Rose Byrne in Damages by Barbara Nitke/FX
This Saturday, FX is running the entire first season (up to now) of its legal thriller
as an all-day marathon, which means theoretically there will be viewers who will get to experience this show the way it might work best: as a rock 'em, sock 'em miniseries, compounding all of the story's elaborate and sometimes preposterous shocks and twists into a roller-coaster ride that doesn't require waiting a week between chapters.
The ratings have been, even by cable standards, a disappointment, and as I write this, FX had yet to confirm a second-season renewal (although as I've said before, any network that would keep
going and fail to renew this gritty gem has some explaining to do). I've wondered if the show's elaborately serialized structure, with an entire season built around a single case and its murderous fallout, may have kept viewers away (shades of ABC's short-lived
The brutality and darkness of
vision could also be a factor. There was plenty of outcry early on when one of Patty Hewes' first manipulative acts resulted in the slaughter of a character's pet dog. For a moment, it looked like Glenn Close had been typecast in Cruella mode. But from the pilot onward, we knew things weren't going to end well for the show's not-as-naïve-as-she-looks hero: young lawyer Ellen (Rose Byrne), who as we met her was facing interrogation and possible incarceration over the bloody death of her doomed fiance David (Noah Bean).
As it played with time all season, teasing us with hints of what happened to Ellen and David on this violent day by walking us through the past six months of Ellen's turbulent time in Patty's employ,
has been part whodunit, part legal procedural (as Patty squares off against the corporate creep Arthur Frobisher, played magnificently by Ted Danson), with no hope for a happy ending regardless of how the various plot lines work out. FX shows are known for going to dark places, but maybe this was too much of a downer for the masses. Who can say? All I know is that it's been a mostly terrific ride.
Which brings me to Tuesday night's penultimate episode, which answered many, though I'm sure not all, of the questions that loomed all season long. (Do not read if you have not watched and intend to.)
So: The bad guys who killed David and attacked Ellen were . . . the bad guys. Hmm. Not exactly a shocker, but I guess it makes sense. Which wouldn't have been the case if David had been killed by his crazy stalker Lila, the ultimate red herring (albeit a disturbing and persistent one), who mainly served the purpose of opening the door, literally, for the fatal attack on David. It all boils down ultimately to Frobisher unleashing a world of hurt upon anyone who might reveal the truth behind his financial chicanery, which now hinges on who has the videotape Gregory gave Katie for safe-keeping before he was run down by Frobisher's single-minded goon squad. The same goons who apparently killed corrupt SEC schemer George Moore, who's implicated along with Frobisher in Gregory's damning videotape testimony.
The way we see it play out in the denouement: Katie delivers the tape to her brother David so she doesn't have to run into Ellen, from whom she's still estranged. And she's not the only one. David has just broken up with Ellen, furious after one lie too many (in this case, the cover-up of the dossier on Ray Fisk after his suicide in Patty's office). When David learns what's on the tape (and it will bury Frobisher for sure), he tries to reach Ellen, but is too late to stop bad things from happening. Poor David. And from there, all the back-and-forth time-switching gets a bit confusing, as Patty posts bail for Ellen, who's released to old-man lawyer Hollis Nye, who as the episode ends appears to be betraying Ellen as well. Are there no good people left on this show, I ask you?
The kicker is the new twist in the Patty-Ellen relationship, when Ellen blackmails Patty by using the tape (which Ellen is in custody of) to force Patty to defend her against the murder charge. "I need your power and your connections," Ellen says.
Meanwhile, we're left wondering whose grave Patty was visiting when she was out of town, what Patty's creepy delinquent son was up to when he startled Ellen in Patty's apartment ("If anyone asks, I wasn't here?"), and what more shoes might possibly drop in next week's finale.
Am I also left wondering if my time was well spent on
this summer and early fall? Not at all. Watching the story play out has been like digging into a juicy if at times overextended and over-the-top page-turner: a little Scott Turow, a little Steven Bochco. Glenn Close's star turn has been electrifying, with great support from Danson, Zeljko Ivanek and fresh faces like Byrne and Bean.
Depending on what happens next, on the show and in FX's corporate suite, I can't help thinking that
second act would be better off if it were packaged in the form of a classic miniseries. The genre is almost nonexistent these days, but what better way to revive it than on a risk-taking network and with such a gripping franchise?