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Pawns and Players: "Damages" Casts a Dangerous Spell

Can I just say how bloody much I'm already addicted to FX's new drama Damages?

As if the pilot didn't grab me from the opening scene, last night's installment of Damages ("Jesus, Mary, and Joe Cocker") had me completely hooked. This is riveting stuff and, if you're not watching this taut gem of a series, you're missing out on some brilliant television. (Fortunately, FX is giving you a zillion opportunities during the week to catch any single episode and My Network TV will re-air the first two episodes tonight.)

Frobisher. Just when they had me thinking that Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) wasn't the greedy fat cat embezzler that Patty (Glenn Close) has made him out to be, the writers went and pulled out another twist. Frobisher's reaching the end of his rope and he's terrified that this case--and the bad publicity stemming from it--will destroy his picture perfect family. (Sure, that picture doesn't include his little cocaine-fueled trysts in the back of limos.) I thought the scene in which Frobisher weighed whether or not to take a human life--that of key witness Katie (Anastasia Griffith), who happens to be the sister of Ellen (Rose Byrne)'s fiancé--was absolutely beautiful and gorgeously shot (this week's episode was directed by Drive's Greg Yaitanes); one could see the cogs turning inside Frobisher's head as he wrestled with his moral dilemma. Does killing change you, even if you're not the only holding the knife? What is the value of a life? And, if someone's life is going to be destroyed by this trial, is another's life worth less than your own?

Katie. I was pretty sure that Katie was a goner too, especially since Frobisher gave the order to kill her while hopped up on the devil's dandruff. But Katie turned the tables on her would-be attacker, confronting him in the street. I'm still not too sure why Mr. Friendly Killer was going to murder her in broad daylight on a crowded Manhattan street but I assume that it was meant to look like a botched mugging and Katie was once again "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Whatever the message Frobisher and Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) intended to send, it did reach Katie; she signed those confidentially agreements so fast that she never noticed she was signing in blood. Loved the scene where she kept her distance from Frobisher as he visited "their" restaurant, realizing just who she got in bed with. Speaking of bedding, who would have thought that her big bad secret was a one-night stand in Florida and an ensuing pregnancy, which Katie subsequently terminated? Hmmm, do we think that her former lover (Peter Facinelli) will turn out to be Frobisher's stockbroker?

Patty. I think she is pure, unadulterated evil. She's so evil, she's actually eeeeeeevil. But I think it's great that Damages' writers do want her to have a sliver of humanity, as evidenced in her conversations with her husband and frustration/worry about her son, who has graduated from school expulsions to hiring out strippers. She's manipulative but she's brilliant and she sees the bigger picture of this case as though it were a life-size chess game, moving her pawns across the board without any care of who gets hurt so long as Patty wins at the end. I did think that she had instructed Tom (Tate Donovan) to hire a private investigator but I was surprised that the well-dressed gentleman (The Comeback's Damian Young) turned out to be nothing more sinister than a high-end real estate agent who picked out the perfect apartment for Ellen and David (Noah Bean). And just when Ellen was losing faith in Patty, too. You've got to give her credit: she's a brilliant strategist and she knows when people are lying.

Ellen. Wow, those flash-forward scenes at the end of the episode almost seem to portray Ellen as a cold-blooded killer, the murderer of her beloved boyfriend. After all, she's seen holding that bloody (and rather pointy) Statue of Liberty bookend over David's corpse; then again, maybe she too is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. What could compel Ellen to kill her beloved McDreamy fiancé? Still, it's not Ellen's apartment building that she runs out of--covered in blood and wearing a negligee under a coat--in the pilot episode. No, it's Patty's apartment. Which leads me to believe that there's a hell of a lot we're not seeing yet.

What did you think? Did the second episode live up to the promise of the pilot? And have you fallen as deeply under Damages' spell as I have?

Next week on Damages ("And My Paralyzing Fear of Death"): a mysterious threat could disrupt Patty's entire case against Frobisher while she is distracted by the disappearance of her troubled teenage son; Ellen discovers that she will have to sacrifice everything for her job; and Tom discovers something buried deep in Katie's past.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The King of Queens (CBS); America's Next Top Model (CW); According to Jim/According to Jim (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX; 8-9:30 pm)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS);
Last Comic Standing (NBC); America's Next Top Model (CW); American Inventor (ABC); Don't Forget the Lyrics (FOX; 9:30-10 pm)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Dateline (NBC); The Nine (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm:
Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode of
Top Chef
("Freezer Burn"), the show's producers trot out a now terrifying-looking guest judge Rocco DiSpirito (complete with bleached hair and overly tan skin!) from under whatever rock he's been hiding since the demise of The Restaurant.


Anonymous said…
I am so glad that you liked this too. I thought that Byrne did a better job in this episode conveying her ambition and smarts and I was completely blown away by the ending. Do we think though that it's a set up and Ellen is really innocent?
Anonymous said…
Oh my god.

That is what I kept saying during the show. I am just so completely hypnotized by it - this show has given me faith that TV is not going to be completely overrun with stupid, pointless filth (Rock of Love, Sunset Tan anyone?).

I love how all of the characters have such dimension. I too liked the sliver of humanity in Patty with regards to her son; it makes her seem human, as opposed to a parody of a high-powered career-minded female. I also love how the show is hinting (sometimes not-so-subtly) that the characters have skeletons in their closets, which makes them seem so much more believable as real people.

While I'm sure of Patty's and Frobisher's bottom lines, I'm not sure of their motives...well maybe not motives, but their underlying reasons for being so manipulative (Patty) and desperate (Frobisher). What, besides the obvious, is at stake? Does Frobisher truly care about his children, and does he want to spare them the public scrutiny? (Btw, I also think Ted Danson does a brilliant job of playing a serpent, but he gets even more kudos from me for being able to also give him humanity, as evident in his debate on whether or not to kill Katie, and how he looks adoringly at his kids) Is he truly evil, or is Patty the one who has a black heart?

And how exactly is Ellen going to play into all of this!?!?! Who exactly is Greg, and how deeply are he and Katie going to get involved? is Tom eeeeevil too???

Next Tuesday is so far, far away...
Anonymous said…
anonymous said a lot of what I was thinking. Ted Danson is doing a brilliant job. I do wish they'd shaded Patty a little more so that she wasn't such pure evil (concern for her son notwithstanding) so soon.

I think my two favorite scenes were The first Patty/Katie scene and the Fro/Ellen scene at the restaurant (though, I was falling asleep during that scene for reasons having nothing to do with the ep). Such intensity.
Anonymous said…
I loved, loved, loved it. TV has not been the same since the last episode of "The Sopranos," so having something compelling and mysterious is fabulous. Love the casting. Can't believe Danson is so good at being bad. Multiple layers there. What's in the box?
Anonymous said…
Ok, I was going to skip this show (my TV plate is already unreasonably full, after all), but now I'll give it a chance. Maybe it can replace Rescue Me, which is letting me down this season.
Anonymous said…
PS I can't believe they let Rocco "I promote better than I cook" Dispirito back on TV! I only watch him because I enjoy loathing him so very much.
Unknown said…
I really enjoyed seeing Frobisher's conscience when he was asked to put a hit on Katie. I was so glad not to hear the standard, "Make it happen" reply. (And I was disappointed when Patty said that very phrase a few minutes later. Does anyone talk like that?) I could believe Frobisher put out the hit after a coke-fueled sex romp overwhelmed his conscience. Danson really made Frobisher's concern apparent when he later tried to call off the hit. (The cellphone cutting him off was an hilarious touch.) I think, after that, Frobisher had to see Katie in person, to confirm she was okay and perhaps to remind himself that this is a human life he almost took.

They're not doing as well with Patty. She's almost too eeevil to believe, and the attempt to give her humanity through her parenting problems seems forced. I really hope they drop the son issues, but I'm afraid the box contains his ear or something, and we're stuck with him. If it's not related to this case, I'll be sad.

Still, yes, I'm hooked. Which, of course, means Fox will cancel it after the fifth episode.
Anonymous said…
I wasn't going to watch this until I read your review a few months ago of the pilot and thought I would try it out. I am so glad I did b/c this is fantastic, tension-filled TV. Close is amazing and I did like Rose Bryne better in this episode.
Loving Damages, even if there are moments when it feels like I'm watching The Devil Sues Prada's Ass.

Those sunglasses on Glenn Close are giving me Sunset Boulevard flashbacks.

Since Patty arranged the new apartment, I'm guessing it's wired for sound and vision. Ellen should keep her pillow talk to a minimum.
Oh, and Ten Danson's accent was giving me Christopher Walken recognition chills at times. I kept expecting him to do The Aristocrats joke.
Anonymous said…
This is an awesome, awesome show. I just sit all week drooling, waiting for it to come back on for the next installment that makes me so jealous that I didn't think of it.

I'm surprised at how many critics think it's overly contrived. I just think it's complex and wonderful characters couched in a story so entangled it could actually be real.

I can't get enough of it.
Anonymous said…
I was a little let down by the pilot (I thought the script was stronger) but really enjoyed the second episode as I think it truly captured the intensity and insanity of these great characters. There were some really nice twists and turns along the way (learning that the evil-looking guy was just a real estate agent and seeing Ellen holding the murder weapon over the corpse of her fiance) and I hope there will be many more along the way!
Scott said…
Still too early to say how it's going to go, but first two episodes (downloaded for watching in UK) had enough to make you want to keep watching.

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