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A Dish Best Eaten Hot or Cold: An Advance Review of "Damages" Season Two

“Vengeance taken will often tear the heart and torment the conscience.” - Schopenhauer

There are few series that I've found myself as invested in, emotionally and mentally, than FX's dynamic serpentine legal thriller Damages, created with crackling wit by Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman.

Damages offers a chance to go down the rabbit hole, to enter a world of high-stakes courtroom intrigue that is a dark mirror to our own, in which millionaire litigators plot murders with the efficiency and ease one might reserve for making a car payment and in which first year law associates can turn the tables on their masters. It's a series filled with betrayals, double-crosses, and neck-snapping plot twists... and one that I simply cannot get my fill of.

So it was with a certain relish that I sat down last week to watch the brilliant first two episodes of Damages' sophomore season, which kicks off on January 7th on FX. Season One, of course, memorably ended with the revelation that it was Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) herself who orchestrated the attempted murder of Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) and who wanted her protege dead after she expressed regret about what they did to poor Ray Fiske... and had Ellen agreeing to participate in the FBI's investigation into Patty's own malfeasance. Oh, and Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), responsible for the murder of Ellen's fiancé, had been shot and left to bleed to death in a vacant field after agreeing to a two billion dollar settlement.

It wouldn't be easy for Damages to top such a mind-blowing freshman season, but in the more than capable hands of the Kessler Bros. and Zelman (who together wrote the season's first three and final four episodes), Season Two of Damages is already shaping up to be just as memorably twisty (and twisted) as its award-winning first season.

I don't want to give away too many plot points (far better, dramatically speaking, for the audience to experience them directly), but I will say Season Two of Damages contains a similar narrative structure as the first season, with two timelines clearly delineated within the plot. There's the main storyline, in which Ellen works with the FBI to take down Patty while dealing with her own rage and thirst for revenge against Frobisher for David's murder and Patty reluctantly comes to the aid of Daniel Purcell (William Hurt), a man from her past (hmmm) who finds himself in way over his head when his family is threatened by the corrupt company he works for (menacingly embodied by Lost's Brett Cullen as "middleman" Wayne Suttry), after he refuses to doctor a toxicity research report. And then there's the future timeline, set six months later, in which Ellen enacts an interrogation of an unseen party at gun point, as she desperately seeks a way at exposing the truth.

It's all of these seemingly disparate elements--Ellen's quest for vengeance, no matter what the personal cost, a new case, an overarching conspiracy--that quickly kick Damages' second season into high gear. There's also some further character development of Patty herself as we learn the truth about the death of her daughter Julia and how that incident may have shaped the woman she became and get a glimpse into her personal life vis-a-vis her possible romantic past with Daniel. And this being Damages, there's a host of new interconnected mysteries thrown into the mix within the opening installments, mysteries that, if viewers are at all like me, we'll be obsessing over for the next few months.

Adding to the complex richness of the storyline are several new additions to the cast, including the aforementioned William Hurt. Timothy Olyphant plays Wes Krulik, a member of Ellen's grief support group who is still attempting to move on from the death of his girlfriend; it's clear that there's an undeniable attraction between Wes and Ellen but some shocking revelations (including a gasp-inducing second episode reveal) point to some perfidy on his part. Marcia Gay Harden joins the cast in the second episode as Claire Maddox, the in-house counsel for Ultima National Resources who proves herself to be quite a worthy opponent for Patty Hewes and just as capable of doing anything possible to achieve her own ends.

While not seen in the first two episodes, John Doman and Clarke Peters, both former stars of HBO's The Wire, are set to appear later on in the season. Doman will play Walter Kendrick, the CEO of Ultima (and Claire's boss) who is mentioned in hushed whispers in the second episode; Peters will play Dave Pell, a Washington-based power broker involved in the conspiracy uncovered by Hurt's Daniel Purcell who sets his considerable resources against Patty.

Rest assured, Ted Danson does return for the second season as billionaire Arthur Frobisher. Frobisher begins Season Two convalescing in hiding after four surgeries following his shooting at the end of last season. But don't count this former fat cat out just yet. He's still a major threat to both Ellen and Patty and I suspect that when he finds himself backed into a corner, he'll still go out fighting.

Also set to appear as part of Damages' glittery cast during Season Two: Tate Donovan as Tom Shayes, Anastasia Griffiths who returns as Katie Connors (though she's not seen in the first two installments), Tom Aldredge as Patty's mysterious enforcer Uncle Pete, Michael Nouri as Patty's husband Phil Grey, Philip Bosco as Hollis Nye, and Zeljko Ivanek as the doomed Ray Fiske.

Wait, you might be saying, didn't Ray off himself during the first season? You'd be right there but Ray's ghost hovers over the action in Season Two of Damages much like Hamlet's father's ghost, forcing the characters to answer for their guilt, their grief, and perhaps their own innate needs for justice.

At its heart, Damages isn't a courtroom-based legal drama but a labrinthine thriller filled to the brim with complicated characters operating in a moral grey zone where truly anything and everything is possible in pursuit of an ever-elusive personal justice. And in just the opening installments of Season Two, Damages proves that it hasn't forgotten its characters' killer instincts or their elaborate machinations. Justice, in the world of Damages, is far from blind.

Damages launches Season Two on Wednesday, January 7th at 10 pm ET/PT on FX.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Whew! I got goosebumps just reading your review! I am so excited for season two of Damages and, from the tidbits you're giving us (thank you, thank you!) it seems like it will be just as incredible and compelling as the first season. I can't wait!
Anonymous said…
This is a dream cast and I can't wait to see how William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant, John Doman, and Clarke Peters heat up this already sizzling drama!
Anonymous said…
Great review! I am looking forward to Damages possibly even more than Lost after reading this. The first season was amazing and I can't wait for the next one.
Anonymous said…
I can't wait to see what happens. I've never been so obsessed with a great mystery. Although I do have to say your review was great and didn't give away too much, but definitely sparked an interest!
Anonymous said…
Great review. I recently watched S1 on DVD and cannot wait for next season to start after reading this. Do you think that Frobisher will have something to do with the new case? How many episodes is Danson signed on for?

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