Damages – You Want To End This Once And For All?
You know I really do and it pains me to say it but I really do just want this all to be over with; whereas the week’s other beginning of an end, Breaking Bad has me ready to hold on for all I have. Damages premiered at the perfect time for me: I was just old enough to be able to appreciate its complex and stylized strain of drama and new enough to be excited by it. In fact I also think that it’s fair to say that it was new enough to be exciting; at the time there weren’t show like Breaking Bad out there, nor was the high-class casting a blasé expectation. I loved that first season and in my memory it is still one of my all time favorites, lately though the show has instead become one of my biggest struggles.
A lot has changed since then though, both with the show itself and the TV landscape that it finds itself within. Nowadays cable dramas are a dime a dozen, the expected more than the exception, and so those old tricks that once shocked now simply seem a little stale. Complex? Dark? Non-linear? So what? Strangely though it is the show itself that seems to have changed the most: moving from the first season to the second the show shoved aside its taut and stripped down drama in favor of something bigger but more bloated. Then the third came along and toned the show down, lowering the stakes from bloody slaughter to family dysfunction. The fourth? Though I’ve written so much about it I have to say that it is a strong case of ” the less said, the better”. Step by step the show has been steadily moving away from what I originally loved about it, getting weaker with each passing week; that is, until now.
For some reason it was widely reported a few years back that DirecTV had picked up Damages for its Audience Network and would pay for two new, final seasons to be produced. It was said in a way that suggested the two seasons would be linked like Breaking Bad‘s will be, this though is incorrect. See, if it is linked to anything this singular final season is bound all the way back to the first. The ominous dinging of a bell is the first clue, calling back to Ellen’s infamous escape from the Elevator, but it’s not the only one: there is a prominent wedding which Ellen attends early on, several scenes of her staring at the gory business card gifted to her during the original premiere, a reconstruction of the murder that set the show in motion and then in the third act a number of lengthy flashbacks to the climactic events that followed during the first finale.
Plot parallels are all well and good but even in a show with narrative as its nexus this isn’t everything; the real question then is whether or not it feels anything like the first season. Frankly it doesn’t yet, there is a flatness to the show since it moved that is sadly due mainly to a lack of money. Damages was once a literally rich and lavish show, people actually complained about the presumed cost of renting all those New York apartments, but last year they shot Afghanistan in a shed somewhere using props that looked like playthings. Looking expensive is not a positive – I often argue this against blockbusters – but looking cheap is a flaw. Though there’s also more, I’m not sure why but the scripts too seem so much shallower than they used to and the cases so much less compelling.
There is another murder, another big business brimming with corruption, another family caught in the crossfire and another headline at their core, this time though its not one ripped from the pages of a paper because the premise is entirely digital: WikiLeaks. There is a way in which this could be a brilliant season long case but at the moment i can’t really care about any of it. Thankfully then there are still two leads able to keep my interest and it is their scenes and storyline that saves this season premiere, setting it up to be something of a spiritual Sophomore effort, a true successor to that stellar original. In fact were it not for a few minor continuations of plot here and there I would be quite willing to say that people maybe should simply watch this as the second season ( assuming that it ends up being any good).
Not only are their scenes the snows best but they raise up those around them: Patty going against an almost- WikiLeaks then makes good thematic sense, she has secrets and is fighting to keep them while Ellen is threatening to air all she knows out in the open; then there is the suggestion inherent in the placing of a certain flashback right before a certain brutal twist. Mostly though it is simply the way in which they watch one another that intrigues. Patty and Ellen have been on-again, off-again rivals since the epilogue scene they shared at the end of the first finale but their battles thus far have been mainly in the background, a simple testing of swords; now though the show has set them up for a duel, a final battle between master and student, viper and victim and if done right this could be the perfect climax for the show to go out on. Then again it could also be another bust, but this time I’ve got some semblance of hope.