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Pleading the Fifth: Blind Trust on "Damages"

"It's not my birthday." - Patty

On this week's episode of Damages ("It's Not My Birthday"), written by Adam Stein and directed by Daniel Zelman, the investigation into the Tobin case and the nefarious actions of several interested parties were bookended by two very interesting nightmares on the part of Patty Hewes.

Throughout the three seasons of Damages that have aired, we've typically seen Patty as an imposing, almost invulnerable adversary who steamrolls everyone in her path. But every now and then--the beach breakdown, her recurring nightmares of death, her frequent summoning of Ray Fiske's ghost--we're privy to seeing her true vulnerability, the thoughts that keep her awake at night, the actions that she regrets, the skull beneath the skin.

Last night's episode offered just that opportunity, setting the action just a few days before Patty's latest birthday, a point of pride that she will only admit to those within her inner circle--Tom and Ellen, really--and deny to those on the outside. The nightmare that Patty finds herself unable to escape, in fact, contains appearances or references to those she allegedly trusts above everyone else: the long-dead Uncle Pete, Ellen Parsons, and Tom Shayes.

So what did I think about this week's fantastic and gasp-inducing installment? Let's discuss in detail.

The Dream. I thought it interesting and telling that the days before Patty's birthday would be so marked by nightmares. As the pressure begins to mount with regard to the Tobin case, Patty's subconscious is telling her something about her current circumstances. Her latest birthday, likely to be spent alone or working, looms large on her mind and we're given access to her dream state, where she sees her beloved Uncle Pete, her former protege Ellen, and her childhood heart's desire: a beautiful and magnificent horse that seems to fill the living room of her lonely Manhattan apartment. As Ellen says that it will require a lot of responsibility, Patty sees her feet covered in blood.

It's an image that's repeated at in the closing scene of the episode, another nightmare in which she decides to take a bite of one of the homemade cupcakes that Ellen has baked for her as a birthday present. There is blood on Patty's hands here, both literal and figurative. Another year of ruthless behavior, treachery, and malicious action is likely weighing on her mind as she awaits perhaps her ultimate and inevitable judgment, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a look into the dark mirror of her soul.

Ellen. I have to say that Ellen Parsons this season is a breath of fresh air after the twisted pit of vengeance that she fell into last season. She has made choices very different than those of Patty Hewes. She didn't want to be owned by Patty and wanted to experience life on her own terms rather than those of her keeper. While the apartment she owns might be empty, she's filling the void by cooking, by creating rather than destroying. She's flipped sides to work in the public sector rather than in the high stakes litigation world of Patty Hewes.

While she is clearly still haunted by David's death, she's made her peace with him even while she waits for her former lover Wes to return from wherever he is. It was telling that she immediately thought of Wes when she was told that she had a visitor at the D.A.'s office... but it was actually Josh Reston (Matthew Davis)--last seen during the UNR investigation in Season Two--newly transplanted to Manhattan, working the crime beat, and looking for an anonymous source in the district attorney's office. Despite the fact that he's angling for information loosely connected to the Tobin case, he and Ellen end up in bed together and she bakes cupcakes. It's a scene of domestic tranquility dramatically at odds with the hotel-living, revenge-seeking Ellen of last year. Can it be that she's finally found her place in the world? Possibly, but this is Damages, so any happiness she can carve out for herself will likely be all too short-lived.

Alex. Loved that Tom's preparatory interview with cutthroat legal associate Alex Benjamin (Boston Legal's Tara Summers) identically mirrored his conversation with a naive Ellen Parsons in the Damages pilot episode, down to the precise lines of dialogue as he prompts Alex to see if she's ready to meet with Patty, even offering her a hypothetical situation in which she needs to meet Patty during her sister's wedding (answer: she'd skip the wedding).

I'm not quite sure what to make of Alex. She seems ambitious and eager to please but her arrival at Hewes & Shayes, while they're in the midst of the Tobin case, seems a little too perfect. Alex tells Ellen that she wants to be owned by Patty. (Patty, meanwhile, groans when Tom tells her that the new associate candidate is a woman.) She even offers Patty a lie when Patty asks her for something that she hasn't ever told anyone about herself. The question itself is a trap: Patty doesn't want someone who gives up her secrets too easily. Alex's decision to lie--even though she knew Patty would see through it, as she was warned by Tom--wins Patty over.

Which worries me even more. Unless Patty sees Alex as a potential threat rather than a protege, she'll be opening herself--and the case--up to a stranger. And I'm extremely concerned that there's more to Alex than meets the eye.

Leonard Winstone. I think Martin Short is doing a phenomenal job as Leonard this season; he's made him shifty and ruthless but with a real emotional core. I loved the scene in which Leonard visits a prostitute (not for the first time, either) and, instead of engaging in sex, unburdens his soul. His true feelings about Louis emerge here as Leonard says that he was his father and his friend, a revelation that might explain just why Leonard was so willing to have Joe killed. He always wanted to be at Louis' right hand and clearly was the more trusted ally, despite the fact that he wasn't blood. (Though it's a distinction that Louis didn't make to his family; Carol recounts that when Louis hired Leonard, he told them that Leonard "is now family.")

Danielle Marchetti. Poor Danielle has no idea what she's gotten herself into. Joe is threatening to cut her off completely and take away everything that Louis had given her (though he's still unaware of the existence of Louis and Danielle's child), Gates is offering her immunity, and Patty is offering her... Well, Patty is offering her a chance to keep things as close to normal as they can remain and promises to look after her when she's able to track down the money and disperse the fortune. (Whether or not Patty would actually do that is unclear.)

Joe wants her to lie under oath when she's deposed by Gates, to read a prepared litany of lies that will shield them from the deposition's outcome. But Patty has another plan, one that's predicated on the fact that Gates is able to get to Danielle before her: she suggests that Danielle plead the fifth on the grounds that she could incriminate herself under oath. It's an uncomfortable position for Gates but it also means that Patty could gain the upper hand and still be deposed by Hewes & Shayes... or give them some information in exchange for the promise of future comfort.

Carol. However, that plan backfires, not because Danielle cracks under pressure during the deposition (rather, she's actually relatively calm as she pleads the fifth) but because the delirious and off-kilter Carol Tobin enacts her own revenge. I'm glad that Carol is becoming a bigger player in this plot; she's completely oblivious of her father's flaws and misdeeds and instead places the blame on his investors, saying that Louis only wanted to make people happy and give them what they wanted and that the investors knew what he was doing.

Her inability to accept the truth, even after learning that Louis had killed himself the night before his sentencing, leads to further madness: she uses the same poison that Louis used to commit suicide to murder Danielle Marchetti. I loved how director Daniel Zelman framed the shots with Danielle by having her wine glass clearly visible and prominent, a future murder weapon in plain sight. When Danielle gets Carol's coat--after Carol asks one too many questions about her relationship with Louis (and whether they were in love)--that's when Carol strikes, adding the poison compound to her drink. And later, we see Carol dispose of the evidence, casually throwing the vial into the river... as Tom discovers Danielle's body.

Zedeck. So who is the enigmatic Mr. Zedeck then? I'm thinking a shadowy financier with ties to organized crime. Zedeck claims, through his shifty "associate," that he can't conduct business or begin to pay out the Tobin fortune because the terms of the deal between him and Louis Tobin were broken when the authorities found out about Danielle Marchetti. While Leonard and Joe claim that Danielle won't be a problem, there's too much heat going on. End of conversation. Does Zedeck intend to uphold his end of the agreement or is he looking to keep the fortune for himself now that Louis is dead? Hmmm... Regardless, the fact that the associate is outside Danielle's apartment and that they are keeping tabs on her points to a larger interest here. These guys are dangerous and they will likely stop at nothing from keeping these funds for themselves now. Which brings me to...

Five Months Later. While last night's episode focused mostly on the present-day, we were given three scenes set in the future timeframe: one in which Huntley talks to Patty about Tom's death, one in which Tom attempts to escape the apartment by sliding out into the hallway (before he's dragged back in), and the last in which Tom makes a call--presumably to his wife Deb--and tells the recipient that he "loves [her]."

These scenes are important for a number of reasons. The phone call is another bait-and-switch to make us think that Tom and Ellen were having a sexual affair but it's also an indication that Tom was stabbed before he died and that those wounds, while serious looking, were superficial. The coroner's report indicated that Tom died from drowning but that his body wasn't in the water long enough to become bloated... and that it was thrown into a dumpster.

Last week, I offered a possible solution to Tom's death: that he was waterboarded in an effort to illicit information from him. I still believe this to be true. Besides for the existence of those empty water bottles in the apartment, there's the fact that Tom attempts to escape by crawling on his stomach. He hasn't been stabbed yet but he clearly seems to be in pain and desperate to escape. His appearance at the pay phone, as he clutches his side, adds further credence to this theory. His blue-tinged lips, pallid complexion, and shallow breathing could indicate that his lungs are filled with water and that he is unable to bring oxygen into his body. Hmmm...

But just who killed him and why was he being waterboarded? As I surmised last week, I believe Tom and Ellen had launched their own inquiry into the missing Tobin fortune, an investigation that will put them in the crosshairs of the mysterious Mr. Zedeck, who would appear to stop at nothing to keep prying hands off of the millions that Louis Tobin had secreted away. After all, Zedeck's associate--the one who meets with Leonard and Joe and is later seen outside Danielle's apartment--wears black leather gloves very similar to those worn by whoever throws Tom's corpse into the dumpster. Could it be that the true villain this season is finally coming into focus and might be even more deadly than we realized?

Marilyn. Then there's Marilyn Tobin, the grieving widow of Louis who clearly knows more than she's letting on. She finally gives Patty a concrete lead in her investigation and tells her that Danielle and Louis had had a child together and that Louis had been supporting them. That child is the likely recipient of the blind trust that appeared in Tobin's revised will and the likely source of the massive amounts of money that he had hidden. So why was it so vital that the daughter's identity be kept unknown? Was he able to use some creative financial loophole to put the money into the trust for a child that no one--other than Danielle--knew existed? And if so, that would explain why Danielle had to be sent away before anyone could connect the dots and find out about the daughter's existence.

Yet, there's something very ominous about the way that Marilyn is standing outside Danielle's apartment as Danielle's unknown teenage daughter pulls up, given the fact that Danielle is dead upstairs. Just what does Marilyn want from this girl and what will she say to her? We'll have to wait until next week to find out...

All in all, a killer episode of Damages that offered some plot twists galore and raised the stakes for everyone involved in the Tobin case. As we reach the halfway point of the season, we're seeing a very deadly situation begin to ensnare each of the interested parties and I cannot wait to see what whiplash-inducing plot twists the Kessler Brothers and Daniel Zelman pull out next.

What did you think of this week's episode? Agree with my theory about Tom's death? What do you make of Alex and of Josh? Are they on the level or do they have ulterior motives? And just who is Mr. Zedeck? Discuss.

Next week on Damages ("Don't Forget To Thank Mr. Zedeck"), Patty is under pressure to make progress in the Tobin case, while Ellen uncovers new evidence about Louis Tobin's death and Tom starts to crack from his financial woes.


Unknown said…
I wonder if we have seen the last of that mysterious organization Leonard was using in the previous episode to track (and possibly kill) Joe. Is it possible they might be involved in Tom's death? I only offer this as an alternative to the Zedeck theory. That Sarah Wynter character seemed awfully devious, no?
cgeye said…
Carol Tobin is this year's Kathy Geiss: A delusional overweight daughter changing lives like an idiot dauphin....
rockauteur said…
I dont think Marilyn is standing in front of Danielle's building at the end. I think its a different place, a different home for Danielle's daughter.

Also was interesting that Zedeck's associate looked like he was on his way to kill Danielle as Tobin's daughter exited. I wonder what he thought when he saw Danielle's dead body. Will Joe find out it was his sister that killed Danielle? Or will he suspect Zedeck's men as well?

Glad that you finally agree with my previous statements that Ellen and Tom were NOT having an affair and just involved with an investigation together!

Great episode... Maybe they'll bring back the prostitute from last season to help snare Leonard.
Jena said…
I agree that Ellen is much more enjoyable of a character this season. I usually prefer darker characters but she was so fixated on her revenge scheme that it didn't leave room for anything else and, eventually, felt very one note. So far, I'm enjoying this season much more!
clin said…
Is it possible that Joe is the actual father of Danielle's daughter? That would be an interesting twist
Sooz said…
Jace - I've been recording this season since watching the season opener. I've not been motivated to catch up. What do you think? Worth the investment of time? (I haven't read any reviews, just in case, so I don't know if you're enjoying this season or not).

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