I made a huge mistake when I sat down to watch this release so that I could write this review. It sometimes happens that one in this business must watch a series from somewhere other than the beginning. In most cases, particularly with older more traditional shows, that isn’t very much of a problem at all. Once you get the premise down and learn who the important players are, you can sit back and watch without much concern at all about what you might have missed. Today, however, that is becoming a more and more difficult proposition. In an effort to increase viewer loyalty, and develop more intricate and engaging plots and show mythology, shows are getting that much harder to follow if you miss even one episode. If you’ve missed a season or more, your odds of understanding get that much worse. If you missed the genesis of the show, those odds slip to near zero. I made a huge mistake when I sat down to watch this release so that I could write this review. Like so many heroes in these action thrillers that have become all the rage, I decided to go up against odds that were, you guessed it, nearly zero. If you are considering watching Damages from the second season, even with the provided season one recap, you’re making a huge mistake, too.
The season begins with the immediate aftereffects of the first season’s big case and all of the baggage that went with it. While it’s true that the case is over, most of the vital things that happen here constantly reference the events of that season. Patty (Close) is using her cut of the billion dollar settlement to start a not-for-profit foundation to feed New York City’s homeless. But that foundation is just another way to flex her power. She’ll willingly frame a prominent candidate for governor by setting up his daughter for a cocaine bust, just to have him and his money come crawling her way. Most of the episodes give you a short look at the ending, which appears to have a potentially fatal showdown between Patty and Ellen. The rest of the season would be nearly impossible to recount without giving stuff away. Suffice it to say that it’s a never-ending series of betrayals, fortune reversals, strange bedfellows, and twisted relationships. Everybody appears to be using everybody else for their own agenda. There are no good guys. Finally, the show travels a lot in time. Each episode builds through short glimpses that take place earlier or later. It messes up your orientation, making it even harder to just drop in for a visit without having seen what occurred previously.
The general idea of the season has Patty working on a new case against an even bigger foe. When an old friend and lover sends Patty a box of documents, she is thrust into the new case. Apparently, her friend Daniel Purcell (Hurt) was a lab tech for the UNR company and responsible for testing their latest chemical. When he discovers it is very toxic and dangerous, the company changes his report and strong-arms him to cooperate. The box of documents is the evidence he needs to bring the company down. When his wife is killed, the stakes go up. Meanwhile, Ellen (Byrne) is convinced that Patty tried to kill her. She continues to work at the firm but is also working for the feds who want to get Patty. The whole season operates on the twists and turns of these events. I’m not sure you’ll find the solution very believable, but again, it’s not the stories but the characters that drive this series.
With Damages, it’s all about the performances. Glenn Close plays a very devious and dangerous character here. It’s kind of ironic that she spent a powerful year on The Shield playing a character trying to bring down Mackie, almost the exact kind of person she now plays in Patty. Rose Byrne as Ellen is a bit of a weak link for me in this show. I just never find her all that believable at all. Her motivations appear to change like the tides, and she’ll do all of this with a minimum amount of passion in the performance. Still, there are a lot of strong performances to drive the series. Ted Danson’s role is more limited here than it appears it was in the first season. He’s become quite a nice dramatic actor in his golden years. I would have liked to have seen more of him. Timothy Olyphant plays Wes, a rather enigmatic character who is having a relationship with Ellen, but like everyone else here, he has his own agenda. Finally, the season’s latest character is Claire Maddox, a power attorney for UNR. She’s played by Marcia Gay Harden.
If you’re a fan of The Wire, there are several actors from that show involved with this season. The big bad guy here is Walter Kendrick. He owns the new company and is Patty’s prime target. He’s played by John Doman whom Wire fans will remember as Police Commissioner Rawls. Clarke Peters played miniature furniture builder Lester Freeman on The Wire. Here he plays Dave Pelt, a man who works behind the scenes and doesn’t mind getting folks killed. He’s playing every side in this show. David Costabile played managing editor Klebenow on the final season of The Wire. Here he plays an enigmatic behind-the-scenes guy known only as “The Bearded Man”. We never really know who he’s working for.
Each episode of Damages is presented in its original HD broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For the most part the show looks pretty good. There is an artistic, I almost want to call it a blur, focus style on the series. It makes it hard to judge things like color or detail. The style attempts to “warp” reality somewhat. I don’t really like it, but fans of the series are likely used to it by now.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works just fine. The subtle ambient stuff here is wonderfully placed, allowing you to immerse yourself totally in the show. Dialog is always clear and right where it should be in the mix.
There are 13 episodes on 4 discs.
Season One Recap (in two parts): I guess this was intended to help people like me settle in. It just made it more confusing. Even at almost 20 minutes combined, it just can’t completely recap a season of a show like this. Give them credit for the effort, however.
Deleted Scenes: Each disc provides a wealth of deleted scenes for the episodes it contains. There is no play all option, so you will need to select each scene. There are also 9 seconds of copyright notice after each one. Use the chapter advance.
Season Two Post Mortem: (4:27) The creators talk about the second season and admit that you’d be pretty lost if you hadn’t seen the first.
Character Profiles: (17:02) There is a play all, or you can individually select the character you wish to see. The profiles are about 2 minutes long and feature the actor among others talking about them.
Did I mention that I had made a huge mistake? It’s a mistake I had no choice in. Sony never sent the first season for review. They did send the second. You have a choice, and this show is too good for you to put yourself at such an uncomfortable disadvantage. Take advantage of this opportunity to get both seasons and watch them together. You won’t regret the expenditure of time or money. The story will always be hard to follow, but the characters are simply fascinating here. But try to watch this season alone? “You can’t do this.”
01/23/2010 @ 4:01 pm
I love, love, triple love Damages. I whole heartily agree that you have start with the pilot and work your way through or nothing will click. Once you start from the first and work your way through it, you will see the shear genius, that was swimming in the minds of the creators of this show.
I am so excited that they have decided to keep the show running and the new premiere coming out on the 25th. A must see series for sure.