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"There is No 'We' Anymore": Ellen Learns the Final Lesson on "Damages"

Hmmm, so maybe Patty isn't evil incarnate after all.

I rushed home last night to savor every minute of the penultimate episode of FX's deliriously twisted legal drama Damages. After all, I've been obsessed with the series since I first saw the pilot back in May and we're nearing the finish line now, where all of the disparate plot lines (not to mention timelines) seem to be coming together neatly.

I take special joy in the fact that I was absolutely right about the circumstances of David's murder, theorized last week on this very site. Which isn't to say that there weren't a few surprises last night, because there most definitely were, but we'll get to those in a minute. What I do want to say is how shockingly mundane David's murder was... in a good way, though. It wasn't a psycho stalker with romantic notions for the good doctor nor was it a clean hit from a trained killer. No, it was messy, brutal, and chillingly sadistic. It was the elimination of a human life over something as small and sordid as a taped confession. RIP, David; at least you didn't spill the location of that tape.

Patty. I've actually grown to like Patty (the astonishing Glenn Close, who I interviewed here) more over the last few episodes as she's revealed her very human weaknesses. I had become inured to Patty's scornful tantrums and her all-consuming ruthlessness and, like Ellen, had begun to question if she were the one pulling all of the strings. I'm happy that she wasn't involved with David's demise or the attempt on Ellen's life. In the end, Patty is a less-than-innocent not-quite-bystander who got herself further complicated in this mess by blackmailing Ray Fiske and then involving Ellen in a cover-up of her crime. And in the end, it's that crime--which caused Fiske to top himself in Patty's office--that has nearly sent Patty herself off her rocker... or at least rocking herself while sobbing at her impressive beach house.

I loved the scene with Patty, Phil, and the cops in which she calmly told the police what had happened and omitted any mention or knowledge of why Fiske would want to kill himself; her ability to lie is almost as impressive as her ability to spot fabrication from fifty paces. Also too the fact that she was played by her former protege, who never really thought Patty was trying to kill her but needed to lure her out of hiding with an impressive accusation.

Plus, I love that the writers have included the use of those sunglasses--the round, shiny black ones that make Patty's eyes rather like Nietzsche's abyss--in these scenes; they're effectively Patty's armor against the world. I also loved that she admitted that she preferred to be alone than have her family cancel their trips; it was a little touch that was totally in keeping with the character they've established thus far for Patty and who would naturally view herself as a lone warrior against the world. Still, interesting that she made a trip to the cemetery, where I imagine she visited the grave of her bullying father, who was the real reason why she went into law in the first place.

Ellen. The really has learned the most brutal lesson from Patty: trust no one. And, it's good to see that she's taken this lesson to heart as she's learnt to not trust Patty Hewes above everyone else. I loved the fact that she finally confronted Patty about what she'd done to her: hired her only to get to Katie, then denounced Katie, then casually fired Ellen once she'd outlived her usefulness. Ellen has become a powerful woman in her own right and the tape in her possession means that this is her game and she can make demands. I thought it was absolutely brilliant that she withheld the tape and its location from Patty and would only give it to her if she got her exonerated for David's murder. We now know that Ellen was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time: Frobisher's men didn't go there specifically to kill her but to search the apartment for that damned tape. Still, now that she is out on bail and the tape hasn't been recovered by Frobisher, I am a little concerned for her safety and, well, continued health. It's clear that Frobisher isn't backing down now and, without Fiske as a moral compass, he's willing to cross all sorts of lines to get that evidence.

Hollis Nye. Which brings me to the saintly Hollis Nye. I've never thought he was involved with any of this or anything except the kindly attorney he seemed, warning Ellen about getting mixed up in Patty's world and coming to her aid when she's arrested for David's murder. And yet, what was with that phone call he placed at the end of the episode, telling an unknown person that Ellen was out on bail and where they could find her? Was that call in any way connected to those two shifty guys following Ellen down the street. Is Hollis tied up with Frobisher and his goons? Or are those guys tailing her merely there for Ellen's protection? Have we, as an audience, listened too well to Patty's advice and now trust no one?

My favorite scene last night had to be the simplest: that stunning shot of her walking out of prison through the tunnel; one Ellen reaches the other side, the color changes from that washed-out tinted effect to full on color. It was a subtle, understated, and beautiful way of transitioning from the flash-forwards of Future Time to the present tense as the two timelines finally merged. A tip of my hat to director Mario van Peebles for that one.

The Realtor. He's still creeping me out despite the fact that he now definitely appears to be a red herring. Why was he lurking around David and Ellen's apartment the night of the murder? He claims that one of the neighbors called him about their argument and he came by to make sure everything was okay. Was he removing bugs from the flat last week or is he really just an obsessively attentive realtor fixing a leak, as he claimed? We'll find out next week, but there's something still niggling me there, just under the surface. Still, it seems like we can now remove him from our line of suspects.

Random thought: why haven't we seen the face of the man Ellen killed? Even last night, during David's murder, the director was very careful to obscure the second man's face in every shot. Is it because we'll recognize the killer, even if Ellen didn't? Curious... But I am still puzzling out the doorman's involvement. It's clear that he's involved, either on Frobisher's payroll or as a one-time pay-off, but he's messed up in the actual crime or its cover-up, allowing the killers to use the service elevator to gain entry to Patty's apartment.

David. I'm glad that Cassavetes-averse Soda Skank Lila wasn't David's killer, but her stupidity and obsession did lead to David's death as she left the door unlocked for his killers. (How creepy was it that she made herself look like Ellen and sat on the side of the bed wearing her engagement ring?) While I knew that David was obviously going to get killed, I didn't expect it to happen in quite that fashion: after throwing Lila out (but not taking her key), David turns to see Beardy Weirdy and the Mystery Man standing inside the flat; Beardy takes the Statue of Liberty bookend and whacks David over the head with it. I'm still not sure how they managed to find the dossier with the incriminating photos and evidence about Fiske but not Gregory Malina's taped confession, which manages despite everything else to end up in Ellen's hands.

(Interesting side note: in the original pilot episode, David is stabbed to death in a shower, which lends credence to the fact that the writers did supposed alter the killer's identity as they continued to write the scripts.)

Michael. One dangling plot thread from last night that I cannot quite get my head around is the fact that Patty's son Michael appears in the flat the night of David's murder, even though he is meant to be upstate with a friend. Hmmm. Why is it so important that Ellen not tell anyone that she's seen him in the apartment and how does this connect with next week's finale? I'm not entirely sure but I don't think that Michael has really rehabilitated himself and is planning some sort of final salvo in his ongoing battle with Patty. I shudder to think, after the grenade incident, what it could be...

Best line of the episode: "Ellen, can I trust you?"

Next week on the season finale of Damages, Phil angrily confronts Michael about what he was doing in their apartment that night, Tom confronts Ellen about what she and Patty did, Patty pays Katie a visit in order to get her hands on that tape, and Beardy Weirdy (is he a cop?!?) says how sorry he is for Ellen's loss. I cannot wait!

Comments

rockauteur said…
Damages was AWESOME last night. The show has really surprised me, evolving from a boilerplate legal show on paper to a sophisticated story with a serpentine narrative that really just hooked me. A shame more people aren't watching and I hope that the show survives (with at least some of the remaining cast) to the second season.

I'm glad Patty wasn't involved with David's death and Ellen's accidental fight with a hitman. I want Frobisher to go down... hard. At first, the writers really tried to make Frobisher somewhat sympathetic - with all those shots of him looking lovingly at his family... but his downward spiral, starting with his original contract on Katie's life (and the whole coke-fueled dalliance with a hooker in the backseat of his SUV), really has made him into a monster. Patty was right for wanting to take him down.

Jace, I take one objection to something you wrote, how the bad guys were able to get the Ray Fiske file (which they don't need anymore) and not the tape. The file was locked in the drawer. The tape is in David/Ellen's "hiding spot" which I think is the pink flashlight on the desk table that the camera focused on when Ellen returns to the bloody, messy apartment. Or whatever that item is. Either way, Ellen has the proof and I really hope that the guys Hollis called are bodyguards, and not killers. How he is involved in the whole mess, I don't know. Hmmm...
Anonymous said…
Justin,

I think the pink flashlight on the desk was left by the mystery man. When Beardy Weardy calls him over to the drawer, he leaves it where he was looking.

Only Ellen will know that the pink flashlight wasn't there before.vd
rockauteur said…
Ok well regardless if the flashlight was left by Hitman/Cop/Mystery Man or not... the tape is still in "the hiding spot." That was my only point. But thanks for pointing that out - thats another interesting twist. Perhaps a fingerprint on that?
Jane said…
david's murder...when beardy simply closed the bathroom door on the camera, i got such chills. evil evil evil men. heartless, really.

patty has definitely become more and more human to me with each episode. it's like she knows she's ruthless and a total ballbreaker, but despite the take-no-prisoners attitude she indeed does have a conscience.

BUT

did you see the very subtle changes in her facial expression when she and ellen were sitting on the couch and ellen asks, "do you think we went too far?.....i did." that scene, watching glenn close's face change so subtly was definitely one of the top moments of the show. it almost makes me think patty has something else up her sleeve.

i don't know what to make of her son. something's definitely up with him. i'm not sure what, i almost think the writers threw him in there as a red herring, but it's definitely thought-provoking.

same thing with hollis nye. red herring or is he involved?

i thought the funniest scene was where ellen's cellmate was showing her, uh, machismo by bragging that she robbed two places, so she's tough enough to deserve the top bunk. and ellen, devoid of any emotion, calmly says, "i murdered my fiance." touché!!
In addition to the stellar writing and acting I think that this show also takes some interesting risks with direction and camera movement and last night's episode was no exception. I really liked the scene with Ellen emerging from the tunnel. I also liked how the camera was turned sideways, watching Frobisher in bed as he gets the news about Fiske, moving up with him as he sits up in horror. The camera movement ends on Fro's back, which is jarring and uncomfortable... just like the rest of the scene. It feels much more like watching a movie which, to me, is fun!
Anonymous said…
Last night's episode was exhausting! (In a good way.) So many twists and turns.

I'm also glad that Patty was not involved with David's death as that would have been too much. But what a horrible way to die.

And speaking of horrible deaths...the scene between Frobisher and Fiske's widow was just awful. Fro was such a jerk to her and then just blew her off. Ouch.
Harley said…
Yes the show is beautifully shot. Better than most movies. And yes, it's been deleriously entertaining along the way. The problem with all that delerium is that it sets the bar rather high, and in this case, too high for the show to meet.

C'mon. After all this time, after all these red herrings, the solution to David's murder and the attack on Ellen turns out to be the most mundane possible -- and committed by characters so tangential to the narrative that we don't even know their names.

This is not, please, about the banality of evil. This is, however, about the difficulty of writing mystery narrative. There's much great work on this show. Last night's episode was not equal to it.
Anonymous said…
Great show, great ending!

Did you notice at the very end that ShadymaybebodyguardGuy#1(on the left) looks remarkably like Mr Van P himself!?
Unknown said…
It would be interesting if Nye were calling bodyguards, but somehow, I don't think the writers would use that ruse twice.

On a related note, I thought it was more surprising that Patty (supposedly) paid Ellen's bail and then Nye picked her up. How did Nye know she made bail? Did Nye pay her bail and lie that Patty paid it? (If so, why??) Are Hollis and Patty communicating and why? Or is it just a continuity error?

Frobisher did start out as a (somewhat) sympathetic character, but the coke-fueled contract and subsequent hijinks show how easy it was for him to devolve into a lout--not eeevil, but a man without, as Jace put it, a moral compass.
Anonymous said…
Something popped into my head when Patty visited the cemetary because they were very careful not to show whose grave it was. What if the grave belongs to the woman that Frobisher allegedly killed in the car crash in Arlington? What if Patty is somehow linked to her; either a blood relative or someone who was close to her? Which would mean that Patty's whole motivation behind the case has been strictly vengance from the beginning. I've already been able to poke some wholes in my theory, but I did think it was interesting.

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