Damages, the legal drama-noirish thriller starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, returns for its fifth and final season, only on DVD standard-def format and not on Blu-ray. (Only the first season was released in high-def, alas.)
The program moved from FX to Audience Network for its fourth and final years, and (perhaps due to declining ratings?) seems scaled back from past seasons, if only slightly. However, even in its final year it remained slickly produced and managed to attract great talent for its guesting actors. I was, for instance, delighted to see M. Emmett Walsh turn up in a key role.
Its season-long story arc, having been written knowing this was to be Damages' last season, builds to a final showdown between high-priced, ruthless Manhattan attorney Patty Hewes (Close), a master manipulator, and her young protegee, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), in whom Patty once saw her younger, less cynical self but whom she's now determined to destroy.
All ten episodes are included in 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is supported by numerous subtitle options.
For the uninitiated, Damages mainly explores the unusual personal and professional relationship between the coolly sadistic Patty and rising but troubled legal star Ellen. Each adopts an outwardly cool and professional air while simultaneously using the other to their own ends. When the series began, Ellen was mostly on the receiving end of this manipulation, but her growing experience, coupled with the horrific murder of her finance (indirectly caused by Patty), have hardened her to the point where she can be nearly as calculating and effective as her mentor. (In this season, Patty compliments her unreadable poker face.) Ellen struggles to maintain her humanity and basic moral code, things all but lost on Patty.
The series' structure is somewhat unusual. Each season revolves around a single though massively complex case. It's also structured like a puzzle, with non-linear glimpses from Patty's past as well as characters' dreams (always nightmares), and especially glimpses weeks and months into the future. These foreshadow, if deliberately cryptically, how it will all end. From the start, it sure doesn't look good for Ellen.
The final season revolves around the Julian Assange-like Channing McClaren, whose international cyber-hacking and whistleblowing website is clearly modeled after WikiLeaks. Naomi Walling (Jenna Elfman), a trader at a Wall Street investment bank, approaches McClaren about exposing her employer's illegal activities, but soon after some material turns up on McClaren's website she's killed in a murder fashioned to look like a suicide.
Patty convinces Naomi's adult daughter to file a wrongful death lawsuit against McClaren, while Ellen, just beginning to establish her own law firm, agrees to represent his defense.
As with past seasons, this "ripped-from-the-headlines" premise intrigues, just as the Blackwater-Academi-Halliburton private army plotline did the previous year. The premise does sets up innumerable scenes, far too many in fact, of characters typing and monitoring action on laptops and cellphones (years from now people will wonder why anyone thought this made for interesting drama) but it does pose many rhetorical moral questions, particularly with regards to laws keeping pace with technological advances moving at lighting speed, and the ability of mere mortals to even comprehend a world changing at such a dizzying pace.
In early seasons there was a lot of subtlety to Patty's manipulations. It was hard to tell if she was merely demanding or genuinely evil, but by this point Close is practically channeling Ernst Blofeld with her SPECTRE-like ruthlessness. It's still an enjoyable characterization, but she's crossed the line and then some into hissable villain territory.
Other than that, Damages is pretty much (nefarious) business as usual, and the show remains totally engrossing, though clearly it peaked around season three.
Video & Audio
The ten, sometimes over-length episodes of Damages are presented across three single-sided, dual layer discs, with four episodes on the first disc, and three on the last two. The image is excellent, 16:9 enhanced widescreen, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio likewise, with (Parisian) French on an alternate channel. Subtitles are offered in English, English SDH, French, Chinese (Mandarin and Traditional), Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
Supplements are limited to deleted scenes, outtakes.
Interested viewers are once again advised to watch Damages from the beginning rather than so near the end, especially since so much here reflects back on the main characters' relationship from past seasons. But, I confess without guilt, I've been enjoying it immensely and am sorry to see it end. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.