“You’re not afraid of me, are you?” Patty asks Ellen at the end of last night’s fantastic hour. Everyone is afraid, everyone has a monster to slay. Ellen of her past traumas, Patty of losing against the sweet innocent girl who invited her to her bridal shower, or Rachel Walling of the fiend that may have assaulted her mother, after opening up his personal secrets to her. I’ve talked before about how tense Damages is, and there’s a reason why it terrifies me more than the fantastic but twisted Breaking Bad.
On Breaking Bad, one expects violence and threats to emerge in the criminal world of drug warfare. A man can shoot another in cold blood without thinking much. But on Damages, everyone is caught up in the polished veneer of seemingly respectable businesses. When business corporations have rules, we expect them to abide. It’s what keeps us living in an honest society, and not Gotham City. When law has its set of official practices, we hope that its practitioners follow accordingly to maintain the balance of the scales of justice.
So an episode where our hero manipulates a teenager — to the point where she believes that a man with high functioning autism was in fact using his condition to gain her sympathy, now believing her dead mother to have been violently assaulted — all just so she can square off against her rival, truly showcases how rules and civility have descended. This isn’t the American justice system. This is the Wild West.
Patty and Ellen team up to enable their charade to keep blood pumping in the case. Patty even agrees not to use witness Thomas’s information, which could play as crucial evidence in court. Poor Channing and Rachel stand as shadow selves to Hewes and Parsons, teaming up to escape from the case that won’t let them go.They’re truly pawns in a personal vendetta match. In the jigsaw puzzle of a case, you get the sense that Patty and Ellen would intentionally hide more of its pieces, just so that they can keep playing their version of the game. They don’t care about the final picture, because what does that matter when it comes down to selling themselves and their respective powers of manipulating their audience?
Ellen’s manipulation also grows against her own mind. Her visions of her blood-soaked self, fleeing from her attempted assassination during the Frobisher case have evolved. She now sees her dead boyfriend, not to mention the man who tried to kill her in the first place. I personally would have enjoyed the surprise of David in the bathtub more if we hadn’t first seen him during the cold open dream sequence that felt as if Ellen had wandered into Twin Peaks’s Red Room. It was fun anticipating his appearance when she examined photographs of dead Naomi, but the total shock may have been more chilling. Regardless, his brief presence was enjoyable all the same.
Last week’s appropriately-timed revelation about Channing’s condition paid off tremendously here. When we finally received the truth about the Channing/Naomi meeting, Phillippe’s sympathetic portrayal highlighted his strongest acting yet. The pain and possible humiliation as he explained how “sometimes I-” before backing down was refreshing honesty few characters on this show portray.
And such is the penalty for honesty. His reputation tarnished in the eyes of Rachel ends her initial settlement. The case is back, and for the first time on this show, it’s going to trial. And I couldn’t be more excited.
This episode lacked any of the dead-Ellen moments, which didn’t detract from a dense but powerful episode, but I must reiterate how we better get some clarity soon. If Ellen is not dead, which I’m inclined to think, we’d better find this fact out sooner rather than later. It’d be a cheap twist to unveil such a confirmation near the very end. Then again, maybe Ellen really is dead, which would certainly explain the lack of followup scenes. If that’s the case, the genius behind it may be that the twist is genuine truth in what we actually perceive. For four years, we have been trained to not believe everything we see. Maybe this time, the truth is devoid of any smoke or mirrors. And given how far Ellen has strayed from noble justice to petty score-settling, would you care that early death is in her cards?
Alternate Damages Episode Title of the Week: ”You Told Me You Wanted to Take a Bath.”