Damages is not easy television. The characters are roughly hewn with sharp edges that make for abrasive first impressions but continue to surprise across the 13-episode season. The story hits below the belt and sucker punches you while you’re down on your knees. Even the narrative structure can’t play nice and unfolds across multiple timelines, as if daring the viewer to keep up with what’s happening now, six months from now and (for a few later episodes) a day before six months from now.Like the legal profession it portrays, the show is anything but easy. But it’s more than worth the investment of time and attention it demands from the audience.
Created by brothers Todd A. Kessler and Glenn Kessler along with Daniel Zelman, Damages begins with neophyte lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) stumbling out a Manhattan high-rise half-dressed and soaked with blood. From there, we slip back half a year to see how Parsons became the protégé of cutthroat litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and how that association led to the haunting image that opened the series. The creators and their fellow writers are fearless in putting all their cards on the table. Unlike stingier mysteries that hold back answers for season finales or sweeps episodes, Damages dishes them out with abandon. Of course, while the Kesslers and Zelman are dealing out the answers, they’re carefully redefining the questions so that the viewer remains hooked and stale reveals can be re-interpreted down the line for still another narrative impact.
Bolstering the WGA Award winning-writing are exquisite performances from a perfectly chosen cast replete with veterans like Glenn Close and Ted Danson as well as fresh faces like Rose Byrne and Noah Bean. Close, who won the Golden Globe for her performance, imbues Hewes with presence that dominates every scene. She’s our hero’s mentor and that scares us to death. We see how everyone reacts to her and we know everything we need to about this calculating legal machine…or, at least, we think we do…until it’s too late. Rose Byrne’s ability to go nose to nose with Close marks her out as an up and coming actor to watch. She can be vulnerable and intense at the same time and her ability to immediately sell the time zone in which a scene takes place gives the viewer a handle on the show’s complex story structure that has both an intellectual and emotion touchstone.