<i>Damages</i> Damages

Damages is trying something a little different for its third season: Patty without Ellen.

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When the gripping FX legal thriller returns (Monday, Jan. 25 at 10/9c), Patty Hewes (Glenn Close

) won't have her protégé-nemesis, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), at her side. After finally getting Patty to admit she tried to have Ellen killed, Ellen has made good on her promise and left Hewes and Associates in her rearview mirror.Or so she thought."It's an interesting and challenging change in storytelling for them not to be in the same office," co-creator and executive producer Glenn Kessler tells TVGuide.com. "We've always considered their relationship to be the crux of the entire series, and they aren't on-screen together a lot in the first few episodes. What the third season will be about is them coming back into each other's lives on very different terms. Ellen has moved on emotionally and apparently psychologically. Part of the fun of the season is seeing just how these women are drawn to each other and how, despite their best efforts, they may end up together."Bringing the two back together is the Tobin family, whose patriarch, Louis Tobin (Len Cariou), has perpetrated the biggest fraud in Wall Street history (think Bernie Madoff). Ellen, now working for the district attorney, pursues the criminal side of the case while Patty becomes the court-appointed trustee to find out if and where Tobin is hiding the $9.7 billion he ripped off in his Ponzi scheme.

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"To take a character like Patty Hewes and have her, for the first time, work for the government in trying to track down this money was very exciting for us," co-creator and executive producer Todd Kessler says. "In a way, it's wish fulfillment because she'll go further than most and lives and thrives in the gray areas."But how far can Patty go while working for the government? "She can't play fast and loose in the way that she has before," Glenn Kessler says. "There's a lot of butting of heads. The D.A. is not allowed to go outside the law and when he has to collaborate with Patty... a big part of the conflict is that she's being called on her methods."That doesn't mean we won't see the old Patty. "I think she's back," Close says. "The second season was the haunting of Patty. ... She ended up basically alone at the end of the last season, except for Tom. But I think enough time has gone by that she's back hitting on all cylinders."

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But Close says the Tobin family — Lily Tomlin plays its matriarch and Campbell Scott is her do-gooder son who hopes to clear his name by cooperating with authorities — bring Patty plenty of headaches."The Tobin family is a perfect foil for Patty," Close says. "They're people she really dislikes — they're perfect examples of the kind of person that Patty would happily bring down. But it's tricky. ... If they're hiding something, they've done a very good job at it. It's a real challenge, and I think Patty's gotten to a level of frustration that it might be a little unusual [for her]."Worse, Patty won't be able to leave her frustrations at the office. "The theme of this season is family, so we wanted the antagonist not to be an individual but to actually be a family," Todd Kessler says. "That will reverberate in both reveals of Patty's family life — she's going through a divorce; she's estranged from her son — and also Ellen's family life, which will reveal where Ellen has come from psychologically and what draws her to Patty.

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"The ties and bonds between a family can be stronger than anything," Kessler continues. "We thought it was very exciting for Patty to delve into dissecting this family while her family life is almost non-existent. She's going out to destroy a family, but she may reveal things about that family and how they value relationships. And that will then hold up a mirror to Patty's own family and how she values relationships."Meanwhile, Ellen is trying to prove to herself that she can be successful without bending the rules. "She's really becoming the lawyer she wants to become," Byrne says. "[Ellen] is very emphatic that that's why she's gone to [the D.A.'s office]. She says, "I don't want to do that; I'm not going to do that. But how long she remains like that remains to be seen."

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Surrounding all this drama is the show's trademark fragmented timeline that drops some major bombshells in the very first episode. (Sorry, they're too good to spoil here.) Naturally, Ellen and Patty are caught up in this twisted web of circumstances — and another showdown between the two awaits."We're very excited about the story this season — where it goes and where it starts," Todd Kessler says. "We like putting our characters in extreme situations and seeing how people respond. We feel that's really the true test of character. By the end of the season, the reveals of what the bond is between Patty and Ellen will continue to feed the series into the future."