Rose Byrne

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 5 premiere of Damages. Read at your own risk.]

Damages has never been afraid of kicking off its seasons with provocative images, but the flash-forward featured in the legal drama's fifth and final season premiere might just take the cake.

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The premiere saw Ellen (Rose Byrne) agree to represent Internet mogul Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe), whose Wikileaks-like website came under fire when the identity of Naomi Walling (Jenna Elfman), one of the site's whistle-blowing sources, became public. After Naomi was killed (though she's believed to have taken her own life), Patty (Glenn Close) filed suit against McClaren on behalf of Naomi's daughter, setting up a final showdown between Ellen and Patty.

And we really mean final. As the episode wound down, the action cut to a future moment that features Ellen lying lifelessly wide-eyed in a pool of blood, seemingly the victim of a fall from a multi-story building. "We've always made bold decisions, and that was a hallmark of the show," executive producer Daniel Zelman tells TVGuide.com. "It wouldn't be in keeping with the show to not have a bold stroke at the beginning that the audience can follow throughout the season."

But is Ellen really dead? Unlike in Season 3, when the show's creative team killed of Tate Donovan's Tom Shayes, nobody is saying for sure. But executive producer Glenn Kessler does rule out any major trickery. "What you're seeing is real. There's not a dream sequence or a trick to it," he says. "[But] certainly there's a context around all of it. And part of the fun of the show is learning more and more about the context as the season moves on so that the images do take on other meanings."

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Zelman says the stirring images are closely tied with the central question the series has always asked: What is the cost of success? "The show has a whole heightened element, but it also all exists on a metaphorical level," Zelman says. "When one gives up their entire personal life for success, they're not literally being killed, but at the same time some very essential aspect of their life is being snuffed out in favor of something else."

Adds Kessler: "One of the casualties of [Ellen's] professional success is her personal life. We saw her fiancé die in the pilot, and she has not been able to maintain a successful relationship [since]. What we're interested in exploring as we finish out the series is: Will she be able to move to the end of the series with a healthy relationship or will her professional ambitions destroy any chance of that? We're excited about that story because it takes us to some unexpected places."

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Whether or not the meaning behind those images changes throughout the season, executive producer Todd A. Kessler says he and his co-creators are telling the story they wanted to tell. "In keeping with the nature of the show, it may be a surprising or shocking ending, and it may be not at all what the audience would have seen coming when they started the show four of five seasons ago," he says. "We really feel like we were able to build to a climax and it's the one we were always hoping for.  We feel like we take Patty and Ellen to the most extreme places possible, and that image is indicative of that."

Do you think Ellen is really dead?