Here’s the difficult position the Damages writers have put themselves in: After spending so much time building up to one final legal showdown between Patty and Ellen, is it really possible to craft a satisfying conclusion that allows one to win over the other? There’s a poll over at DirecTV’s official Damages site, inviting fans to vote for which of the women they’d rather see prevail in the case of Walling vs. McClaren, and right now, the vote is split roughly 60-40 in Ellen’s favor. It’s a huge stretch, granted, but for the sake of argument, let’s say this tiny sampling is representative of the entire Damages audience. No matter which direction the writers decided on, the result would be a significant chunk of the viewership that would be disappointed with the outcome of the case.
From the season premiere, when the identified attackers faked Naomi Walling’s suicide, to the botched transfer of the Princefield documents to Ellen in last week’s episode, there have been strong suggestions that there are nefarious, external forces bearing down on the case. And if that’s so, Patty and Ellen could essentially be on the same side without realizing it just yet, which would give them yet another chance to get proper closure on their relationship without either of them having to nurse the wounds of a major courtroom loss. “There’s Something Wrong With Me” continues to suggest this is the direction the season is going in, and I don’t mind the idea of it, but it’ll be interesting to see if this is the case and how it would be executed.
It’s starting to become clear, though, that an unqualified comeuppance for Patty is not what the writers have in store. As much of a ruthless, boundless manipulator and operator as Patty is, Damages has always shown her as a deeply damaged, lonely woman who has sacrificed everything in her life for her career. The confrontation between Patty and Ellen in “Failure Is Lonely” that lent the episode its title can be interpreted different ways, of course, but when Patty told Ellen that winning was the solution, not the problem, it seemed like desperate rationalization. It’s only natural that someone would overvalue the only thing they have left, and the at-what-cost theme has loomed large since the pilot. The key to redemption for Patty, and for Ellen, is to finally make peace with their shared past and their dysfunctional, yet vital relationship.
“There’s Something Wrong With Me” reintroduces Kate’s client, who as most of us suspected is Patty’s father, who is dying and wants to make some kind of amends with his daughter (or perhaps just antagonize her a little more) before he slips away. Regardless of his agenda, Patty’s hurt and humanity are bound to shine through in a way that would make losing to Ellen not entirely satisfying, even for the 60 percent of the audience that wants it that way. It seems as though the further along we get with the McClaren case, the less important its outcome will be.
McClaren’s story this week seemed to bear this out too, as we saw the petulant hacker extraordinaire attempt to bond with his illegitimate son, and had confirmed that his talents and his less-than-graceful way with people relate to his high-functioning autism. The story itself felt slightly overworked, but that might not have been avoidable as Hans Tobeason’s script had to pack a ton of plot into a very confined space. McClaren is contacted by Sally (an incredibly weary looking Alicia Goranson), the mother of his son, who wants money to put little Charlie in a school that could help him with the same types of symptoms that ostensibly affected McClaren when he was that age. But she’s also dealing with a brutish boyfriend, who thinks all Charlie really needs is someone to be a huge asshole to him all the time. After Ellen and Kate inform him that the legal solution for this won’t be nearly as brisk as he was hoping, he uses his hacker magic, and before you know it, the guy is out of the picture. But he’s still unable to engage emotionally in the way that he would like, and stands up his own son as the kid and his mother wait in vain for him to show up.
It’s a far more sympathetic and nuanced portrayal of McClaren than I was expecting, considering it was only a few episodes ago we were being asked to consider that McClaren had tried to rape Naomi Walling, then exposed the darkest secrets of her personal life out of spite when she tried to pull out of the Princefield leak. And conveniently enough, a much more traditional Damages villain has emerged in the form of Bennett Herreshoff, the Princefield CEO who pretends to be sympathetic to Naomi’s story and most interested in weeding out the malfeasance in his firm, but naturally is a powerful man with corrosive secrets to hide. By the episode’s end, we’ve learned that Herreshoff and Naomi were having an affair, one that ended in a messy fashion. It would be enough to destroy Patty’s case, if Ellen had access to it, but thanks to some manipulation of a spineless SEC agent, that will never happen.
“There’s Something Wrong With Me” was a fairly dull, piece-moving episode, but the season is being paced shrewdly enough that it never felt like a failure, even when it was failing to deliver the huge moments we’re looking for. Glenn Close did dynamite work here as she always does, and demonstrated why in spite of the show’s fall from Emmy grace, she could still manage to eke out a nomination for her work here. And Ryan Phillippe continues to acquit himself a little more each week. For whatever failings the McClaren story had, they would have seemed far more glaring had it not been for Phillippe’s salesmanship. It wasn’t a knockout, but what I can say for “There’s Something Wrong With Me” is that it seems like the writers are gearing up for something far more ambitious and layered than a clear-cut victory for Patty or Ellen. The momentum has slowed a bit, but my curiosity about how the writers plan to conclude this thing is still very much piqued.
- Now both Ellen and Patty are having nightmares, which means we’ll probably be seeing a least one dream sequence per episode from here on out.
- Tate Donovan directed this episode. Tom Shayes lives! (Sort of.)
- The theory that Kate and Patty are half-sisters continues to gain steam.
- Dominic Fumusa, the lovable galoot who puts up with Nurse Jackie, was legitimately menacing here as Sally’s jerky boyfriend.
- Oh, Ellen now has the Seven Samurai information, though the story of how she got it seemed like a ton of filler. I did enjoy that Blackbird made a point to pack her bong on her way out of town.
- Potential alternate titles: “You Can Get The Tupperware Back To Me Whenever,” “I Can Get To You If I Want To,” “She’s Not Half As Smart As Everyone Thinks,” “Is It Wine Or Bourbon Tonight?”