Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With the 2016 television season slowly staggering in after the holidays, there are not many new releases to inspire us. Instead, we’re using the weird winter weather as an occasion to revisit our favorite episodes about freakish storms.
Damages, “The Storm’s Moving In” (season five, episode seven; originally aired 8/22/2012)
“Are you fucking crazy?” says Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) to Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), her professional mentor, surrogate mother, and archenemy. Damages seldom winks at its audience or has characters drop F-bombs, but Ellen becomes a viewer proxy during the most audacious, perplexing scene in the legal thriller’s five twist-heavy seasons. The scene, an intense duet between Byrne and Close, comes at the end of “The Storm’s Moving In,” an episode that upends one of Damages’ foundational plot points with only three episodes left in the series. The title refers to a merciless Nor’easter that traps Ellen and Patty together long enough to set up the pivotal scene, but it also describes the experience of watching the episode. Just when the show’s mythology starts to look clear, the view gets hopelessly cloudy.
Were it not for the whiteout conditions, Ellen and Patty may have never had such a long, honest conversation to begin with. Patty, an unyielding piranha of an attorney, feels a genuine emotional bond with Ellen, her most cherished protegee, but she actively creates an atmosphere of distrust and psychological warfare in their relationship. In Damages’ fifth and final season, the former colleagues oppose each other in a wrongful death suit linked to Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe), the suave and slimy Julian Assange of the show’s WikiLeaks riff. The judge demands they interview a computer science expert in person, so they trek up to Maine, assuming they’ll be back in Manhattan by nightfall. Instead, the blizzard barrels in, and Ellen and Patty are stuck in the terminal of a small airport. It’s their friendliest moment in ages. They share snacks from the vending machine, steal booze from a locked liquor cabinet, and open up about their similarly painful upbringings. It’s a perfectly pleasant evening, all things considered, until Patty flatly denies trying to have Ellen killed.
The attempt on Ellen’s life, which took place while Ellen was staying in Patty’s apartment, is Damages’ inciting event, and forms the basis for what eventually swells into an emotionally fraught feud between them. Surviving the attack and enduring the emotions that came with it is a rightful point of pride for Ellen, and in an instant, Patty rewrites history, offering Ellen an alternate explanation for the events that is far too plausible for Ellen’s comfort and robs her story of its villain. At the time, the rug pull was borderline infuriating and felt like a twist too far for a show that occasionally went overboard with its narrative sleight-of-hand.
“The Storm’s Moving In” looks much different now that the series has ended, and creators Todd Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman have definitively stated that Patty was the culprit after all. What seemed at the time like misdirection overkill was in fact something else, a glimpse into the mind of a woman who spent her life doing awful things, but still had one misdeed she couldn’t admit to herself, much less to her victim. Psychological manipulation is Patty’s default setting, but this is one conversation in which she’s snowing herself, and Ellen happens to be close enough to get buried alongside her.
Availability: “The Storm’s Moving In” is available for streaming on Netflix and Crackle, on DVD, and for digital purchase through iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.