Not too long ago I posted a capsule review regarding Damages season 4. In that review I bemoaned the series’ decline, and expressed my hope that the writing would return to form Having just finished watching the final season, several clear reasons for that decline shot into focus. Seasons 3 and 4 were so (comparatively) unengaging because the focus was primarily placed on cases and corruption. Despite John Goodman’s best attempts, his storyline could not match that given over to Ted Danson’s Frobisher n seasons 1 and 2 – Season 2 wisely followed Frobisher’s re-invention and that gave his character much greater depth. What the series really missed in focusing on the cases is the Ellen versus Patty dynamic. In other words, by focusing on new characters and legal action rather than on its arch rival protagonists, seasons 3 and 4 neglected the show’s core strength.
Only a few episodes into season 5, it became apparent that season 4 neglected the Patty/Ellen dynamic because Kessler et al were reserving their storylines for a magnificent swan song. Season 5 is not only a return to form, it is possibly the most interesting season in the show’s all-too-brief history. The interplay is so rich and nuanced that it makes season 4 look positively one-dimensional by comparison. Season 5′s case – loosely based on the wikileaks scandal – is a vehicle and nothing else. Indeed, Ellen and Patty uncover virtually no evidence, and both refer to the case as a battleground. Consequently, their interactions – even when sitting silently apart in an airport lounge – are seething, allowing Close and Byrne to really shine.
Yet the trump card comes in the form of the season’s thematic structure, which lends a so much depth to the proceedings. Season 4 was preoccupied with torture as a metaphor for corruption and powered exploitation, using Erickson’s family life as a counterpoint only to highlight the path of cruelty deceit and betrayal his greed takes him on. Season 5 pounces on parent/child relationships in various guises to illuminate what is at stake for both Patty and Ellen. Be it via the ongoing custody battle between Patty and her son, revelations about Patty’s relationship with her father, the disturbances that unhinge Ellen’s parent’s marriage and another relationship (which I won’t spoil), familial relations are characterised as power-struggles. Each of those , of course, parallel Patty and Ellen’s metaphoric mother-daughter relationship. Those tensions have been present since seasons 1 and 2, where Patty’s attempt to have Ellen killed was paralleled directly with the revelation of Patty’s stillbirth.
The writers resist the temptation to detonate the charges they set in place, opting for a poignant, satisfying finale that is utterly devastating. The closing shot of Close resonates with all of the bitterness, hatred, and sadness that made the character so compelling in the first instance. After five seasons, the show closes by assessing Patty and Ellen’s choices, and finally by tallying the damages.