Last year I watched the first season of Damages after a friend recommended it. I loved the first half of the show. Patty Hewes is a strong, complex and ambiguous character, and a fan of Glenn Close, I was happy to see what she did with the role. I also thought the double temporality created by the opening clips was very effective at introducing and developing tension in a show that suffered from regular, necessary lulls. The opening and closing segments offered a tool for offsetting and giving room for these lulls to develop into something more than exposition.
But then midseason, these two features began to appear like a trap, a gimmick to sell the show that the writers were now trying to write their way out off. Yes, its certainly raises the stakes to have your plot rumbling forward to the moment when your second lead, covered in blood and wandering the streets, will be arrested and charged with murder, but eventually, you have to account for what’s going on. And if you want to have her come back, you have to get her out of the situation.
The writers pulled some twists out of their hat, none very convincing but they made it to the last episode alive, well and ready for another season.
Well, now, nearly a year later, I’ve started the second season, and after watching the first episode I just want to make a note before moving on: the writers are still stuck and have made their situation worse with some very bad choices. They have maintained the opening segments but have chosen to put the same character at their centre: the gimmick now feels more gimmicky, we know it’s a trick. The second lead is not going to go wack-o rogue and kill someone assassin style in her apartment. The villain from the first season, shot and “dead” at its end, is also back working through boring “why don’t people like me issues.” Patty and Ellen are both dealing with last season’s “issues” too: but who cares? These could have–and should have–been dropped between seasons.
But the worst set up is the whole Ellen working as a mole for the FBI angle. It’s a poor source of conflict between her and Patty, because again, it’s just not possible that Patty will not last out the season, and the segment makes it clear that Ellen will survive it too. So the stakes are simply not there. The only question is How is this not what it appears?
It’s frustrating to see such bad conceptual work built into the foundations of the narrative. But I’m still watching because of Glenn Close. I’m worried they are going to reduce her character to a simple villain (the writers don’t trust power), but we’ll see.