mind games with the Tobin family lawyer Leonard Winstone, while Ellen chose her family over the legal adventures promised by Patty Hewes, settling in for an evening of tension, petty feuds, and crystal meth at her parents' house.

In other words: the domestic and the professional collided once more as several of the characters were forced to weigh their careers against their personal lives. I don't think anyone was more surprised by what they ended up choosing than Ellen herself.

Ellen. Did Ellen make the right choice? She had made a commitment to her family, after all, and Season One was overflowing with examples in which Ellen made the other choice and picked work over family life, rejecting the simple (and some might say common) existence of her blue collar family for the excitement and (literal) danger of Manhattan high-stakes litigation work. Patty appearing on the steps of the D.A.'s office just as Ellen was leaving to catch her train was yet another symbolic crossroads for Ellen: would she play the dutiful daughter or would she fall back into Patty's orbit, accept her offer to stay late and try to track down the errant witness?

Ellen's choice was a simple one and one that points to some major development: she chose her family. But it's a decision that quickly seems to point to an error on her part. The old irritations--her grumpy father, her enabling mother, her teary sister--all seem to recall an Ellen that's long been since buried. And once Ellen decides to stay the night after learning that her sister Carrie's husband has left her, she quickly discovers that lies aren't the property of just those in the legal profession as she uncovers a stash of crystal meth in Carrie's bag. Ellen's reaction? To call Patty and find out what happened with the witness. Could it be that she's regretting the decisions she's made?

Joe Tobin. Likewise, the value that Joe places on family has opened him up to some rather malevolent dealings. First, he conspired with his father to keep the hidden fortune secret from Patty and look after his family. But, upon learning of Louis' relationship with Danielle Marchetti, he started drinking again, angrily confronted her, and then ran her over with his car. Joe might pretend to be a regular guy but his fortune and his circumstances have placed him outside of regular society; he doesn't call 911 but rather calls his family lawyer instead, revealing that he cares more about keeping his hands clean than actually saving Danielle's life. Even when he sees evidence of a massive concussion, Joe still drives Danielle to the airport, acting against their physician's advice, so desperate is he to clean up his father's mess and keep the fortune well-hidden.

What's even more shocking about this is the reveal (which I had surmised last week) that Joe and Danielle had once dated and that Danielle's relationship with Joe had even started while they were still together, a year before he went into rehab. Was Joe married to Rachel then? Was Danielle his little bit on the side? And just what is the relationship between Louis and Danielle? On the surface, it looks like just any other extramarital affair but my spider-sense is tingling. Yes, it could have been the results of the concussion but when Danielle said that Louis had done it for Joe, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Was she talking about their relationship or the fraud? And just what does she know? Why is she such a crucial witness in this case? Why did Louis and Leonard go to such lengths to get her out of the country before she could be deposed by Patty? Just what was she going to tell the D.A.? Hmmm...

Meanwhile, it appears that Leonard has others on call that he can turn to for help, including Sarah Wynter's mysterious security contractor. Are we seeing a relationship develop between them that harkens back to Frobisher's with Rick Messer? Just who is this mystery woman and is she involved at all in Tom's murder? Curious.

Patty. Once again, Patty proved herself to be far more clever and ruthless than those around her. Convincing Leonard Winstone that she intended to leak information about Louis Tobin's affair with Danielle Marchetti to the press, it was nothing more than a smokescreen used to draw Winstone to her office so that he could be followed... and thus lead Patty right to Danielle.

All in all, not the most exciting episode of the season but one that moved the plot along and showed Winstone just who he was dealing with. I'm hoping that Ellen's troubles with her family don't keep her traveling back to New Jersey but rather push her back into Patty's orbit. Patty may have tried to kill her, after all, but at least she doesn't go on and on about the messiness in the house.

What did you think of this week's episode? Miss the flashbacks and flash-forwards? Just what is going on with the Tobins? Discuss.

Next week on Damages ("Don't Throw That at the Chicken"), Patty grills Louis Tobin about his fraud; Joe Tobin is faced with a decision that will determine his family's fate forever.


abbytaz said…
As always another eloquently written recap of Damages.
Thank you Jace

PS: One observation I have is I believe Ellen's sister's name is Carrie Parsons. Sorry to be so nit-picky.
wildhoney said…
I didn't necessarily miss the flashbacks and flashforwards (and, in fact, think that sometimes the show relies on them too heavily) but I do agree that this was not the most exciting episode. At first I felt kind of bad for Joe Tobin, even when he was conspiring with his father about the money. He was just caught up in the mess that he father created. But now, after almost allowing Danielle to die, I have no sympathy for him at all! Which is too bad because Damages has very few sympathetic characters to begin with and it's always good to have someone to root for!

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