Just a few words about Damages, a new series on FX. The pilot was written by series creators and showrunners Todd A Kessler & Glenn Kessler & Denial Zelman.
I’m still being treated for the scratch marks on head from watching Mad Men and the Damages characters offer a sharp contrast. Interestingly, Todd A Kessler, one of the Damages creator/writers is a former Sopranos writer like Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.
Before continuing to read, let me warn you that spoilers lie ahead. I can’t talk about shows in the way I want to without giving away important plot points. Even my haiku breakdown of Viva Laughlin gave away a lot. So from here on, let it be known, I’m going to give stuff away. If you care, go read the script or see the show before you read.
Damages is built around the character of high stakes litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). Hewes comes out of the box as ruthless and ballsy. Her character is immediately recognizeable to us as viewers and unlike Mad Men’s characters, behaves in a way we can predict. There are a couple of twists along the way, but we’re not left asking wtf? Instead, we smile and accept her behavour, seeing that she is more extreme than we expected, but the behaviour fits the pattern we expect from the character.
In the first sequence that introduces her, Patty uses a combination of trickery, rhetoric and emotion to force the other lawyer in a case to cave to her will. When he realizes that she’s tricked him to the tune of $150,000,000, he responds by saying that if she were a man, he’d “kick the living dog shit out of” her. Patty responds:
If you were a man, I’d be worried.
There is one false move along the way, a scene that bugged me and nagged at me all through my viewing of the pilot.
Ellen Parsons, the young lawyer turns down her interview with Hewes to go to her sister’s wedding. Patty turns up at the wedding to Ellen’s disbelief. And then ends up hiring her as a result of their little ladies room chat.
I didn’t buy Patty’s reason for turning up at the wedding (“Because, kiddo, you’re the first person to turn me down”). And I didn’t buy her sentimentality in hiring the ingenue.
It wasn’t a “huh?” moment like the character turns in Mad Men. It just didn’t feel like something Patty would do. Why the heart-warming second act moment from the hard as nails anti-hero?
The answer came at the end of the episode. It wasn’t a soft moment from Patty, it was a highly calculated move by a master maniulator. It wasn’t out of character at all. We know Patty’s manipulative from the teaser. And by the end of the episode, we learn how truly manipulative she is. The act of going to the wedding was just another one of her manipulations.
The action fits perfectly into the character as we come to expect her to behave.
The characters of Mad Men challenge us as viewers by refusing to act in ways allow us to understand them. They take us by surprise and leaving us unsettled. The Patty Hewes character surprises us too. By how far she’s willing to go. But though I may not have predicted her behaviour, it perfectly fulfills my expectations for the character.