I usually love being right, but when it comes to Damages, I'm always happy to be proved wrong. After last week's episode, I was really concerned about this season, but holding out hope that "We'll Just Have To Find Another Way To Cut The Balls Off Of This Thing" would be to season four as "Drive It Through Hardcore" was to season three—the generally rudderless diversion that inevitably comes between the chronological bookends of a Damages season. "Add That Little Hopper To Your Stew" was a dramatic improvement and pulled me back in at just the right moment.
I think most of my issues with last week's episode had to do with the fact that I've never gotten completely onboard with Boorman as a character. I still don't see him as a fully realized character so much as a story catalyst, a narrative problem solver with a scruffy beard. That isn't a problem in and of itself; stories need those. But when the show slows down, as it did last week, the character shading has to make up for it, and at this point, I'm not terribly invested in Boorman as a person. (As opposed to last season, where I felt like I couldn't get enough of Leonard Winstone.)
"Add That Little Hopper To Your Stew" solved that problem, though, simply by ratcheting the pace back up, keeping the characters in constant motion and putting them in increasingly desperate situations. While Boorman's grand scheme seemed inscrutable last week, it seems less so now: The end game was to have Marwat held on an immigration violation charge, which would block Ellen and Patty from contacting him at all. Boorman promises Marwat that if he simply signs some paperwork and keeps his mouth shut about Boorman's identity, he'll be deported. If not, Boorman will kill his entire family. I'd still love to get something approaching an explanation for why Boorman wouldn't see killing Marwat as the most expedient way of getting the situation under control, but perhaps I'm asking too much.
Meanwhile, Ellen and Patty are out of options now that Marwat is burned, and their only play is to try to lure Boorman out into the open. Ellen smartly sets up a meeting with Patty using her compromised cell phone, while Bill Herndon shoots everyone nearby. I give Damages a hard time for repeating its sleights-of-hand with little variation but revealing that it was Herndon rather than Boorman behind the camera was an excellently subtle way of subverting expectations. And it led to the great moment of Ellen, Patty, and Bill hunched over the computer, trying to figure out which random passerby could be their ruthless CIA operative and no one guessing the unassuming Boorman.
Michael shows back up this week, if only to remind us that he's still the same smug, privileged prick he's always been. No one knows how to push Patty's buttons like her son, and he took every opportunity to do so by behaving as nonchalantly as possible, as though his three-year disappearing act had only been a two-hour errand. Patty is having none of it, naturally. After finding out that Katherine didn't have leukemia after all, she's feeling especially protective of her, and won't stand by and watch her put under Michael's care. Michael doesn't seem terribly interested in or equipped to actually raise his daughter, but he files a motion to gain custody anyway. Their mother-son mind games have devolved to the point of using a 3-year-old as a pawn. (While we're on the subject of who should be raising Katherine, is Jill seriously still in jail? Over three years seems like an implausible harsh sentence for the statutory rape of a 17-year-old. Mary Kay Letourneau only served six months, initially.)
The most dynamic stuff this week came from Erickson, who is in a place darker than we've seen him before. All season, we've seen Boorman as the heavy and Erickson as the passionate ideologue who got cold feet when it came down to the gruesome details. But at the beginning of the season, he thought he had everything under control. The Chris Sanchez situation seemed like a speed bump, not something that could conceivably topple his empire. Now he's desperate, and when Erickson gets desperate, he gets mighty ugly in a hurry.
We saw him ordering A.C. to torture Sanchez for information when he was backed into a corner, and Sanchez wouldn't listen to reason. He's in a similar bind this week when the ideal plot of land he's found for the new training facility that will allow him to secure new contracts is for sale one minute and not for sale the next. Its owner, Ed O'Malley, has a conversation with his daughter, and they decide they'd rather not sell to a mercenary. The scene between Erickson and O'Malley in the bar was breathtaking, especially how Erickson's charming, jocular facade shattered when he knew he wasn't going to get his way. ("Forgive me Ed, but your daughter doesn't have the first fucking clue about what's going on here.") Then, he pulls strings to have O'Malley's soldier grandson sent to a particularly bloody Afghan province rather than the peacekeeping mission in Japan he was scheduled for, before outright threatening to have the kid killed. Erickson is a deeply terrifying man and easily the best Damages villain since Arthur Frobisher.
We even got a little movement on the alternate timeline this week, with Ellen showing up to the space where our mystery victim has been killed. Ellen has dispatched a reporter to head to Afghanistan to figure out Sanchez's whereabouts, but given Ellen's presence at the crime scene, I'd be just as likely to guess that those scenes don't actually take place there as we'd been assuming. Given Ellen's sudden reflections on David and the possibility that her grief is hindering her current relationship, I hope nothing bad happens to her new beau. If anyone deserves a nice, stable, and not dead guy, it's Ellen Parsons.
- Another nifty scene was the near-miss between Boorman and the Iranian prison guard. If they'd actually had him walk out without seeing Boorman, I'd have been really frustrated.
- "Muffin Fits" would have also been a good title for this episode. Or for a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race.
- The scenes of Sanchez slowly breaking under the weight of his isolation were tough to watch.
- I loved Erickson's childlike enthusiasm when showing the D.o.D. guy the plans for his facility. ("Jack, show him the thing!")
- Two stellar lines from Erickson: "Making a profit is God's way of thanking you for working hard" and "What good is a piece of land if you have no family to share it with?" This dude is serious.
- After feigning disinterest in Marwat's activity log: Patty: "Everything we need in there?" Ellen: "Yeah, this should do it." Hmmm.
- I'm desperate to find out who Boorman is holding captive.
- Patty named Katherine herself. Interesting…