Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Damages: “Failure Is Lonely”

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In the final episode of a Damages season, there are typically quite a few loose ends to tie up. But in watching "Failure Is Lonely," I was just as interested to see what was introduced as I was to see what was resolved. Despite its critical acclaim, awards success, and an especially well-heeled audience, Damages has struggled with ratings so anemic that renewals have never been certain. Since the deal was struck to bring Damages to DirecTV for two seasons, the writers now have a luxury they've never had before. They can initiate threads for next season as they wrap up this season's self-contained mystery, much in the way shows like True Blood and Desperate Housewives do every year. "Failure Is Lonely" was a tight, well-executed and satisfying conclusion to the season, but I'm slightly disappointed it didn't take greater advantage of the guaranteed fifth season.

As far as the High Star case, I have few complaints about how it all came together. Damages finales can be awful weird, with characters doing whatever will make the story's pieces fit together, regardless of whether it's in keeping with the character or whether it makes even basic sense. (See: The season three finale which featured Tom's inscrutable decision to head home after being stabbed repeatedly, y'know, because that's what you do.) Even though this season seemed light on ambition at times, compared to past seasons, the upside of having less to resolve is that "Failure Is Lonely" didn't feel as wacky and inconsistent as those season finales did.

First things first: Chris Sanchez lives! Not that it was a surprise to anyone who has ever seen an episode of Damages or… any movie or television show, really. But the getting there was fun. Granted, it was all a bit too pat, with the Afghani boy suddenly feeling talkative and deciding to spill everything to Sanchez. But my biggest concern was that the dead guy under the hood would end up being someone we've known even less time than we've known Sanchez. (Gullickson had been tossed out as a potential redshirt.) So I was relieved to see that Boorman was the victim, dispatched by Sanchez for having killed his men when they wouldn't follow his orders. I'm just going to attribute Boorman's ability to get the jump on all three highly-trained soldiers to dumb luck and keep it moving.

I'm not exactly sure why it didn't occur to me that the Afghani boy was Boorman's son, and I feel like kind of a moron for not having put it together. But the writers did a fine and subtle job of misdirection, so I'll get over it. All season, the Dust Devil program has been described as illegal extractions of high-value targets with information vital to national security, and that stuck in my head so firmly that even when it was revealed that the boy wasn't such a target, I didn't put it all together. That does make Boorman's continued questioning of the boy about his mother's whereabouts (up to the point of threatening him with torture) a bit of a contrivance. I can't imagine why a seasoned CIA operative like Boorman wouldn't have quickly surmised that the boy didn't have anything of value to tell (and that his mother was probably dead), but Daniel Zelman and the Kessler Boys wanted to save that tidbit for last. It was a nice reveal, though, and so meticulously carried out that I can forgive the story for being a little shaggy.

Of course, the most interesting bit of the episode was seeing how Patty and Ellen diverged on the High Star case and what the status of their relationship would be when the dust settled. After trying unsuccessfully to talk Ellen out of cutting a deal with Erickson, Patty found a loophole. Instead of bringing a suit against High Star on behalf of the families of the slain soldiers, Patty decided to bring a suit on the boy's behalf, based on the Alien Tort Statute. Just as Erickson was prepared to sign off on Sanchez's release, Shaw gets news of Patty's new lawsuit, and Erickson breaks their deal. It was a bold, baffling move on Patty's behalf. Filing the new suit without even as much as consulting Ellen to ensure the timing wouldn't work out quite so poorly was reckless and confirms that while Patty has changed, she's still not above putting a case before someone's life.

When Sanchez escaped the situation unscathed, much as everyone expected him to, part of me worried that the telephone conversation we saw wouldn't amount to anything. All’s well that ends well, they say, and with Boorman dead, Sanchez alive, and Erickson on his way to prison, everything was in its right place. But Ellen was furious with Patty for using Sanchez as a bargaining chip, which led to yet another conversation between them overlooking a body of water. Patty attempts to explain that she was taking a risk to win the case and save Ellen from committing career suicide, but Ellen isn't having it. Not only does Ellen want nothing to do with Patty, she wants nothing to do with the case she fought for and certainly doesn't want to be groomed as Patty's successor. It was an efficient, brutal scene with the women detailing each others' shortcomings without restraint.


The final sequence was exhilarating, but it left me with a twinge of worry. Seeing that Ellen had signed on to testify against Patty in the custody hearing was an amazing moment, but I'll be extremely disappointed if the way KZK seize on their opportunity to have one season bleed into the next is to have the tedious custody battle play a major part in season five. If that's the case, I'll miss the good old days when I always expected Damages to get canceled.

Stray observations:

  • Patty on Ellen: "She's good, but she's not a force."
  • "You think success made me lonely? Failure is lonely."
  • "You are important. You got to work for Patty Hewes."
  • Was I the only one that found that last music cue a bit weird tonally?
  • Thanks for reading; I had a blast.