'Damages': Family ties (sha-la-la-la)

Williamhurt_damages_s2_240  Damages tweaked its usual framing-flashback structure tonight in favor of a (slightly) more linear structure that used its peeks into the past to illuminate relationships rather than create mystery. The result, even though it featured a couple of pretty creaky plot devices, was one of the show's more enjoyable episodes to date.

I will not pawn these spoilers, no matter what.

We open right where we left off last week, with Daniel and Claire Maddox sitting in his car and talking conspiratorially. I still have a problem with the introduction of this scene last week, but after seeing the opening, it's more of a structural issue than a story issue. From their conversation, it seems pretty clear that they're more than just business associates. He also says he's withholding some information about Ultima Natural Resources and his toxicology reports from her, "for your protection."

That's about all we get out of that scene, but it does serve to set up an episode that's all about Daniel's distrust of pretty much everyone around him and Patty in particular. Patty being Patty, of course, that doesn't mean she doesn't get what she wants in the end.

Patty is now hot for the UNR case -- it being pretty much all you'd want in an evil, environment-destroying corporation -- and, you know, maybe defending Daniel in his wife's murder along with it. The latter comes up first, as Detective Huntley takes another run at Daniel and is not really buying much of his story.

Daniel does notice, however, that his wife's ruby ring is missing from her hand and fumes that Huntley doesn't put much stock in that particular detail. Nor should he, I guess, given Daniel's generally sketchy behavior and the fact that, moments later, the detective produces sealed court documents that Christina filed an assault complaint and took out a restraining order against him three years earlier.

That scene, and a couple of others later on, perfectly illustrate why the show cast William Hurt as Daniel. Hurt is an expert at playing smart, tightly wound characters who can't quite hide their contempt for others, which describes Daniel to a T. He had several great scenes, including a couple with Glenn Close, this week, and it was just fun to watch them spar.

Ellen, meanwhile, is increasingly agitated at the disintegration of the FBI's fake case and goes digging around to find out why Patty's so interested in Daniel. She discovers that she used him as an expert witness in an asbestos case 17 years ago, and 10 years ago they were on opposite sides of a case involving another chemical company, IBC Global, and she basically btrwrthd him during his deposition.

As it turns out (creaky plot device No. 1), none other than Hollis Nye -- the attorney who introduced Ellen to the FBI last season -- was Patty's opposing counsel in that case, and he tells Ellen that the case was Patty's first after setting up her own firm, so losing "was not an option." And by the way, he never understood why Daniel caved so badly.

We see a couple of flashbacks to that deposition, and Patty is indeed wiping the floor with Daniel. Or rather, Daniel is letting her wipe the floor with him -- he's tanking the deposition on purpose, letting Patty win because he knows IBC (presumably not the folks who make the tasty root beer) is doing bad things.

Glennclose_damages_s2_240 So why are they so antagonistic now? We soon learn -- get ready for a not-especially-jaw-dropping spoiler here -- Michael, Patty's son, is also Daniel's son, and he was born roughly nine months after their first case together. She chooses to reveal this fact to him after the IBC case, and he rightly calls her out on the timing of it. Why, he asks, would you wait until this moment, after I threw my testimony, to tell me? Because she's trying to reward him without creating a money trail, is why. It's a dirty emotional play, and Daniel's anger is totally justified.

Back in the present, Ellen has figured this out too, thanks to Michael (even creakier plot device No. 2) giving her his college application essay to read and her noticing his birth date. Patty laughs her off, knowing that she can't prove anything, but she takes what she knows to the FBI, which is still cool to the idea, and which will presumably lead her further off the deep end in future episodes. So there's that.

Meanwhile (creaky, but not as creaky as the last one, plot device No. 3) has gone and gotten himself arrested trying to leave the country after a suggestion from Claire. Really? You know you're the prime suspect in your wife's murder and you just pack up? Not good, dude. One could argue that Claire was trying to set him up -- and perhaps she was. But so was Patty, who had her big bald legman Malcolm tail Daniel and tip off the cops to his flight.

Why? "People tend to talk when they're behind bars," Patty tells Tom, and in fact, Daniel agrees to give up what he knows. He does, however, insist that he's telling the truth about the ring.

Which brings us to the last scene, in a pawn shop, where a stringy-haired blond guy -- who's not Michael, the only other blond guy we've previously met -- leaves the ring. His body language and walk suggest junkie, which suggests a totally random crime that has nothing to do with the UNR case. Which bugs me a little, but not enough to bring down my enjoyment of all the good acting in the episode.

More thoughts from this week:

- Daniel's not alone in his crusade against UNR. We also meet Josh Reston (played by Matthew Davis, who has apparently stopped trying to figure out What About Brian), a reporter who's lurking around a UNR facility in West Virginia, talking to the locals about their dead livestock and breaking into company property to get a sample of contaminated water. He gets the crap kicked out of him for his trouble, but the goons take only his camera and tape recorder, not the water sample. Expect him to become a bigger part of the story as things play out.

- We're also introduced to Ultima CEO Walter Kendrick -- and seeing as how he's the Deputy Ops, Patty, Daniel and Co. are going to have to be on their game. I am curious to see how the dynamic between Claire, Wayne and Kendrick plays out. At the moment it seems like Claire is trying to play both sides because of her involvement with Daniel, but Wayne and Kendrick are running their own game too.

- For the first time this season, we see David's sister Katie. It's kind of a nothing scene, but I'm guessing that her desire to have Ellen meet her new boyfriend will have some larger meaning down the road, if only because that's just the way Damages rolls.

- Nothing on "six months later" this week, which means we'll have to wait another week before we see Vengeful Ellen again. I'm OK with that.

How'd you like this week's Damages? Did the slightly different structure work for you? And how underhanded was Patty's "he's your son" move?

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