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The Devil's Due: Family Ties on "Damages"

"You always said you were a terrible mother." - Ellen

This week's episode of Damages ("Don't Throw That at the Chicken"), written by Jeremy Doner and directed by Matthew Penn, ramped up the tension and offered some truly jaw-dropping plot twists this week, after last week's episode, which confined the action to the present day and focused mainly on Ellen's familial situation and the Danielle Marchetti/airport storyline.

Instead, last night's absolutely fantastic episode offered several tantalizing subplots and gave us some answers as well as moved Ellen and Patty closer together again, pushing Ellen into the orbit of the Tobin fraud case and back into Hewes & Associates (or, rather, Hewes & Shayes) and back on the couch with Patty, the site of oh so many plans and so many bitter memories.

The theme for this week's episode? Escaping the past expectations of ourselves and our parents. Perfectly fitting for a storyline that encapsulates Ellen's attempts to escape the blue collar atmosphere and problems of her New Jersey clan, Michael's inability to live up to Patty's dreams of him, and the fragility of the Tobin family and their future.

Five Months Later. The police reveal that Tom had drowned but there was no bloating so he couldn't have been in the water for that long and then his body was thrown into the dumpster. As Patty revealed to Detective Huntley, the last time Patty spoke to Tom, something was very wrong. The phone conversation occurred at the creepy mystery apartment and was interrupted by a knock at the door.

Interestingly, the apartment was clean and tidy when the phone call between Tom and Patty occurs. There are tons of files in the kitchen but they are neatly stacked in the kitchen, which means that someone--likely Tom's killer, who was at the door--was looking for something amid all of the papers, something that got Tom killed. Given Tom's interest in the Tobin case and his personal stake in locating the money that Louis Tobin secreted away, I have to believe that this place was dedicated to following the money and that Tom discovered something extremely dangerous, something that got him killed.

Also interestingly, the apartment would appear not to be a dumping ground for water bottles either. So why were the water bottles there when Detective Huntley investigates the scene? (Along with, one can't forget, bloodstains on the wall.) My theory: we know Tom drowned to death but wasn't in the water long enough to drown. So what if someone attempted to waterboard him for information? It would explain the presence of the water bottles while also explaining just why his corpse hadn't become bloated or water-logged. After all, one can drown without being thrown IN the water.

But there's another twist: Patty's phone call to an unknown caller either before or after her meeting with Huntley, a phone call in which she said: "I told you not to go through with it. I told you to stop! I told you to stop!" On the surface, it would appear to be some sort of admission of guilt about Tom's death--perhaps she had arranged for someone to extract information or place a hit on Tom--but I think that's not at all what she's talking about. I believe that she called Ellen to blame her for Tom's death and that the two of them were working on an independent investigation into the whereabouts of the Tobin fortune and someone learned about this and had Tom tortured and killed.

Patty did arrange for a hit on Ellen, true, but I don't think that KZK would go down this road again. Rather, I think the call is a bait-and-switch. Not a guilt-ridden call about Tom's death but a guilty conscience about not being able to stop Tom and Ellen after they were in over their heads. Which would mean that the conversation between Ellen and Tom's widow Deb in which Ellen asked her about who else knew about her Tom might not point to infidelity but something far more dangerous...

Joe. The police believed Joe's story that he was taking Danielle to the hospital, but it's apparent that had she gotten on that plane, she would have been dead. Leonard realized that he smelled alcohol on Joe's breath at Danielle's house and offered to get him back into a program. Louis' concerns about Joe and whether he can keep it together lead Leonard to make plans of a different kind: he contacted that shady security expert (Sarah Wynter) and tasked her company with shadowing Joe and seeing if he takes another drink.

Which would be creepy enough if that's all Leonard had charged them with but he clearly has bigger plans; should Joe be found guilty of drinking, the company is to kill him and arrange it to look like an accident. At first, I thought that the "you know what to do" conversation between Leonard and the Blonde Woman would lead to Joe being kidnapped (after all, he's been known to disappear for weeks at time while on a bender) but when there was no van present and the man following Joe was reaching into his inner jacket pocket, I realized just how desperate Leonard was to keep things ticking along smoothly. They would fake a mugging and kill Joe, silencing him and ensuring that the money could be dispersed without having a drunk running things.

But seeing the newspaper headlines about his father provoked Joe into action. He poured out the bottle of booze he had been drinking and decided to go see his father one last time. It's an action that saved his life at the very last second but also means that he got to his father's body before anyone else and discovered the package Louis had left for Patty.

The Deposition. Patty was able to convince Gates to postpone Louis' sentencing so that they can interview him one last time and see if they can use the information about Danielle Marchetti as leverage. Loved the scene where Ellen comes back to Patty's office for the first time this season to see that not much--other than the names on the wall--had changed.

Louis admitted to calling Danielle Marchetti on Thanksgiving evening but said that it had nothing to do with the fraud whatsoever, instead revealing that he had left his heart medication at Danielle's apartment earlier that day and had called her and told her to bring them over. Marilyn, standing next to him, freaked out when she found out that he was involved with Danielle. The reason why Louis wanted Danielle flown out of the country was, he claimed, to protect his family from further shame.

But Patty isn't naive or stupid and she quickly sees that Louis' weakness is his family. She knows that Louis wouldn't leave the future of his family in the hands of a drunk (Joe) or a twice-divorced basketcase (Carol). It clearly struck a chord with Louis, who called Patty the night before his sentencing. While Patty gets him off the phone, it seemed like Louis wanted to confess something to Patty. While he doesn't get the opportunity to verbally confess, Louis left her an envelope (likely containing a way to find the hidden money) next to his body before he kills himself. I had wondered just what a teacup was doing next to him when he was so obviously drinking alcohol and my question was answered when Louis added his doctor's tincture to his tea. Looks like justice won't be served after all and Louis Tobin got a one-way ticket to the afterlife ("I'm running") rather than prison.

His effort to do the right thing for a change, to save his victims rather than his family, were really an attempt to help Joe, to remove the burden of shared guilt, the shame of infamy. "I just want Joe to stop banging his head against the wall," Louis told Patty before he hung up. Sadly, I don't know that Joe will be able to do the right thing now that his father has escaped justice.

Ellen. Poor Ellen got sucked into her tawdry family drama once again when she confronted Carrie about the drugs she found in her bag and told her that she was cancelling the check she made out to her. Not surprisingly, Carrie denied that they were hers and said that they were Eddie's and that she needed the money for her baby. Is she telling the truth? Only a sucker would believe so. There's every indication that Carrie is using crystal meth and would have used the cash for another fix but she instead attempts to turn the tables on Ellen and make the situation more about Ellen's need to humiliate her. Don't you wish you had gone to stuck around in Manhattan instead of going home now, Ellen?

Gates, meanwhile, attempted to use Ellen to gain insight into Patty but made a misstep by blaming Sharp's handling of Danielle Marchetti's call for her to get involved with the Tobin case. When will people learn that Ellen has learned at the feet of the master manipulator? She knows when she's being used and it's just best to ask her to do something flat out than to spin her a poorly constructed lie, yet Gates, Patty, Tom--everyone, really--continue to see her as a patsy that can be positioned however they like.

It's an error that perhaps Ellen can use to her advantage. Patty invited Ellen over allegedly for the purposes of spending some time with her but Ellen believed that Patty invited her over to gain an ally in the DA's office. Patty countered that she just wants her company ("you need to learn to let go of work") but Patty Hewes doesn't do anything without an ulterior motive and Ellen knows her former mentor way too well to fall into her old traps.

Michael. Loved the reunion scene between Patty and her estranged son Michael, especially as I had been wondering if we'd see Michael this season at all, given that she booted him from the apartment last season after he announced his intention not to go to college and to move in with Jill. Here, Michael seemed to be the exact opposite of himself in Season Two: polished, poised, and wearing a suit and tie. There was an awkwardness between them that likely hadn't been assisted by their months of silence but Michael did give her a kiss. While their meal is completely civil, there was definitely a sense of something seething beneath the surface as Michael revealed that he had been in close contact with Phil these last few months and had even gotten some job pointer from his former step-father. While it clearly cut Patty to the core, she maintained her composure completely.

Michael, meanwhile, seemed to have gotten his life together. He's got an entry-level job now and is moving into adulthood, even without a college education... and he told Patty that he and Jill had split up. "It was just a phase," said Michael. "It just didn't work out." Patty's retort: "She seemed lovely." (Oh, Patty, you're no fool.) While Michael paid the bill for their meal, we quickly learn that he's still with Jill and living with her. Even better, he doesn't have a finance job but paints... and Jill is pregnant. So how much of his does Patty know? Her shifty smile as Michael told her about his life made me believe that she is keeping tabs on her son and knows all about the truth of his situation, seeing right through the fantasy he presented to his mother.

There was a nice parallel between the storyline between Patty and Michael and that of Louis and Joe Tobin, with each of the parents silently (or not so silently) expressing their frustrations with their offspring and their failure to meet up to their expectations of what they would achieve with their lives. Michael has drifted aimlessly, winding up in the arms of an older woman and turning his back on academics; Joe has once more succumbed to his alcohol addiction and placed the Tobin family's future in jeopardy.

As Marilyn told Louis, everything that Joe did--the drinking, dropping out of college (ding, ding)--was an effort to make Louis notice him, to see him, to get his attention for once. It's the same with Michael. I can't help but feel that if Patty had really seen Michael, he wouldn't have needed to do the things he did either (remember the grenade incident in Season One?) and that each and every one of his actions last season were a means for shaking Patty and saying, Look at me. Marilyn said that Joe told her as a teenager that he felt like a ghost and the real truth is that Michael fell into the same pattern with Patty, another headstrong, ambitious, career-minded individual.

But both of the scenes are juxtaposed with a sweet exchange between Joe and his son Kevin in the cornfields near his in-law's home. There's an idyllic aspect to the scene as the two discuss, in a roundabout way, the nature of good and evil ("Sometimes good people do bad things"), and Joe realizes that, despite what has passed between them, he does love his father... and that he wanted to be just like him. There's a real sense of loss and hurt evident in Campbell Scott's performance that defines Joe's character and informs his own mistakes, his own errors in life. Could it be that none of us truly ever grows up?

All in all, a fantastic episode of Damages that offered some answers and many, many questions as well as an exploration of the family dynamics of several households. My mind is buzzing with several theories about what is going on and, as great as this week's episode was, next week's installment is even better...

Next week on Damages ("It's Not My Birthday"), Patty Hewes squares off with the D.A. over access to Danielle Marchetti; Patty and Tom interview a candidate for the associate position at Hewes & Shayes; Ellen is approached by the candidate for insight into Patty.


Riley said…
Enjoyed this much more than last week's episode. I was happy to see Lily Tomlin again as well as Patty's son, Michael. I knew he was lying to his mother but totally did not guess that he and Jill were going to have a baby. Crazy! That scene between Joe and his son in the field was beautifully done.
A Garrett said…
This is the best analysis of Damages S3 that I have read thus far. Well done.
Wes said…
I think you've hit the nail on the head. FX, give this man a prize. Definitely most logical explanation of everything and you've been dead right about Damages twists in the past. Wouldn't surprise me if you figured it all out!
Unknown said…
Your waterboarding theory is really interesting. Thanks for the recap.

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