Damages: season two - An early look
The law/crime genre is a tired and used television landscape. In an era where almost every channel has been saturated with no less than four Law & Order's, three CSI's, and countless other attempts - some good, some bad - it reached a point where it seemed as though we'd seen it all. Then FX premiered Damages back in July 2007 and everything changed. Fast-forward over a year later, add in three history-making Emmy wins, a Golden Globe, and one lingering question remains - how can they possibly re-create the tense past-meets-present plot device that made season one so unique and memorable?
The answer? Present meets future. Same technique, different twist. I've screened the first two episodes of the new season, and not only do they do the freshman year justice, they far exceed it by taking everything that worked with season one and ratcheting up the tension.
The story resumes about a month after the events of season one, and we re-join Ellen (Rose Byrne) in her quest to bring down Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). With the help of the FBI, Ellen is determined to destroy her boss. While the first season saw Patty demonstrate how easily she can deconstruct someone, it's clear that in the aftermath of her fiancé's death, Ellen has built herself back up, and ironically enough, now clings to the very same "results now, questions later" mantra that drives Patty.
The lingering memories of David compounded with the anger stemming from Patty's attempt on her life have made Ellen cold and calculated - a far cry from the naïve lawyer who sat across from Hollis Nye in the pilot episode. She knows what she wants, and if means taking down someone innocent like Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) in the process, Ellen's comfortable with it. Saying the tables are turned as the season opens would be an understatement.
Fortunately for us, there's much more to the season than Ellen's dilemma of forgiveness vs. revenge. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden both joined the cast in the off-season, and their roles are very quickly established as being integral to where the season is headed. Hurt plays Daniel Purcell, a scientist at a corrupt corporation. Harden plays Claire Maddox, the company's head litigator.
With international dealings in energy at stake, the conspiracy that unravels over the first two episodes is - wait for it - bigger than the Frobisher case. Add in the fact that Patty shares a cloudy past with Purcell and matters are complicated further. She latches onto the case to the dismay of Ellen's FBI handlers, and because the government doesn't have a hand in it, Ellen's task of bringing down Patty becomes far more difficult.
It's one thing to say that William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden have joined the show, but to actually see them alongside the already stellar cast is a TV fan's dream. Add in new additions like Timothy Olyphant, as well as returning favorites like Ted Danson and Zeljko Ivanek (yes, Ray is back), and the talent you see on-screen is staggeringly impressive. Fans of The Wire will be pleased to know that John Doman and Clarke Peters (Rawls and Lester, respectively, on the HBO drama) are also part of the new season. It's easily one of the finest casts ever assembled on a TV drama.
However, at the end of the day, the cast means nothing if the writing doesn't meet the challenge. While there are some slow scenes in the first two episodes, they're easily forgiven because what they set up will presumably make you forget about them. The conspiracy is far more intriguing because we know nothing about it this early on, compared to season one when we knew who Arthur Frobisher was and what he did right away. This season, it's a much more dynamic plot that results from the lack of info.
However, if we learned one thing from Patty Hewes in season one, it's that you should trust no one - especially the team behind Damages. Co-creators and EPs Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman have become masters of leading us down one road, only to make it a dead end. The twists and turns that were so prevalent in season one have made the transition to season two as well. The end of the season two premiere is going to make your jaw drop when see what's been set up.
So if the current TV landscape, rife with cancellations, has left you looking for something new to watch, then look no further, because this is the first must-see show of 2009. Fans of season one already know what I'm talking about. Season two of Damages premieres on FX on Wednesday, January 7th, at 10PM ET.