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Damages: Season 1 (Review)

Glenn Close in Damages: Season 1

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

GLENN Close deservedly won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her performance in Damages, a twisting legal thriller that kept you guessing from breathtaking start to jaw-dropping finish.

Close displayed scenery-chewing form as Patty Hewes, the revered and reviled high stakes litigator whose dubious tactics continually threatened to overshadow the corrupt practices of the people she was after.

But there was strong support, too, from the likes of Ted Danson, as Patty’s nemesis Arthur Frobisher, and Zeljko Ivanek, as rival lawyer Ray Fiske.

High praise also deserves to go to director Allen Coulter (of TV’s The Sopranos, Sex & The City and Rome fame) for his imaginative use of the fractured screenplay, which ensured that viewers were kept on their toes flitting between present day footage and events that took place three months earlier.

In relative terms, the plot was quite simple. Ambitious young lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) stands accused of murdering her fiancee, David (Noah Bean), having been picked up by police covered in blood and wearing only her underwear.

She denies the charge and claims to be the victim of an attack herself, which took place at the apartment of fellow lawyer and boss, Patty Hewes. But Hewes is missing and time is running out for Ellen in what appears to be an open and shut case.

However, as events dip between present and past, the answers seem far from obvious.

Having been recruited by Hewes and associates just three months earlier, Parsons quickly found herself drawn into a high-stakes financial case involving billionaire businessman Arthur Frobisher and whether or not he knowingly scammed his employees out of money following the collapse of his company. To complicate matters, Parsons was planning her wedding.

But as matters come to a head, no one is who they seem and everyone has something to hide. Betrayals lead to murder and past secrets weigh heavy upon those lucky enough to survive…

Part of the pleasure in watching Damages was trying to guess who to trust and how events came to leave David dead, and Ellen accused of his murder. It also leant the series a grim inevitability once we’d come to know and like certain characters.

But the show did a cracking job of playing its cards close to its chest throughout its 13 episodes thanks to the quality of its cast.

Close, as mentioned, was mesmerising whenever on-screen, playing her scheming and manipulative Hewes as a real coiled viper, every bit as dangerous as the men she sought to bring down.

But she was matched by Danson’s sly Frobisher, who sometimes managed to illicit more sympathy than the victims themselves. Danson cleverly employed a sly ambiguity in his character that left his complicity in doubt until the very final episodes, when the full extent of his capacity for evil was revealed. The actor was really one of the unsung heroes of the first season.

But Zeljko Ivanek was similarly brilliant as conflicted lawyer Fisk, whose own personal involvement in the case came to a head in one of the show’s most memorable and haunting episodes, I Hate These People, which also exhibited its continued power to shock.

If there were criticisms about the first season, they were minor and did not detract from the overall enjoyment of proceedings. Rose Byrne sometimes failed to convince as a worthy colleague for Patty, especially early on, while her character was one of the least interesting.

And Patty’s near-constant scheming threatened to become predictable and more than a little unlikely. Nevertheless, even she found herself out of her depth come the season’s thrilling climax.

Needless to say, a second season has now been commissioned that offers intriguing new possibilities for the characters that survived, as well as ensuring that it can possibly follow a new direction.

So, take our advice and make sure you see Damages now (if you missed out or grew tired of the BBC’s terrible scheduling), to ensure that you’re briefed for the next chain of events. It’s utterly compelling viewing and one of the finest American imports of the year.

View photos from Damages

Certificate: 15
UK DVD Release: April 14, 2008