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Looking to the Light and the Darkness: Sacrifice and Self-Preservation on "Damages"

I've received a lot of emails from readers wondering where this week's discussion of FX's Damages is and I have to make apologies for not getting it up yesterday, but sadly didn't get to watch Damages this week until the day after it aired. But this is Damages we're talking about so I didn't want to disappoint as there's quite a lot to discuss.

This week's sensational episode of Damages ("They Had to Tweaze That Out of My Kidney"), written by Aaron Zelman, answered some lingering questions in many audience members' minds and dealt beautifully with the mysteries surrounding Uncle Pete, The Visitor, and Patty's personal life... all while introducing a new mystery in the form of The Red File.

There also seems to be a bit of confusion stemming from one of the episode's biggest shockers so let's dive in and discuss "They Had to Tweaze That Out of My Kidney."

Uncle Pete. I'm glad that the series' creators decided to reveal a layer of Patty's past, exploring her childhood via a flashback that established her parents' unhappy marriage and her relationship with her Uncle Pete, her mother's ne'er-do-well brother who may have been a petty criminal in and out of prison but who looked after them and seemed to treat Patty as the daughter he never had. The reveal that Pete's favorite tune to whistle was the very same music heard throughout the flashbacks was a gorgeously subtle touch and proved the devotion that Uncle Pete and Patty had towards one another. Throughout everything, Patty has come to rely on Uncle Pete and put the full weight of her love behind everything she has done for him in return, while still enabling his criminal behavior on the side. After all, it's not everyone who would attempt to kill themselves rather than give evidence against their employers. But Pete's decision to take Stefania's medication in last week's episode was a symbolic sacrifice: the price of a father's love to protect his beloved child.

I was happy to see that Pete didn't just slip into a coma and die but did wake up and had a scene with Patty, in which she told him to protect himself. And I do believe Patty was sincere in this moment. She may have tried to have Ellen killed in order to silence her about Ray Fiske's suicide but she does owe Pete everything. Would she have allowed herself to go to prison in order to see Pete go free? I don't know. But I like to think that Pete gave Patty a shred of humanity and compassion that's lacking in her relationships with nearly everyone else around her.

The Murder. Which brings us to the murder of Uncle Pete. Many people--including Tom Aldredge, who plays Uncle Pete--seem to be under the impression that Patty had orchestrated the hit on Pete. But I think that's the furthest thing from the truth. For one, there was the bedside scene in which she tearily told him to save himself. Second, the call that Patrick made after he infected Pete's IV drip wasn't to Patty, despite the intentionally vague editing. Third, when Ellen does get a hold of Patty (at the same time that Patrick is making his own phone call), Patty is genuinely shocked and rocked to her emotional core: these aren't the tears of a murderer but of a bereft daughter. And, finally, Patrick urges his co-conspirators to drive away "before his boss [Patty] finds out."

So why was Uncle Pete killed? To silence him, yes, but not by the person whom everyone is blaming. It was something more petty that had nothing to do with the FBI's investigation of Patty Hewes. Pete was killed by the hoodlums he used in his criminal dealings, who wanted to be sure that he wouldn't rat them out. A sad and tragic death that really has nothing at all to do with the overarching plot against Patty.

One thing that bothered the hell out of me while watching this week's installment: why didn't the feds just radio the agent they had outside Uncle Pete's room when they learned that there was an unknown man inside Pete's hospital room? Surely, as he was right outside, he would have been able to apprehend Patrick far more easily than having Ellen run through the entire hospital to try to get a look at the guy. And shouldn't said agent also have tailed Patrick after he left Pete's room as well? Do I need to buy these Feds some walkie-talkies?

Messer. Meanwhile, Frobisher is finding himself in an increasingly uncomfortable situation while attempting to find spiritual fulfillment, possibly through the opening of a healing center build on the very spot of his shooting (loved that he buried the bullet, tweazed out of his kidney, in the ground) or in the arms of a coke-fueled hooker. But no matter what he does, he can't escape the jackal in his midst: Detective Messer, who knows all of his secrets, just like Pete did with Patty. But unlike Pete, Messer isn't willing to go quietly into the night. He doesn't appreciate Frobisher's new spiritual awakening and he wants, as he tells Frobisher's terrified guru, to reclaim Fro as his pupil. (Thankfully, he didn't kill that poor bunny, as I thought he would.)

So what does Messer want? For Frobisher to drop out of the class-action lawsuit against UNR and for Calder Security to return to Frobisher's payroll, especially as they've been working for him regardless of Frobisher's intentions, keeping an eye on Ellen Parsons and Katie Connor. Frobisher claims that he wants to accept the consequences for his actions but it's clear he doesn't: he wants to atone for what he did by building a healing center, not going to prison for murder and conspiracy charges. He's also terrified by the notion that Ellen visited him in the hospital and could have ended his life there and then. So does he send Messer after Ellen, as we saw in "A Pretty Girl in a Leotard"? Or is Messer once again using his own judgment in these matters?

Phil. I don't like that Patty's husband isn't turning out to be the kind-hearted soul we presumed him to be. Besides for the fact that he's cheating on Patty and disguising his trysts with "business trips to London," he meets with Dave Pell and actually considers his suggestion of buying UNR stock... and then calls his broker and arranges for a purchase of the shares via a hidden subsidiary account so Patty won't find out. Something tells me she won't look too kindly on Phil's recent decisions. After all, no one betrays Patty and gets away with it.

The Visitor. We now know for certain that The Visitor in the chair is none other than Patty herself. Just what gets Patty there and whether she is the same woman who gives Ellen a suitcase full of money in "Hey, Mr. Pibb!" remains to be seen. But we do know that Patty is clearly there in a state of duress, is sobbing and terrified. And we know that Ellen is lying about the gun not being loaded but I don't see her shooting and killing Patty in the series' second season. After all, Damages has already been renewed for a third season and I don't see FX killing off their lead character in Glenn Close. But I think Ellen is there to extort money from Patty, a final bonus check if you will, after learning something about Patty that puts her in the driving seat for a change. And the transaction would have been all about money, save for the fact that it's extremely personal for Ellen.

The Red File. So what's in the red file that Stefania discovers in a box at the back of Pete's closet? I loved that there was a dossier for Katie Connor and a picture of her beloved dog Saffron (circled in red, no less) that fleshes out the pilot's plot about the murder of Katie's pooch. But what's in Ellen's file? Something that propels Ellen to want to shoot Patty but I am not sure what: information about her murder? Why not just turn that over to the feds? No, I think it's something that goes a long way to explaining just why Patty wanted to hire Ellen in the first place, something from Ellen's past. Could it be that Patty had been keeping tabs on her for some time and wanted to hire her as a potential sacrificial lamb? Or is there something long-buried between the two of them from the past that even Ellen is unaware? Hmmm...

I'm curious to know what you thought of this week's episode. What do you think is in The Red File? Will Ellen open up David's wedding present? Will Patty find out that Phil is siding with UNR behind her back? Discuss.

Next week on Damages ("You Got Your Prom Date Pregnant"), Patty blames the FBI for Uncle Pete's death and goes on the offensive against the agency; Ellen discovers troubling news about ongoing federal investigation against Patty; Phil gets an intriguing offer.


Anonymous said…
(Um slowly raises hand as one of the email inquirers) Sorry!
No apologies necessary for the late post Jace, thank you so much for your thoughtful, well written and organized insight into the best drama on television.
I found this episode amazing and as you said poetically answered questions about Patty and Uncle Pete’s relationship. I also thought the scene with Ellen running in hospital for ID of the guy in Pete’s room was a bit contrived and yet built for the added drama. My first thought was is she going see her attacker face to face? Of course that would be awesome and then those darn writers turn it and negate the revelation! Oh well. And I’m sure some people feel Ellen is being stupid not to recognize his voice from the surveillance. But keep in mind she probably never heard him speak just attack and fight her in the apartment.
Patty revealed at the other end of the gun was true to form. I thought it might be her or Frobisher. I still don’t think she shoots Patty but a third party in the room. And if it is Cheeseburger/Bearded Guy I will be on my couch cheering.
David!!!! Oh it was great to see David again even though it was a hallucination or whatever he described. I miss him. He was her rock even they though had their troubles.
A couple of corrections and I’m sorry. Messer is not a Lieutenant but a (Cheeseburger with extra ketchup) Detective. And the next season for Damages is the third season not the fifth. Although Glenn Close, Rose Byrne and Tate Donovan are signed up for six seasons which I hope is realized for the future. Crossing fingers.

Thanks again for the recap.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous - I think Jace just meant that the series has been picked up through season five, not that next season is season five.

Last night's episode was fantastic (although the feds not communicating with their man watching Uncle Pete's room drove me crazy too)!

I definitely do not think that it was Patty who had Pete killed. Yes, she ordered a hit on Ellen but doing so resulted in a nervous breakdown...and Uncle Pete obviously means much more to her than Ellen. Also, Patrick does not call Patty but his partner in crime which, to me, proved Patty's innocence. The writers obviously wanted to make the audience think he was calling Patty only to reveal that it was Ellen she was on the phone with.
Anonymous said…
Well unfortunately Damages hasn't been picked through season five (I wish they did). FX generously picked up the show for season 2 and 3, which is unheard of in television business. After season 3(next year) we well have to wait for FX future decisions of the show.
Anonymous said…
Actually, Uncle Pete's murder was related to the overarching plot from last season. The guy who actually poisoned him needed him dead in case he ratted him out for trying to kill Ellen. The getaway driver was only concerned about the petty crime stuff but Patrick had considerably more to lose if Pete started talking.

Oh and I'm with you, Jace. I'm deeply disappointed that Phil has not turned out to be the steady rock he seemed in season 1. He seemed so good for Patty and I can't wait to see how their relationship plays out now that he's getting enmeshed in her professional life. I see another courtroom debacle coming that provokes Patty's infamous rage; surely Phil's stock purchase has to come out on the stand or at some deposition.
Unknown said…
Patty doesn't have to learn about philandering Phil's stock transaction. When she takes down UNR, the stock will tank, and Phil will get his just deserts. It might be more interesting to see his quiet distress than to see Patty finding out.

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