After two weeks of fretting and watchful waiting to see how the Damages brain trust would up the ante for this season, I’m glad to announce that I’m done playing the guessing game for season 4. At least for now. “I’d Prefer My Old Office” isn’t going to go down as one of my favorite episodes of the show, but it did solidify my hunch that while flashbacks and flashforwards will always be part of the Damages DNA, the writers have found a way this season to eliminate the perceived rigidity of the bookended narratives.
This is a progression that feels very good, but of course, could turn out very badly. For the first time ever, I feel like I’m not quite sure the direction the story is going, but I also don’t feel manipulated. In both the stories of Patty and Ellen’s hotel meeting in season 2 and the abrupt reintroduction of Arthur Frobisher last season, I felt similarly off-kilter, but not in a good way. I have the good sense enough to know that like most writers, this team figures it out as they go along, so maybe we don’t end up in a satisfying place. But even with the constant flashing (which got a bit irritating in this episode), suddenly it feels like Damages is being told in real time, and I’m content to just go along for the ride. It’s worth noting that they’ve jettisoned the cold open entirely, which was once the slot where the more issue-prone devices like the flashbacks and the many, many ill-advised dream sequences would normally go. Now, following the opening credit sequence (which has held up surprisingly well), we’re typically smashing right into this week’s story. The shortened season actually feels brisker and more lean so far than in seasons past.
After masterfully manipulating Patty into lending her the firm’s resources last week, now Ellen is faced with the larger challenge: the fact that she kind of doesn’t have a case. Chris Sanchez is her sole witness, and he’s off in Afghanistan tilting at windmills. Still, Howard Erickson has a bad feeling about it and decides to try to settle as soon as possible, to throw a nice, meaty bone at the men’s families and hope for the best. While the set-up felt a little quick—Erickson asks to meet with Ellen, so she sends Patty in her stead—I was fine with it since it gave us the Patty and Erickson face-off I thought sure wasn’t coming for another few episodes. When a show has the ability to attract stellar actors as does Damages, it’s a little frustrating when they aren’t paired off in as many combinations as possible—I’m still a little miffed that Marcia Gay Harden was so out of the mix in season 2. Glenn Close and John Goodman played their polite sparring match powerfully, and I’m hoping for another tete-a-tete between them soon.
Of course, this meeting took place only after Ellen got hosed in court. Thanks to some nimble, reckless arguments, Ellen convinces the judge to order High Star to produce Chris via video link. But by this time, Chris has already found out from a local friend that the intel he’s been given is bogus, which it seems he started to suspect from the very moment Boorman showed up at his door. But it’s too late now, A.C. is threatening to kill Chris’s friend unless he backs out of his testimony, and he does just that. It was reminiscent of the memorable scene in season 2, when Daniel Purcell burns Patty alive in open court. There’s always been a deliberate effort to make Damages the law show that’s not a court show, and to minimize the showing of court procedures as much as is possible. So when a scene is set in a courtroom, it’s safe to expect a game changer. This one didn’t fail; after Chris is done vaporizing Ellen’s case, he also obliquely instructs Ellen to talk to the veterinarian he’s seeing. It’s enough to lead A.C. to place him in confinement, which we can only guess is what leads to the gruesome events we saw teased in the season premiere. I’d have never predicted we’d get to it this soon.
As much as I liked the movement on the High Star case this week, I was left a little cold by investigation into Michael’s whereabouts. But I guess that’s a your-mileage-may-vary sort of thing. I find Michael a little useless as a character at this point, though I understand Patty’s motivations. At the most, I could get invested in a story about where Michael is now. But frankly, I don’t much care what he did in the immediate aftermath of the hit-and-run, especially if it consists of Pretty Woman by way of Patrick Bateman wish fulfillment. I just don’t care that much about Michael’s missing three years, and considering we’ve only gotten dribs and drabs about what Patty and Ellen have been up to during that time, spending this much time on Michael is an odd choice. I’m still so tickled by the rapport and rhythm between Patty and Huntley, though. I can’t be alone in seeing an opposites-attract romantic vibe between them. She actually respects him, and he’s totally unfazed by her nonstop mind fuckery. Seeing Patty meet her match in this particular way is very satisfying.
As for that cliffhanger, I’m not quite sure what to make it of it yet, and here’s where the willy-nilly flashing around becomes a real problem. Between the Michael flashbacks and the three days later flashforward revealing what appears to be a suicide bomber with Hewes and Associates as its target, I don’t feel I totally understand where we are in the story. It was a chilling image though, and a looming threat, which again, feels much different from the Damages of the past.
- John Goodman is really killing it in an understated way. And I like the character. He feels like a true believer, rather than simply a raging egomaniac as we saw in Frobisher, Kendrick and the Tobins. His plaintive “I don’t like this case” showed some real vulnerability.
- I do wish there was some better shorthand for the disastrous mission other than “that last mission” or “the last mission.” It feels evasive for no good reason.
- The man presumably planning an attack on Hewes and Associates is the same man Boorman is holding captive, yes?