Damages has spent four seasons dazzling us with creative plot twists and tense, dramatic performances from some very talented actors. If you’re looking for legal drama worlds apart from the tired formula of Law and Order, then you’re missing out if you’re not watching the fifth and final season, which seems to be rocketing toward an explosive climax.
The central element of Damages has always been the dynamic relationship between its two lead characters: ruthless, manipulative attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her idealistic but morally conflicted ex-protegee, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). In seasons one and two, they were backstabbing frenemies. For seasons three and four, they were tentative allies. Now, all pretenses are gone and all bets are off. After the events at the end of season four, Patty and Ellen are full-blown nemeses and they’re representing opposing sides for the first time.
Ellen’s new client (and Patty’s opponent) is Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe), the young owner of a scandalous WikiLeaks-style website linked to the death of a whistleblower (played by Jenna Elfman). This follows the trend of previous seasons, which have managed to tie in analogues of current events such as the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and the controversial Blackwater military company.
We’re at the season’s midpoint, and so far we’ve seen plenty of the show’s trademark flourishes: duplicitous dialogue, trippy dream sequences, and foreboding flash-forwards. As always, the writing and performances are tense and engaging. That first dream sequence where Patty screams at her granddaughter still gives me chills!
Not everything about the new season is perfect, however. Computer hackers play a large role in the plot, and a number of scenes are less representative of how the actual Internet works and more reminiscent of movies like Hackers and The Net. Suspension of disbelief has rarely been a huge problem for Damages in the past (how many of us really understand the intricacies of the legal system anyway?), but it seems like this season wasn’t written with much respect for the tech-savviness of its audience.
Byrne’s acting also feels a little shaky, particularly in the scenes where she tries to beat Patty at her own game of guarded, witty taunting. Close’s subtle, grinning performance paints Patty as a sly mother wolf, but when the two trade barbs, Ellen comes across a bit like a petulant child.
Then again, parents and parenthood itself seems to be a recurring motif. Patty’s dreams draw a tenuous connection between her granddaughter and her former motherly relationship with Ellen. Both Patty and Ellen are embroiled in tense situations with their own parents. Patty’s client is driven by the demise of her beloved mother. Even Channing McClaren has a complicated relationship with his autistic son.
It’s an interesting theme that’s likely to play a big role when the season (and the series) comes to a conclusion. The show’s iconic flash-forwards are rarely entirely what they seem, so it’s probably unlikely that Ellen will meet an untimely end. But whatever Damages’ final destination is, I know I’m thankful for the ride.
Damages airs Wednesdays at 9 PM EST on the Audience Network.