Damages

LIABILITIES ARE ENDLESS

Isn’t television the retirement home of the former A-lister’s career?

I know of plenty of stars that began with television, but to move from the silver screen to the small screen is like one step forward and two back, right?
I have to remind myself of the success of “24”. And then there’s “House”… okay, maybe these times are changin’.

Then I thought to myself, “Self, what possible good can come from that Michael Douglas stalker who may be Norman Bates‘s actual mother on the TV screen of your living room?

Check out the similarity between the picture above and 1987’s “Fatal Attraction“.

But wait, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why this too is acceptable. Take that same feme fatal from Fatal Attraction and make her a lawyer!

Okay, now I’m interested.

The thing about Damages is it’s exploration of the subtle nature of cruelty. The kind of coldly distant and confident cruelty that seems a bastion of any successful serial killer.

It’s like the kind of tension you felt in the scene of “The Color Purple” where Celie is giving Albert a shave, and we watch the straight razor at his throat, shivering in her hand.

This show puts its viewers in the driver’s seat, or more accurately, in the barber’s shoes. We really want Patty dead, but not yet, not until she finally puts the bad guy behind bars. Not until she finally gets all those victims of fraud their money back.

Patty knows she’s the last person in the world who can do this and relishes the control. The major players are all the shades of grey that make a veritable people-playground for a sociopath in pink lipstick. What makes this whole show work is Miss Hewes is also a type of missionary, if a manipulator.

She finds victims, empathizes and consoles them. She will get behind any banner of good will and charity for its own sake.

Then, like a pack of wolves baying at blood, she tears apart her favorite bad guy with so much calculated cruelty the Devil himself might pay tribute, if he bothers to watch the show. (He probably thinks its educational programming.)

This same person actually has feelings. She really weeps, really is vulnerable, and really loves her family… it’s a special type of conditional love that makes her an especially difficult target for her enemies because it means she still has friends.
Friends that are even more terrified of turning on her because at least her enemies get a quick death.

While the plot has dimension, there is a problem with the character arcs. Why do they allow themselves to suffer so? They sacrifice sleep, personal values, and family all at the altar of the Hewes law firm.

It’s as though every other character is a foil for Patty, as if the entire show is built around a single concept of this sociopathic, manipulative champion of legal justice. Doesn’t that just come across as lazy story-telling?

Everyone of these characters is more loyal to Patty Hewes than their own family. Friend or foe, they each have their roots in her, and she relishes it. It’s fascinating to watch, great fun to analyze and pick apart like a frog in anatomy class, and beyond tempting to hedge bets concerning the outcomes of all the intertwined mini-plots as well as the grand scheme.

Still, one can’t help but push back a little on that willing suspension of disbelief. It’s almost a parallel with the show itself. In as much as Ellen and Tom are loyal to their employer, they are shallow in their personal relationships. One can’t help but wonder what motivates a person with such a low view of self to take up any cause.

One might wonder this, the same way I wonder why I can root for Patty so much of the time, the very one who epitomizes depravity. And so, like all the characters I scream at for involving themselves voluntarily in yet another Patty scheme, I find myself hooked.

This is why I love this show. It’s a stone’s throw from the truth. “Damages” shows us what happens when our hearts are neglected in pursuing our dreams at any personal cost.

I should also mention the reason for incongruence with the Hewes character herself. (That being her championing of real victims and getting behind noble causes.)

   Psychopaths can’t have a human side, can they?

   Unfortunately, there are real life examples of soulless people committing unspeakable act, and yet in another life they are respectable. They lived as kindly employees and affable neighbors who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I have another working theory about Patty. She has a kind of circular reasoning, much like Dexter with his “rules”. Patty is a sociopath, so she might as well be a functional one; might as well add good intention and ends to the means that she employs.

It seems baffling just how a genuinely good person like Ellen could possibly get shanghai’d into becoming one of Patty’s loyal little puppets. After counting what Ellen has in the long list of cons against the paltry pro list of why to work for the woman who’s demonocracy is the envy of every H.O.A. president you’ve ever had the misfortune of crossing words with, we ask ourselves, “why?”

But then, haven’t you, dear reader, ever counted yourself a loyal cog in the wheel of something you hoped would become good? I know I have.

Whether it’s work, a relationship, or even financial debt, I think the rest of us can relate and relate well with our heroine, Ellen Parsons. We thought we’d be the catalyst that changed something from a potential to a realized “good”; instead we ourselves changed from asset to liability.

While we never have to deal with the extent of “damages” that Ellen and the like do in this show, exaggerating truth sometimes affords us vicarious hindsight. And while we don’t actually tell people we learned what not to do because of a show on TV, it does at least shine a light on that two-headed monster called ambition.

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One thought on “Damages

  1. Pingback: Captain America « scriptsmotion

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