Hopefully it's not also the series finale … it hasn't yet been renewed for a second season.
There are going to be spoilers here, so leave if you care. Since to the best of my knowledge, no one who reads this blog watches the show, I'm probably safe, but you've been warned.
FX has made quite a name for itself as the home of the anti-hero. Denis Leary on Rescue Me is an excellent example; Michael Chilkis' Vic Mackey is an even better one. Leary's Tommy Gavin is a prick, but he's also a fireman who saves lives, and while they don't flinch from showing Tommy's darker side, Rescue Me is definitely rooting for Gavin. One reason The Shield is a better show is that Vic Mackey isn't just a prick; he's also a murderer. Some episodes … hell, some seasons … they lose track of the essential fact that Vic killed a cop in cold blood on the series pilot, but eventually they get back to it, and so when we find ourselves rooting for Vic, we are well aware of the character of the man we are cheering on, and it's unsettling.
Glenn Close spent a season on The Shield, and she was great. Not only does she have the acting chops to play against Chiklis, she brings a steely reserve that was quite believable in her role. Close has played everyone from a sad mourner in The Big Chill, to a scheming conniver in Dangerous Liaisons, to Cruella DeVil and the crazy lady in Fatal Attraction. And she's convincing in all of those roles. When it was announced that she'd be starring in her own FX series, I was excited. As it turned out, the show was often compared to Saving Grace, which featured another award-actress coming to television in Holly Hunter. Hunter was great, and while I didn't care for the basic story (she is visited on a regular basis by a guardian angel), the biggest problem was that the meat-and-potatoes of the series (it was a cop show) was formulaic, no different from dozens of others. Of course, it was a basic cable hit, and it will be back for another season. Meanwhile, there's Damages, which did not get good ratings, even by the standards of basic cable, and which is now apparently hanging by a thread.
Damages was far from perfect. It often suffered from Lost Syndrome, holding back important information just to keep us in the dark, answering one question while introducing three more. I can understand how some viewers might have given up, assuming there would be no payoff, that the whole thing would be a shaggy dog story. All I can say to anyone who stuck around awhile and then gave up is, you blew it, and you better check out the rest of the season on reruns. Also quit reading this post, because I'm giving away a thing or two.
Way back in the beginning of Damages, Close's character, high-powered attorney Patty Hewes, ordered a dog to be killed because she thought it might give her a hand up on the case she was working. Everyone knows if you want to establish a truly nefarious level of evilness to a character, you introduce a doggie and then have the bad person kill it. But Hewes, as she was written and as Close played her, was always human, flawed, aware of those flaws, doing bad in a good cause, trying to stick it to the rich guy played brilliantly by Ted Danson. It's not exactly that you forgot about the dog, but rather that as the series progressed, you could imagine why she might find it necessary to have a dog killed.
Of course, you're also thinking that Close is the star of the show, and if it returns, she'll be back, and you can't have a show with a lead known primarily as a doggie killer. Even House, the asshole supreme of contemporary television, wouldn't kill a doggie. And so over time, we became more and more accepting of Patty Hewes, not because she was nicer, but because we learned more about her, she seemed more human, and like I say, there would have to be something deeper for the primary character than "she killed a dog."
And so the last episode arrived, and as promised, they actually did tie up most of the plot in a satisfactory manner. There are still things we'd like to know, but the basic labyrinthine plot finally makes sense. Danson's rich Arthur Frobisher got what he deserved, and then he got what he deserved. (I can't praise Danson enough … this was Close's show, but Danson made a perfect opponent, you believed he was as strong as Glenn Fucking Close, and he played rich privilege like he was born to it.)
So they took care of all the things you thought you wanted to know, left a bit for what we hope will be Season Two … and then you looked at the clock and there was still like 20 minutes to go.
And whoa, what a 20 minutes it was. One of the most interesting aspects of the show was the gradual transformation of the idealistic young lawyer Ellen Parsons into someone as cold and calculating as her boss Patty. Rose Byrne didn't offer much more than a pretty face at the beginning of the series, but as her character got darker, Byrne rode it to some fine scenes, and it was then you realized she was doing some fine acting when she was just a pretty face, too. Because the look she has on her face at the end of Season One has far more impact when you compare it to the freshly-scrubbed Ellen from the beginning.
As for why she has that look … and really, if for some reason you watch the show and haven't seen the finale and you're still reading, quit! Ellen Parsons is almost like Patty Hewes … but there's a lot of room inside that word "almost." For one thing, as is probably obvious, Ellen would not have ordered a doggie murder. More appropriately, she wouldn't order the murder of a human. And that, amazingly, is the biggest thing that makes her different from Patty Hewes. Because in those last 20 minutes, we find out who it was who tried to have Ellen killed. It wasn't Big Bad Arthur Frobisher … it was Patty Hewes. And Ellen Parsons knows it.
Let me repeat: Damages finished its first season by establishing that the hard-as-nails central character, the powerful advocate for the underprivileged, lawyer Patty Hewes, didn't just play footsy with regulations when it suited her needs. She was also ready to have someone killed if she felt that person was in her way.
This really places Damages in an entirely new place, it seems to me. Patty Hewes is no longer the anti-hero with heart of gold. Nope, she's just evil. And she's the main character in a television series.
This is unbroken ground, at least in my memory. It puts the namby-pamby Saving Grace to shame, but that doesn't even get it, because they aren't playing in the same league. She puts Tommy Gavin to shame, with his maudlin Irish emotionalism. Hell, she puts Vic Mackey to shame, and who would have thought that possible? Mackey killed someone who was in his way, and he's going to pay the price, but at least it was treated like a serious action, one he regretted, and it was much like everything Vic does … to clean up the bad, sometimes you've got to make a little mess of your own. Patty Hewes went after Ellen Parsons like Ellen was a fly buzzing too loud. And while we now understand why Patty disappeared when Ellen was attacked, and we now understand why she was so racked with guilt, we also know that she cowboyed up, turned on that icy face, put on the dark sunglasses, and went on working the system. Hewes has emotional outbursts, Mackey gets violent over the toilet bowl that is the world in which he travels. But when the crisis has passed, Mackey is still full of testosterone, he's getting worse at being able to turn it on and off. But Patty? She's a real pro … she (or rather, Close) is just as believable when she's crying with guilt as she is when she decides she'll milk Ellen again until there's nothing left. Vic Mackey is fucked up. But Patty Hewes is Bad (meaning-bad-not-bad-meaning-good).
And can I remind you one last time that this disturbing character is the star of the show?
Not hard to imagine why the ratings are low.
Grade for season finale: A
Grade for Season One: A-