There was so much going on in this episode of Damages that it’s hard to decide where to jump in first. But I’m going to cut straight to the meat of the matter, the thing I’m sure every Damages fan is waiting to dissect and debate. Yes, folks, it’s true. Helmut Torbin, the mysterious donor with whom Rutger has been meeting in secret all season, was the source of the stock tips the Princefield traders were using for Fund 23. Insane, right? It takes everything you knew about Damages and turns it inside out. Frankly, I’m not sure where we go from here, but I certainly hope Rutger is able to get his journalistic career back on track. According to his daughter, all his writer friends in London are laughing at him, and as he’s one of the characters I’m most invested in, that matters to me.
Wait, what? That’s not what you want to talk about? Hmmm… I’ll try again. Chris Sanchez? Pretty surprising that he’s stumbled onto a military conspiracy, amirite? I was under the impression that he was just hanging around as Ellen’s boyfriend this season, but he’s getting a chance to get his hands dirty by helping to uncover a program the military is using to put psychologically damaged soldiers back into active duty. Sanchez wants Ellen to facilitate an introduction to McClaren, but it’s hard to believe McClaren would ever trust Ellen again, considering this week’s other jaw-slacking development. McClaren knows about the Samurai Seven deal! And boy, is he ever pissed. His instructions couldn’t have been clearer. McClaren Truth doesn’t pay for information, and now, Samurai Seven is dead, and all signs point to his attempt to sell the Princefield documents as the probable reason for his untimely demise.
It’s hard to say who or what will be left standing once all the dust settles. And I haven’t even gotten into the mystery of whether or not Ellen’s mother acclimates to her new apartment! Really shocking stuff, all of it. Now that I’ve wrung every drop of sarcasm out of my cells, and swiped at the dull fringes of this episode in the process, I’ll get into my take on the actual bombshell of “The Storm’s Moving In”: Patty’s flat-out denial of having ordered the attempted hit on Ellen. The final scene of this episode is, without a doubt, one of the most deftly written and acted scenes in the show’s history. But it’s also likely to go down as the most polarizing.
The show’s trio of creators, Daniel Zelman and the Brothers Kessler, wrote the episode, with Tate Donovan behind the camera. And with Patty and Ellen largely confined to a private airport terminal, this is perhaps the closest thing in Damages history to a bottle episode. As a fan, it’s a fun episode to think about, the idea of the whole gang back together—the creators, Glenn, Rose, and Tate—to pull off the gambit of rolling back everything we thought we knew about the relationship between Patty and Ellen. Whether or not it was a good idea is fairly impossible to determine without seeing how the rest of the season plays out, but at this point, I’m inclined to call shenanigans on the whole thing.
Some fans will be electrified by this episode, and I can understand why without even hearing their arguments. Damages is and has always been a show about the wide gap between perception and reality, how there’s always a larger context to something we think we’ve seen, and how our natural inclination to correlate information and make connections can lead us down dark alleys. I get all that, and Patty’s incredulity upon finding out Ellen thinks she was behind the attempt on her life is very much in keeping with that. Here’s my issue, though: It’s difficult to invest in a story in which nothing can ever, under any circumstances, just mean what it means. The bait-and-switching works when, say, in season three we see a body plunging off a bridge and assume it’s Tom Shayes, when it’s actually Marilyn Tobin. That’s a neat trick. This is something different. This constitutes a full-blown retconning of the event most central to the show’s mythology, which to my mind, is far easier to swallow from a show that isn’t constantly mindfucking its audience than from one that is. This is the one time I wish the Damages team had resisted the urge to pull the rug out from under us. As I was left with the same dumbfounded, WTF expression on my face that Ellen had on hers, I felt myself beginning to inch towards indifference.
Whether I make it all the way to indifference depends on one major factor, of course, which is the matter of if Patty is telling Ellen the truth, or just doing whatever is required to get inside her head as usual. But even that theory doesn’t completely hold up to scrutiny. If Patty genuinely thought Ellen didn’t have anything incriminating to say about her in open court that she could say without implicating herself, why wouldn’t she have played this card ages ago? Even if the goal was to mislead Ellen into thinking she had nothing to do with the attack at her apartment, what purpose would it serve for Patty to wait to share this information until after the McClaren case began rather than before the custody case did? I suppose it could be argued that had the conversation happened as the custody hearing was prepared to begin, Ellen would have been much more likely to see it as a ruse, and it would have made her even more eager to testify. But would Ellen seriously make such a harsh accusation about Patty under oath if she was given new facts to consider, and if the only proof was a confession that only she heard?
Apparently, Ellen will come up with something to say, because in the little flash-forward footage we’ve gotten, the detectives tell Patty she’s been questioned because Ellen is scheduled to testify against her. I assume that means she still decides at some point in the future that she wants to testify anyway, but then again, who knows? Who ever knows with this show? Maybe Ellen is dead. Maybe David is still alive and is the one who pushed her. Maybe a young Patty lost so much blood while intentionally miscarrying her child that she fell and hit her head on the pavement, and this entire show has been Patty’s lucid coma dream. Is any of that actually so ridiculous at this point? And at what point does this show’s lack of fair play make me decide I don’t care? I’m not at that point yet, but “The Storm’s Moving In” brought me perilously close to it.
Some weeks back, I recall a commenter saying something about how he thought I was being way too harsh on the season, and how he was waiting to see how it all shook out before rendering his verdict. That would be a wonderful luxury to have, but to review Damages episodically I have to determine what I think of each individual piece of the puzzle. And with a show like Damages, there are certainly moments in which I feel like the complaints television creatives are always leveling against episodic criticism are completely true. This is a moment when I feel like I have no idea how to grade this thing, so I’m going with a straight-down-the-middle C, pending the outcome of the season.
- Is there any real reason to care about the case anymore? Last week’s détente between Rachel and McClaren really took the wind out of its sails, even as Patty and Ellen conspired to kick it back up.
- Patty and Ellen both use Sony VAIO laptops! Those two, I swear. Much more unites them than divides them.
- I did like quite a bit of Rutger’s back story, and John Hannah had some good moments this week, so I shouldn’t completely dismiss it, even as it was eclipsed by the Patty and Ellen stuff.
- Potential alternate episode titles: “Are You Fucking Crazy?” “A Judas With High Heels,” “They Don’t Call It Vacationland For Nothing”
- Potential alternate titles if this was a Morrissey song instead of a Damages episode: “Your Writer Friends In London Are Laughing At You”