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Clarity in Darkness: Secrets and Lies on Damages

This week's episode of Damages ("All That Crap About Your Family"), written by Daniel Zelman and directed by Matthew Penn, found each of the characters grappling with the truth, whether that be a personal discovery, a bitter confrontation, a shocking confession, or the decision to withhold information from a loved one. The latter offered one of the most shocking moments in this week's installment, a pivotal turning point for a supporting character who seemed to be far more benevolent than they actually are.

Additionally, we learned the truth about what happened that Thanksgiving night and how the smallest of moments can have a ripple effect on everyone around them. Louis Tobin's decision to entrust his fortune's future to Tessa Marchetti hasn't quite panned out the way he thought it would. Trust is, after all, a funny thing.

The same holds true for Ellen and Patty. Their relationship this season has become something akin to friendship but that rapport would seem to be shattered this week as Patty casts everyone and everything away from her, rendering herself alone and paranoid. It seems the walls haven't quite been pulled down around her yet.

So what did I think of this week's episode? Let's discuss.

I'm all too willing to admit that I was wrong about Ellen's parentage. My theory that Ellen was the mysterious Annie's daughter and was somehow connected to the Arlington car crash that involved Arthur Frobisher turned out to be a non-starter. (Alas, that the risk you take with cockeyed theories.) This week's episode picked up where we left off last week, with Ellen heading 100 miles out of Manhattan to come face to face with the woman who had begun to crop up in her dreams. Was it her birth mother? Was she adopted? Was is the bond that exists between them?

Last night's installment once again didn't feature any of the future-set timeframe, leaving the events that we've been glimpsing so far this season all the more tantalizingly out of reach. Instead, the episode focused both on the past--Ellen's, Louis Tobin's, and Frobisher's--and on the the present, where things are beginning to build to a head. While Damages often features a pretty high body count, I didn't quite expect two characters to get killed this week, roughly 30 seconds apart. Especially when one of them was such a crucial witness in the Tobin case.

But that's the high-stakes world that Damages has set up: everyone is expendable and everyone is in jeopardy. Given that we know that Tom is murdered, Patty involved in a near-fatal collision, and Ellen absolutely terrified, it seems as though the noose of danger is about to tighten around all of their throats.

Ellen. Hoping to discover the truth about her past, Ellen traveled to see Anne Connell but was shocked to learn that reality is often more complicated than fantasy. She isn't Annie's birth daughter but is a Parsons by birth who was nearly adopted by Annie when she was about five years old. That she can't rewrite her family history seems to strike a chord with Ellen; she's immediately cut deeply by the fact that her mother nearly gave her up but changed her mind... and that things had apparently gotten so awful with her father that she had been sent away to live with someone else. Which made me wonder: was Carrie sent away too? Or was she kept close by her mother, a victim to their father's erratic mood swings and violent temper?

Ellen, meanwhile, returns to the city to discover that she's been sold out at work and that she's going to have to take the fall for Tom's impatient and unwise contact with Tessa. Her conversation with a drunk Patty is a sad and solemn scene as Patty rails against Ellen while her former protege stands there silently. I thought that it was a testament to her friendship with Tom that she doesn't tell Patty the truth but instead endures Patty's abuse and then walks out.

As for what Patty tells her--that she wanted to impress Gates at her expense, that she's ambitious, a "climber" and "parasite," and that she's ruthless--I found it ironic that those are all things that anyone could say about Patty Hewes herself. Was the teacher aware of just how much the student had learned at her feet? Or was the speech also directed at herself in some way? A symbol of her own self-loathing? Still, it cut like a knife when Patty told Ellen, "I want you out of my life."

I was glad to see David (Noah Bean) turn up in this week's episode as Ellen wandered aimlessly through the city after being placed on an indefinite leave from work. (I can't say I blame Gates for his decision and his anger at Ellen but he's just so bad at playing the game and seeing the bigger picture that I want him to fail.) The scene between Ellen and the ghostly David was a nice callback to the earlier seasons of Damages and their relationship a reminder of a simpler, happier time.

But David also has a message for her, one that Ellen has carried around for some time but hasn't come to terms with: she needs to make a decision regarding Patty. If she wants to work for her again, she should go do that. And if she doesn't, she needs to put Patty behind her and really move on. To put the past behind her and step into tomorrow. But it's hard when she's literally carrying baggage--that Chanel bag--with her everywhere she goes...

Patty. The strain of the last few months has clearly gotten to Patty. The once supremely composed and icy-cold litigator has become a vulnerable mess, the exact type of person that she hates above all else. Pressure from the plaintiffs, the judge, the D.A., the Tobins, etc. have all led her to a place of extreme paranoia, where she believes everyone is out to get her. It's Patty's Atlas-like burden to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders while everyone else is sniping at her and looking to drag her down.

David's words to Ellen are true about her similarities to Patty: they do both hate bullies and her sense of betrayal at the hands of Ellen isn't just about the fact that she (wrongly) believes Ellen's behaviors have jeopardized the case but she's fractured the one relationship built on respect that still exists in her life. She certainly doesn't have that with Tom. She holds him to a level of responsibility that would have made anyone else quit years ago. His decision to come clean to Patty--though he does leave out the fact that he's a Tobin victim--and his confrontation of her (loved the bit where he asked her if she's ever lied to him) points towards his eventual resignation from the firm. And it hits Patty like another blow to the gut, feeding into her paranoia about Ellen. ("The two of you were strategizing behind my back?")

Earlier this season, Patty sought to replace Ellen by hiring Alex Benjamin. Alex seemed to be the perfect candidate for Patty: ambitious, devoted, devoid of a personal life, she was tailor-made to be Patty's right-hand woman. Or at least on paper. Here, she's a step ahead of Patty, making suggestions about bank account routing numbers, charities, etc. But she lacks a certain je ne sais quoi... In other words, she's not Ellen. It was only a matter of time before Patty realized that herself... and this week took matters in her own hands and fired Alex on the spot as she recalled her conversation with Ellen about her new associate. Au revoir, Alex.

Frobisher. While still completely separate from the overarching storyline, I have to say that I'm loving the return of Ted Danson here as Arthur Frobisher, particularly as the feature film version of his life is getting workshopped, filtering the tenseness of Damages' first season into a bizarro funhouse mirror.

Loved that Katie Finneran (Wonderfalls) was cast as the way-too-young actress playing Patty Hewes and that Frobisher was so willing to sell out the memory of his alleged friend Ray Fiske that he spills the fact that Fiske was secretly gay to the (awful) actor playing him with a way-too-prominent Southern drawl. The story has become so "Hollywoodized" that it's almost impossible to connect it to the viciousness of Frobisher and Patty's battle.

But it's Frobisher's constant need for approval that leads him to make a stunning confession to Terry, in which he recounts his darkest moment (his decision to murder David) after recreating the hooker-and-blow scene from the first season, a case of art imitating life. (Or vice versa.) Are we seeing the return of darkness in Arthur Frobisher? Has he ever actually been redeemed or has it been a smoke and mirrors act to convince himself that he's not pure, unadulterated evil?

Boots. I wondered why Leonard Winstone was so keen to throw out Louis Tobin's boots from Danielle Marchetti's house. The claim was to prevent anyone from learning about the affair between Louis and Danielle but that's the furthest thing from the truth. Instead, the monogrammed boots had been worked on by Zedeck and represented a link between the Tobins and Zedeck, something that had to be eliminated and covered up.

We learned this week that Louis and Tessa were both at Danielle's place on Thanksgiving Day and that Zedeck stopped by to return the boots that his cobbler had repaired. While Leonard believed getting rid of the boots was a smart move, the link between Zedeck and the Tobins, and therefore the charity and the Tobins, has yet to be discovered. Hmmm...

Tessa. Likewise, we learned that Louis Tobin, surprised by how quickly the government was moving, confessed his crimes to Danielle and turned to Tessa for help. Believing that he could trust her--given that she was family--he used her as the courier to move the funds down into the Bank of Antigua but didn't give her all of the facts, making her think that she was signing one of her forms for a charitable organization. An organization that was, in fact, acting as a shield for the fraud itself.

Patty wisely assigned Malcolm to protect Tessa and her down to Antigua, where she would smuggle out the third form and deliver it to Patty and Tom, who would then know the identity of the charity that the Tobins were using to conceal their fortune. But it was not to be. Given that the Tobins already had Emmanuel in their pocket, he was only too willing to alert them to the fact that Tessa had shown up in Antigua... and Joe and Marilyn were only too willing to sacrifice Tessa to keep their secret safe.

And that's where things really got tricky. Those of you who guessed that Tessa was actually Joe's daughter, give yourself a pat on the back. It turns out that everyone has been lying to Joe for decades, concealing the fact that he had a daughter with Danielle Marchetti... and once he learned about Tessa's existence, her parentage was still concealed from him. When he gives the order to have Tessa killed, I was shocked because it seemed to point at the fact that Joe was a soulless bastard willing to murder his own child. But it's not Joe who's pulling the strings here: it's Marilyn, who is whispering lies into her son's ears. She never tells him of Tessa's true identity, instead making him believe that he is having his illegitimate sister executed in order to keep his "real" family safe.

Not so. Joe has just ordered the murder of his own daughter, a brutal act that sends a bullet through her face and ends her life down in Antigua. Will he ever learn the truth about Tessa? And is this the act that finally sends Leonard over the edge and into an alliance with Tom?

What did you think of these week's episode? Surprised by the reveal about Tessa? Freaked out that Marilyn would appear to be absolutely evil through and through? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on Damages ("You Were His Little Monkey"), Patty is under pressure to make progress in the Tobin case; Ellen uncovers new evidence about Louis Tobin's death; Tom makes a fateful alliance after his marriage and career falls apart.


Hannah said…
Poor Tessa. I did feel bad for her as she was basically just a pawn and had no idea about the mess she was in. And, even if Joe didn't know that she was his daughter, it's still unforgivable that he had her killed. He's now become worse than his own father.
Ashley said…
I know this won't happen, but I'd love if Terry is using the Frobisher story as a way to get close to Arthur and get him to admit that he had David killed. It could explain why the actors are so ridiculously ludicrous (seriously, the guy playing Fisk was hilariously bad) and why Terry's hero-worship is so blatant. I don't know who would be behind it (maybe Patty, maybe Ellen, maybe the DA's office, maybe Wes from S2, wouldn't that be amazing) but it's a tremendous long con. His questions when they were in the car during the hookers-and-blow scene kept getting more and more pointed, asking for more and more specific instances of his "dark side." Else, Terry's just REALLY method.

Otherwise, wow, this episode was killer. I'm definitely liking this season a lot more than S2. And I definitely felt like Patty was projecting what she feels everyone else believes about her onto Ellen during the drunk scene in her apartment. I so loved seeing David again, too.
miss egg said…
oh WoW, best episode ever is all that i ca say!
Barbara said…
I feel a little smug today, becaue I did believe that Tessa was Joe's daughter. But that only carries so far---I felt totally surprised--and a little sad---at her death. I do think that Joe will find out that he ordered his daughter's death...and that should be it for him, sanity-wise.
I was taken aback at Lily Tomlin's reveal. She's been played as a little dotty, a little in the dark, not so much an agent of the Dark herself. But imagine the level of self-interest required to connive towards your granddaughter's death!

I also have to say, Jace, that while I completely admire your analysis, week to week, I did not buy in to the possibility of Ellen being anything other than a Parsons. I think it's not likely that the mother tried to farm out Carrie as well---and perhaps the brutality that she witnessed is what Ellen's mother referred to when she claimed that Carrie "never had a chance."
Anonymous said…
Sh*t just got real machiavellian -for a lack of a better word - this was an amazing episode. Mama Tobin's reveal was both shocking and amazing at the same time, she really wants that money huh!
The best moment hands down though was seeing David and Ellen in a scene together again, it was very sad stuff seeing Ellen dream about David, what might have been had he survived..
This was an overall killer ep (pun intended), filled with some great, classic Damages moments, now I just pray and hope it get's renewed for a 4th season. Please God? Like seriously.. RENEW IT OR IMA KILL SOME FX PEEPS. :)
JanieJones said…
I thought it was an excellent episode.
This season has turned into a Shakespeare play.

I was not surprised to learn that Tessa was Joe's daughter. I had privately speculated as I watch the story unfold over the season.
Marilyn Tobin-a very evil and manipulative person. Tomlin was amazing on Monday night.

I was touched during the Ellen/David scene. David points to a very important piece of Ellen's life now.

There was a significant amount of ground covered in this episode.
*I was also rooting for Gates to fail because he does not know how to play the game.

I have a multitude of questions and speculations.

I hope the DT deal is worked out for Damages. I know it's an expensive show and the budget demands are a strain. It would be a bloody shame if the show was canceled.
miss egg said…
about -> "Frobisher. While still completely separate from the overarching storyline". The Frobisher line is not separate in my opinion. it's kind of a reflection character on the Tobins. While Forbisher was struggling to order a murder to his benefit, the Tobins are not so much. Forbisher scene in the car with Terry, asking him how far would you go to protect your money etc. went side by side with the actual happening (murders) in this episode. like, Forbisher is asking the question/ telling his story and the Tobins are answering. thought it was a very strong and clear moment of the Forbisher story line. don't you think?
Jace Lacob said…
Miss Egg,

Well, yes, definitely it offers a thematic link to the Tobin case and Patty as well but so far the Frobisher plot isn't *narratively linked in terms of plot* to the overarching plot.
clin said…
Haha, I'm also feeling a bit smug because I believed that Tessa was Joe's daughter... (I posted that theory on my Feb 25 comment on

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