By: Aleks Chan
DAMAGES, FX’s performance showcase in the gloss of a legal thriller, opens season 2 on a very similar note: Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), the camera tight in her face, mutters interrogative nothings at an off-screen hostage. She says something to the effect of: “I just want the truth,” or rather something similar to that. I was distracted by the gun she brandishes from beneath the screen – jarred by the “Look! I have a gun!” face Byrne makes.
But that’s what DAMAGES is: one giant farce, contingent on us buying that the halls of Hewes and Associates (where Ellen works for the eponymous Patty Hewes, played with icy fierceness by Glenn Close) and the streets of New York City are simply dripping with tension so that we won’t notice how silly it all is. It’s complicated and twisty simply for the sake of it, ultimately empty in it’s strides.
Case in point: the plot is once again told in long-form flashbacks (though the constant cuts to the “present” have welcomely been sedated since last season), to six months earlier, when Ellen had just begun working as an informant for the FBI, who, like her, are trying to take Patty down for her scheming, cutthroat ways. (Ellen believes Patty was the mastermind in a plot to kill her.) “I want to destroy her!” Ellen exclaims, unconvinced.
Meanwhile, Patty, fresh off from gutting billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, back again in the show’s only worthy role) for screwing his employees, is off solving a mystery involving an ominous ruby ring and William Hurt’s scientist character, who has a history with Patty neither of them are willing to share. Though their relationship is played as if they were accomplices in some grand heist, their connection isn’t all that surprising given how obvious it is (though I won’t spoil it, because I’m not allowed). There’s big company suits having whispery meetings in penthouse-looking office buildings – apparently the chemical research he conducted for a Big Energy Company has been botched, and said company will doing anything to keep him quiet about his findings.
But everything in this massive machine pivots around a central gear: Patty Hewes, or by proxy, Glenn Close’s performance. Close admirably compensates for the meekness in both her character and story line with nuance: she can wink a smile to the camera on LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY, and turn right back around and shred someone into pieces in a single glance. That’s great and all, but DAMAGES tries to orchestrate an entire story around a character that the producers are unwilling to develop – they try to make up for that with a ostensibly taut John Grisham-style thriller that’s purposely made complicated to the point where it’s just dull.
Patty’s meant to be the most interesting thing about the show, when really she’s just the least-boring. Ellen, out for vengeance for her fiancé’s murder and traumatized by her attack, is attending group therapy sessions where she meets Wes (Timothy Olyphant), her brooding, has-a-deep-dark-secret new love interest. Olyphant, so commanding in DEADWOOD as Seth Bullock, is rendered a harmless puppy here, especially during his exchanges with Byrne, who’s trying so hard to make Ellen seemed hardened that she makes her even more flat. And that’s why DAMAGES flubs at being a thriller: there isn’t a single character worth attaching to. Were supposed to be piqued with twist and after overblown twist, but without any plausible emotional implications. So really, what’s the point?