The trick is always in the pacing. The difficult part of telling a story is figuring out just the right moments to upshift and downshift, and it's rare for it to be done perfectly over the course of a movie, let alone a season of television. But the pacing flaws always seem glaring in Damages because so many elements are foisted on us upfront. The flashbacks and forwards and expositional geysers rev us up, but that stuff doesn't get resolved until almost the very, very end. So much of the rest of the time, we feel like we're just spinning our wheels.
"Next One's On Me, Blondie," was one of those episodes. There was a ton of movement, but none of it really pitched the story forward tremendously. The High Star case inched forward yet again when Nasim Marwat, the son of the friend that alerted Chris to High Star's ruse, showed up to give Ellen one of Chris's medals, and share what he knew. (Turns out that box wasn't a bomb, merely a medal wrapped in the absolute creepiest way imaginable.)
As much as I like the idea of the High Star case, the execution is starting to wobble for me. I think the major difference this year is that High Star's attorney is not a central character on the show—that sort of secondary adversary in this season is Boorman. So before we saw Ray Fiske, or Claire Maddox or Leonard Winstone strategizing against Patty, which communicated the shape the story might take. At all times, it seemed like you understood the end games of both sides, so the path forward seemed clear. I have no idea what Boorman is up to, who's pulling whose strings, or the rationale behind most of what they're doing. Now, watching Ellen foundering in her case, I don't know any more than she does about what will be the next lucky break, and somehow that makes me feel as frustrated as Ellen probably feels. I hope soon the writers can figure out a way to break the case open and not have it feel like such an exercise in futility.
Meanwhile, Boorman is still playing Mr. Fix-It, this time attempting to stalk and kill Marwat before he can help Ellen discover the truth. I'm not exactly clear why Boorman wouldn't just try to kill Ellen. If that was the plan, it would at least imperil a principle character. There's something about the panicky way he puts out one fire after another makes him seem more desperate than scary.
The heavyweight acting appearances continued with Judd Hirsch, who showed up as William Herndon, a former mentor of Patty's who is now a disbarred, drunk disgrace. Still, he’s a man with connections and access to information. Patty approaches him for information about High Star, and he weasels his way into some. But he gives his info to Patty, not Ellen, and suggests Patty cut her protege out of the case. There was something a little too safe and familiar about Hirsch's portrayal, but it still kind of worked in spite of itself. I'd very much like to see Patty attempt to wrest the case away from Ellen, and how they would maneuver through that. It would certainly answer the question of why Patty is spending so much time on the High Star case that she's begun neglecting her own case load. If not this season, something to think about for next season is swinging the Patty and Ellen relationship back into an almost purely adversarial one.
While there wasn't a ton of movement in the case, there was some superb character buildout of Howard Erickson, and John Goodman slayed his scenes. (I hope the move to the Audience Network won't hurt the cast’s chances come Emmy season.) We found out that Erickson's wife passed away, leaving him the ostensibly single father of four boys. He takes fatherhood very seriously, and he feels deeply protective of his men—his sons and his soldiers. But there's no one man more important than the mission, and now that Chris is off the reservation, he has to be dealt with. Goodman played the scene on the phone with A.C. perfectly, the way his face cracked and spasmed having to give the orders to aggressively interrogate Chris. It approached being over the top, but he held it back just enough. By episode's end, after delivering his Christmas Eve guest sermon, Erickson has indoctrinated himself anew, and he's barking orders at A.C. with no hesitation. Erickson is greedy, of course, but more than anything, he's an idealogue, and that's much scarier than someone just being selfish and avaricious.
As great as the Erickson stuff was, I hope we come out of this trough of the story sooner than later. I'd prefer the reveals be sprinkled through the last, say, four episodes, rather than last season where it still seemed like none of the flash scenes had been contextualized even at the end of the penultimate episode. There's no excuse for a ten-episode season to feel sluggish, and this episode lumbered a bit.
- One thing I have to quibble with is Ellen's phone tap. I feel like it's been all too convenient the conversations Boorman hears and the ones he misses.
- We’re still waiting to find out exactly who Boorman is holding hostage. I have a feeling that’s going to be killer.
- No Michael this week. Which also meant no Huntley this week. I hate that they’ve tied the fate of a character I love to one I can’t stand.
- High Star is performing extraordinary renditions, and they’ve got help from someone highly placed in the government. Sounds like we’ll be seeing more of Julie White.