September 14, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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After 5 seasons, 2 of them exclusively on DirecTV, DAMAGES and its saga of dueling attorneys Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) came to its close this week, mostly with a whimper.  There were no last minute shockeroos (Ellen wasn’t Patty’s long-lost daughter), just a final renunciation of Patty and all the implacable scheming she’d always stood for.

The final episode, written by series creators Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman, and directed by Zelman, was very much in keeping with the series.  As expected, the flashforwards that we’d been seeing all season of Ellen lying in a Manhattan alley, her eyes staring blankly upward, were a deliberate mislead:  she wasn’t dead, just temporarily passed out from a combination of stress and pregnancy.  (The father being Chris Messina’s Chris Sanchez, the troubled former soldier she’d been seeing for the past 2 seasons.) Killed instead was Patty’s slimy son Michael (Zachary Booth), who’d been trying to get custody of his daughter back from grandma Patty.  The hour was complete with time-leaps, nightmares, scenes that circled back to earlier episodes as the story’s pieces came together, and even a revisit to the iconic shots of Patty standing swathed on a dock, her sunglasses hiding her emotions.

The episode was formally structured as 3 chapters and an epilogue, the first two of which were mostly concerned with disposing of the tiresome Channing McClaren whistleblower case.  The weakest part of Damages has always been the case of the season, since the show cared little for courtroom battle, and the lawsuit was just an excuse for the regular quota of doublecrossing.  In some years, though, the protagonist of the case (Ted Danson, John Goodman) at least livened those scenes up.  This year, Ryan Phillippe wasn’t able to make the borderline-Asbergers, Julian Assuange-like McClaren anything other than obnoxious, and it was impossible to care whether he won or lost his case.  That storyline finally turned on McClaren’s henchman Rutger Simon (John Hannah), who it turned out had been nursing jealousy and resentment of McClaren all along, and had engineered the leak of Naomi Walling’s (Jenna Elfman) private information and ultimately her murder. All of this was pretty much a yawn.

In chapter 3, we were supposed to find it notable that Ellen got Rutger killed by, in a Patty-like move, letting evil investor Helmut Torben (William Sadler) know Rutger had changed sides, but this showcased another recurring problem with the show:  supposedly intelligent characters doing idiotic things.  Having watched Torben kill Naomi, exactly how did Rutger think he was going to survive betraying the man in open court?  And later in the episode, how could it not have occurred to Michael that telling a hitman he was the only person on earth who could identify him as the killer of Ellen’s fiance might not be a good long-term strategy?  When people this dumb get killed, they have no one to blame but themselves.

But of course, all these storylines and characters were just a sideshow to the central battle of Patty vs. Ellen, innocence vs. moral corruption, idealism vs. manipulation.  This was never a fair fight, as Patty was written to always be five steps ahead of young, fumbling Ellen (and Byrne was never convincingly able to hold her own with Close), until finally in the epilogue, when it was made clear that Patty had won all the battles but lost the war.  Patty sat all alone in her limo (Close impressively managed the gradual crumbling of Patty’s usually glacial visage), while Ellen had a husband, a seemingly happy daughter, and a life spent away from the law.  It’s fair, I think, to wonder at the retro nature of this moral reckoning–it was as though the show was equating Patty’s selfishness and evil with having a successful career, like one naturally followed the other–but it was satisfying, nonetheless, to see her finally pay some price for her sins.

In the end, Damages is most notable for its own small bit of collateral damage, as one of the first examples of a phenomenon we’re going to see more and more often in the evolution of the television business:  exclusive content used to promote one viewing platform over another.  Damages was never a highly-rated show, and FX was getting enough prestige from bigger hits like The Shield and Rescue Me to cancel it. but it was valuable enough for DirecTV (at a clearly reduced budget) to take it on and reap benefit from Close’s name and recurring Emmy nominations–even if the satellite service has never disclosed the size of the show’s audience.  It blazed a trail that Netflix and Hulu are already following, and Amazon reportedly will be too, a step in the continuing fractionalization of the TV landscape.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."