Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Damages”

Dear Frank,

There are people who watch a lot of TV in this world, and there are people who don’t — I’m clearly one of the former, but my level of engagement varies from show to show. There’s stuff like Doctor Who, around which I miiiiiiight go so far as to structure my social life (shuddup I do a podcast wait I’m not sure that makes it any better). And then there are shows I watch far more casually — yet do consume, do retain somewhere in the great dusty bankrupt Blockbuster Video that is my brain.

Damages is a perfect example of this — a show I have watched regularly since it premiered in 2007, and yet a show that has never had a firm grasp upon my imagination. I mean, I would recommend it to people, but I would recommend it as follows: “Do you like trashy John Grisham legal thrillers? Because if you do, you should watch Damages.”

But while Damages never pushed itself beyond the trashy legal thriller genre, the FX series (that later found new life on DirecTV) brought a new level of class to the trashy legal thriller genre, thanks entirely to its outstanding casting. Seriously, Frank, here are some actors who have appeared on Damages:

Glenn Close
Rose Byrne
Ted Danson
Željko Ivanek
William Hurt
Timothy Olyphant
Marcia Gay Harden
Martin Short
Lily Tomlin
Campbell Scott
John Goodman
Dylan Baker

That’s a lot of Oscar and Emmy winners? That’s a lot of Oscars and Emmys! And while Rose Byrne doesn’t have an Oscar or Emmy yet, as mentioned before she is THE BEST. So on that level alone, Damages is worth exploring.

Using a flashback/flashforward storytelling structure that’s occasionally prone to aggravating fake-outs, every season focuses on a new case — a case brought to court by the bad-ass Patty Hewes (the scenery-ravenous Glenn Close).

Patty’s a tough-as-balls lawyer who mostly spends her time suing major corporations (AKA “bullies”) on behalf of the little guy; that might make her sound like a good person! But she is not a good person! Each year, multiple people die due to her actions, directly and indirectly, because Patty does NOT like to lose cases. She prefers to win them, not matter what the cost.

And one of those costs is Ellen Parsons (ROSE BYRNE IS THE BEST!), who begins the series as an ingenue law school graduate who quickly is sucked into Patty’s web/law firm as a first-year associate. Over the course of the series, however, Ellen grows jaded and increasingly ruthless, especially when it comes to any opportunity to take Patty down. Damages‘s title is drawn from the term for money awarded at the end of a lawsuit — but really, it’s about the damage done to Ellen’s life, body and soul as she strives to live up to Patty’s, um, example.

Frank, this show is the Bechdel queen of television shows — its interest in intra-lady drama is unlike anything humankind has seen before. Ellen and Patty’s relationship starts off as mentee/mentor, but before too long it becomes a subtle war that probably delights no shortage of shippers (I’ve declined to delve into the world of Damages fanfic, but Rule 34 applies) and makes for some great zingers and tense standoffs in conference rooms. (Who doesn’t love a tense conference room standoff?)

The one thing about Damages, however, is that since getting dropped by FX and resurrected by DirecTV, the series kinda sorta took a turn for the worse — remember all those Oscar winners I listed before? Those were all in earlier seasons. In Season 5, the final season, the best Damages can do is Jenna Elfman and Ryan Phillippe. I mean, there are some other people involved who are rad, like Janet McTeer and Judd Hirsch, but there’s no denying that it’s a step down.

Ryan Phillippe, by the way, plays a Julian Assange-esque hacker who’s being sued over some leaked data that shouldn’t have been leaked. But the case he actually ends up losing is the Case of the Magically Disappearing Terrible Scottish Accent.

As the casting is basically what’s always gotten me through Damages, I basically couldn’t get through the last two episodes of Season 5 — I looked up the end of the show online, and discovered that it was just as silly and fake-out-y as I might have hoped, but did contain a nice coda for the series, and Ellen specifically as a character.

I’m not going to tell you what it is, Frank, because if Damages sounds like your jam, you should check it out. Oh, especially for the character names! The thing Damages did best was character names, which require a special talent: You want names that are unique, but still believable as real names that human parents would assign to their children. Every character name on Damages fits that bill. Some examples:

Arthur Frobisher
Ray Fiske
Wes Krulik
Claire Maddox
Hollis Nye
Channing McClaren
Gitta Novak
Felicia Marquand
Gregory Malina
Marilyn Tobin
Wayne Sutry
Finn Garrity
Bill Herndon
Stuart Zedeck
Helmut Torben
Rutger Simon

Okay, maybe Rutger Simon is a stretch. But an unforgettable one, right? Frank, as people with, ahem, common names, I think you and I can agree that a unique name is a gift. One unfairly wasted on the fictional.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on October 23, 2012, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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