It’s been two long years since last we saw Patty Hewes, the diabolical, terrifying lawyer played by a captivating Glenn Close in the cable drama Damages. When the series first aired in Australia on Channel Nine, it was clear this was a quality piece – alas, it struggled to find a following on a channel with a broad audience.
The non-linear narrative was a constant challenge. Flashbacks and flash forwards combined with characters doing 360 degree U-turns from white to black. It left many viewers perplexed, a risky move for any new work. Even in the US audiences struggled. Disrupted too by the writer’s strike, it is now back, looking to maintain its unique style without overcooking its structure. For those who have stuck with the brand, and for those who will now join it on pay television, the rewards are ample.
There is a classic Hollywood feel to Damages. The relationship between Patty Hewes and her protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), is like a modern-day All About Eve. The elder fosters the younger and teaches her too well – seemingly to their ultimate detriment. Parsons has now learned it was Hewes who was instumental in the murder of her boyfriend, and she conspires with the FBI against her mentor, soliciting insider information.
Close has also been likened to a noir heroine – think Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford – for her dazzling, sometimes monstrous, scenes as the lawyer with a ferocious appetite. Byrne brilliantly matches her this season in scenes brimming with subtext. It’s the best performance Byrne has given in her career.
Last season, Ted Danson was a revelation with his dramatic performance. This series William Hurt (in something of a Big Chill reunion) moves to the fore as a scientist looking to expose an energy company’s dumping of toxic waste. Also joining the series are Marcia Gay Harden and Timothy Olyphant. This cast chews up the scenery in what is essentially American ensemble theatre. The writing is mischievous, full of lies and more goddamn lies. Stylishly filmed in the legal corners of New York, it makes use of the city at night, in autumn and in the rain.
As a thriller Damages remains a sinister, delicious piece of television. At its heart it’s a character essay tied together with questions about power, trust and morality. And Glenn Close.
Damages returns 7.30pm on Thursday, July 16 on W.