When Damages returns Wednesday (at 10 on DirecTV) for its fourth season, Patty Hewes will be alone and seeing a shrink, while Ellen Parsons takes aim at her first big case against a powerful private military contractor.
Turns out three long years have passed and much has changed since that day on the dock in the third season finale when Ellen asked Patty: "Was it all worth it?" Series executive producers Glenn and Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman say it's a question that will continue to be answered by both women throughout the season. They talk to TVGuide.com about the changes in Patty, why Ellen keeps coming back for more, the show's move from FX to DirecTV and their early plans for Season 5.
Ellen (Rose Byrne) and Patty (Glenn Close) actually circle back to that question that went unanswered in the finale. Why was it important for Patty to bring that up three years after Ellen asked it?
Glenn Kessler: The reality is the show was canceled, so we were willing to let that question hang at the end of the third season. We thought it was interesting for an audience to draw their own conclusions. But the center of the whole series has always been: What is the price of success? Patty keeps Ellen around because Ellen is a version of someone she might have been, a person who can navigate the professional world and potentially make it through whole, or not... Is it possible to achieve greatness and make it through intact? Our feeling is Patty has not been able to do that.
Patty does begin this season in a different place: She's all alone and raising a child. She's not toothless, but somehow, there's less bite. What has happened to her in the last three years?
Kessler: Since the passing of her partner Tom (Tate Donovan) at the end of the third season, years have passed. Patty is still at the height of her powers as an attorney but she is practicing law without people she feels close to. She's estranged from everyone who is important to her. Her son says in the second season, "Everyone leaves you or they die," and that has been the fate of many important people to her... Coming back for a fourth season, the price of success remains the central issue. For Patty to sit down with Ellen and feel like she wants to put a finer point on the answer to that question from the finale is really the point of this season for us. And Ellen actually says this year that she wants a case that will put her on the map. She wants to go out on her own. That's what this season is about: Is Ellen built for that?
In fact, Ellen manipulates Patty in a pretty significant way in the second episode.
Kessler: That is the trajectory. Ellen announces her ambition, and then we explore what the cost is as she takes on her first big case alone. Will she come up against her own limits or will she break through them? Will she operate like Patty or will there be walls that she hits where she realizes who she is?
Has Ellen really forgiven Patty for trying to murder her? Is "forgive" the right word? Why does she keep going back?
Daniel Zelman: We don't see her as having forgiven Patty. I think there is an element of keeping your enemies close, and also, Ellen feels like Patty owes her something. Ellen believes that staying close to Patty is something ultimately she can use to her own end, for her own ambition. Ellen knows Patty's worst secret, so there's something in Ellen that feels like — and perhaps this is misguided, and the fifth season will be a lot about this — she has something over Patty. It makes Ellen feel powerful and important and it's not something ultimately she wants to let go of, even though psychologically it would be much healthier and better for her.
This year, Ellen goes after a private military contractor not unlike Blackwater. What led you there?
Kessler: What we did is what we do every year: Between seasons we regroup, we look at the world around us, we research, watch a lot of documentaries, read... The first season was inspired by Enron and WorldCom, and then there was some environmental stuff going on in the second season, and the Bernie Madoff case was the third. So, in the time off between the third and fourth season, the country is still at war, and we've been at war for over a decade now. We felt like that would be an interesting place to start. Obviously, it's a complicated war going on in Afghanistan and it's now one of the longest wars if not the longest war in American history. We've done a lot of white-collar crimes, we had done accounting fraud, a Ponzi scheme, price-fixing in Wall Street so this year we wanted to do something different and in a world that we hadn't explored with characters that we hadn't seen. John Goodman's character was a soldier who becomes the CEO of this private military contracting firm, and he's the kind of person you haven't seen before on this show.
The last thing we saw Patty's son Michael (Zachary Booth) do is drive his car into Patty's, and when we return, she's taking care of his child. Will he be part of Patty's life this season?
Kessler: Because Michael is part of the fabric of her life and world, she'll never get away from him. It starts with her having to raise her granddaughter, his child, and it will take us through the season. She's not very good at it. She said very early on in this show that she's not a good mother and she's spent three seasons proving it.
Is there any chance we will see Tom again? In the same way we saw Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) maybe?
Kessler: Death doesn't necessarily stop you from appearing on the show. So, it's a possibility.
Patty starts seeing a psychologist (played by Fisher Stevens) — is that to make up for the lack of people in her life?
Kessler: There are other new people who come into play, as well as some new characters from her past who become resources in her work and in the personal life. As resistant as she is, she is forced to attend these therapy sessions, so that will continue throughout the season. There is also a character played by Judd Hirsch, who is a former colleague of Patty's from very early on in her professional career who comes around and they strike up a relationship after many years. He's someone she knows and trusts.
When the move to DirecTV became final, did that inform how you went about writing Season 4? You hinted that Patty develops a sailor's mouth?
Zelman: No, if you read that, they got that wrong... We've been telling everyone it's an interesting challenge for us going on DirecTV when it comes to Patty and Ellen because although there are no limits on language, people have been with these characters for three seasons now. For us, it doesn't make sense for them to start using words they've never used before. We feel that would be jarring. The new characters, however... This year we're in the world of the military, and so there's a lot of testosterone on that side of the equation. They can throw their curse words around at will.
Anything else in terms of taking advantage of being on DirecTV and the creative freedom that comes with it?
Zelman: Well, it all comes from the story itself. We were definitely excited. It's always exciting to have fewer limitations, but we never thought that we'd gratuitously take advantage of it. The arena that we chose to explore this year with private military contractors was something that came more out of our own interests, looking out in the world and seeing what was going on. Once we realized that was the arena we were going in we were very pleased to be able to do it on a network that has no limitations, or very very few of them, for violence and language. But that came from the story first.
Even given the low ratings, were you surprised that FX didn't pick up another season of the show, which is critically acclaimed and won Emmys, a Golden Globe...
Zelman: We knew where it was heading. We were prepared. Obviously, it's always sad when it's something you spent so much time on. At the same time, we really had made our peace with it. We firmly believe that if FX could have found a way, with their business model, to keep it going, they would have. We were also fortunate to know that Sony was going to work really hard to find a place for it in the event FX couldn't pick it up... There wasn't a long period of time where we thought the show was dead because we always knew it was being fought for.
Damages premieres Wednesday at 10 on DirecTV.