It’s been about 14 1/2 months since we saw Ellen Parsons go to the FBI to try to take down Patty Hewes. And it’ll be a while yet before season two of Damages lets us know how that turns out. But after Wednesday’s premiere, we know that someone isn’t going to be too well off by season’s end.
These spoilers were hand-delivered, no return address.
Damages is sticking with the time-hopping storytelling style that became its signature in the first season, so we open with Ellen with a drink in her hand, calmly imploring someone off camera to tell the truth. And in case words aren’t persuasive enough, she has a gun too. And we’re off …
… To six months before that, with Patty making an appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly to talk about the Frobisher case and the foundation she’s starting to fight hunger in New York. (And if Regis and Kelly felt like an especially odd and incongruous expository device to you, you weren’t alone.)
Ellen, standing offstage, can barely stand to hear it and complains to her FBI handlers (played by co-creator Glenn Kessler and Mario Van Peebles, who’s directed several episodes of the show) about how a month ago, Patty tried to have her killed, and now she’s acting like they’re bestest buddies. She wants Patty taken down — like, now — but the G-men urge her to be patient. They’ve got a way to get Patty: a set-up legal case that, we’re assured, will be the key to locking her up.
The bureau might want to think about fast-tracking things, though, because their informant/star witness has a fairly tenuous grasp on her emotions. She’s having shotgun-based revenge fantasies involving Arthur Frobisher, getting updates from Uncle Pete on Frobisher’s top-secret whereabouts, storming out of group therapy and itching to get at Patty for trying to have her killed. Hard to blame her for any of that, I guess, but it’s not conducive to building a strong case against Patty (for what, exactly, we don’t know yet; the FBI’s reasons for targeting Patty were vague in the season one finale and remain that way this week).
Patty, meanwhile, is clearly trying to assuage her guilt over Ray Fiske’s suicide with the foundation (her motives are made all the more clear when Fiske shows up in her office to chide her about it), but she’s having some problems. New character Sam Arsenault, the money man she was counting on to fund the project, wants to run for governor and doesn’t want to alienate his Republican backers by teaming up with such a prominent trial lawyer. But you know Patty’s going to find a way, don’t you? (More on that in the bullet points.)
Into the middle of all this walks Daniel Purcell (new cast member William Hurt, doing the bottled-up thing he does so well to good effect here). We know he has a past with Patty, one that apparently didn’t end well, and that the big corporation he works for has either buried or distorted the results of some kind of chemical analysis he’s done. After a break-in at his house, he sends his notes to Patty, telling her she’s the only person he can trust.
Patty initially refuses, and he later apologizes for confronting her and says he thinks he can handle things himself. Or not: Near the end of the episode, Patty gets a call and ends up at Daniel’s house, where he’s been injured and his wife lies dead on the floor. "Now will you help me?" he asks.
Just prior to that, Ellen wires up to record a conversation where Patty promises to tell her some things about the Frobisher case. Why she’s so excited, I’m not sure; she may be feeling guilty, but Patty Hewes isn’t the type to just say, "Oh yeah, sorry about trying to have you killed there." Instead, she lies that the attacker in Patty’s apartment was looking for Patty — but we do learn that the grave she visited last season was that of the stillborn daughter she had 30-some years ago. So there’s that. Patty oversells it a little, though, earning a little more of Ellen’s contempt by saying that if her daughter had lived, she would have wanted her to turn out like Ellen.
Which brings us back to the present-day frame, with Ellen telling her off-screen companion that it’s a shame he or she doesn’t feel like telling the truth. Because Ellen lied too: Bang bang goes the gun, and we’ll see you next week.
Other observations and questions from the season premiere:
– The other new cast member we meet in the premiere is Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood fame) as one of Ellen’s fellow therapy patients. He’s having some similar issues dealing with the death of his girlfriend at the hand of a drunk driver, and offers up the number of a guy who can help Ellen get a gun.
It’s probably save to assume the gun Ellen has in the framing scenes came from that guy, but other than that it’s not clear how Olyphant will fit into the larger narrative. Will he be Ellen’s revenge enabler, is he watching her for someone else (he seemed to know where to find her in a couple of cases)? I have nothing to back this up, but a little part of the back of my mind wonders whether he might be Ellen’s conversation partner in the framing scenes. Nothing more than pure conjecture on my part at the moment.
– As referenced above, Arthur Frobisher is alive, although he’s not in very good shape. He’s still recovering from the gut shot he took at the end of last season, and wavers between self-pity and calculation — when he thinks his wife is coming to visit, he asks his nurse to make him look even worse than he is, I guess to inspire sympathy from her. Of course, it’s not his wife, but Ellen, who comes into the room and just kind of stares at the sedated ex-tycoon for awhile, her stomach apparently not up to the revenge task quite yet.
– The season’s first Don’t Mess With Patty moment comes when she’s trying to cajole Sam Arsenault and his money back to her foundation. We briefly meet his daughter, who’s a classmate of Patty’s son Michael, and learn shortly thereafter that she gets popped for cocaine possession, thereby tanking her dad’s campaign before it even starts. Patty makes a big show about talking to the DA about getting the charges dropped, but the mess is already made.
Though it’s never stated, the show strongly implies that Patty set up Sam’s daughter. In an offhand conversation with Michael at the gala launching the foundation, Michael says, "I told you she was a cokehead." "Yes, you did," Patty replies, smirking ever so slightly. And to top it off, Arsenault ups his contribution, and Patty takes first position in the name of the foundation. Ouch.
– The case Ellen feeds to Patty at the FBI’s behest concerns infant mortality, and Hewes and Associates will be taking on the insurance industry in their class action. That’s all we know about it now — and it’s not clear whether this is a real case with some elements the FBI hopes to use to nail Patty or a wholesale fabrication.
– Finally: This has nothing to do with the show, but I noticed something odd in the opening credits. Usually, when a prominent actor is not the lead in a show or is an equal player in an ensemble, his or her name will appear at the end of the credits with an "and" attached to it (a la Martin Sheen in The West Wing). Damages has three "ands" this season — Olyphant, Ted Danson and Hurt — as well as a "with" in Marcia Gay Harden, who makes her first appearance next week. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.
What did you think of the Damages premiere? Who’s Ellen talking to, and how do you think the William Hurt storyline will tie in with the rest of the goings-on?