If you were one of the people put off by the pilot of Damages, with a ludicrous resolution that left you wondering if dispatching pets was meant to signal campy nods to past Glenn Close roles or just evil afoot, you weren’t wrong. The show looped so abruptly between deadly serious moral quandaries and arch skullduggery that you could be excused for feeling queasy and wanting to get off the ride.
With FX showing a marathon on Saturday leading up to Tuesday’s season finale, however, I’m here to persuade you to give Damages another shot. Using an elaborate structure that bends time and both obscures and reveals secrets around every corner, Damages makes the world of legal wrangling look scary through whispers more than through shouts. Unlike many other shows with a mystery at the core, Damages adroitly manages to avoid the trap of having the characters move the plot instead of having the plot illuminating the characters. Think you know Close’s steely attorney by the end of that odd pilot? By episode three, you won’t know whether you’re cheering for her or her quarry, Ken Lay-esque CEO Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, never better). As clues slither by, viewers’ loyalties shift as often as the characters’ do, although Frobisher’s lawyer (an outstanding Zeljko Ivanek) and newbie attorney Ellen’s avuncular Greek chorus (or is he?) Hollis Nye (Philip Bosco) steal every scene in which they appear.
Damages joins an increasing number of shows that elevate the look of television, utilizing a glorious color palette that not only glows but provides hints and resolutions in its own right (last week’s Mario Van Peebles-directed penultimate episode, “There Is No More ‘We’” is a particularly fine example of how a dark story can use light to great effect). Fine acting, lovely visuals, and a show that actually gives out answers every week instead of pretending the questions were never asked? Delete all of those episodes of Lost and Heroes off your DVR and use the space to catch up on Damages instead.<