Damages (2007-2012) is a legal thriller that preferred to stay out of the courtroom. Behind closed doors, in office spaces, opposing legal teams worked profusely to outmaneuver the other. Across five seasons, secrets are exposed and homicide turns up bodies. As morally corrupt litigator Patty Hewes, it wasn’t the first time actress Glenn Close took on such an intense role. It sure wouldn’t be the last. In Tehran’s second season on Apple TV+, she plays an undercover spy who controls those around her with relative ease. The careful manipulation is a method Patty would approve of. Fifteen years since it premiered, Damages should be remembered as a unique entry within prestige TV. Alongside rapid-fire plot twists and consistently bringing in well-known guest stars, Close’s role offers a rare anti-heroine during a time dominated by flawed men. Ruthless people fight dirty when they want to come out on top. And Patty loves to win.
Before the characters get their due, there are two other important aspects. The visuals of the Damages opening credits show fractured images of Patty and protégé-turned-rival Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), cut together with gloomy New York City architecture, imbued with authority. It certainly sets the mood. A song by The VLA plays as the theme. “When I am through with you, there won’t be anything left,” are key lyrics. Can it refer to Patty’s way of destroying her enemies? Or the toxic relationship that will develop between Ellen? Most probably, both. It’s quick and catchy, almost begging to be watched in this modern age of the “Skip Intro” button. As crucial as the opening credits are in setting a tone, so too is the use of flash forwards. At the start of every season, the non-linear approach hint at a dark event, usually a murder or the possibility of one. Scenes are sprinkled throughout the following episodes until the timelines sync up by the finale. Like the opening sequence, the flash forwards are a reliable source in letting audiences know something bad will always happen.
In each season, a new case is taken on, turning into something of an anthology where there are recurring characters going up against a season full of new ones. The lineup of guest stars are established faces like Marcia Gay Harden, Janet McTeer, and Timothy Olyphant. What is more entertaining, the actors known for their comedy work playing against type. Ted Danson, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, and Martin Short are given substantial roles, with different layers of darkness. Danson is a corrupt CEO, who makes very poor decisions when snorting cocaine. Tomlin is the matriarch of a family involved in a massive Ponzi scheme. Goodman plays the head of a private security firm covering up his tracks after soldiers are killed. Short is a trusted attorney whose own father blackmails him for his client’s money. Seeing actors of this caliber go up against Close, make for riveting scenes.
Around the same time the show premiered, so did Mad Men, full of complicated male anti-heroes. The Sopranos was ending in 2007 and the following year, The Wire would follow suit. Glenn Close filled the shoes left behind by those shows. Cunning and manipulative come to mind when describing Miss Hewes. After promising no consequences for a corrupt opponent, she gets him to finally settle. Once the money is agreed, Patty sends incriminating evidence to the district attorney. Two birds hit with one stone. Together with the writing, Close uses her piercing eyes and a subtle smirk to make audiences, like the surrounding characters, unsure of what Patty will do next. The truth is hidden underneath red herrings and curveballs. For one scene, Patty interrogates a young woman on her credentials, needing a trial period to see if this new hire will be kept on. Only a few seconds later it’s revealed the woman isn’t an up-and-coming lawyer. She’s the new nanny to Patty’s granddaughter. Everyone is at her mercy, but the long sufferers to Patty bring out the best and worst of the litigator.
Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) has worked at Hewes and Associates for 11 years, becoming Patty’s right-hand man. Despite how long they have known one another, the relationship isn’t always smooth sailing. In Season 2, Tom attempts to get out of bribing a judge. “I’ve always known you would let me down,” she quietly says. When he explains why he can’t go through with it, Patty screams, “I understand!” with no understanding whatsoever. For all the back and forth struggles on Damages, the show’s true heart concentrates on the complicated dynamic between Patty and Ellen. By Season 1’s end, the latter knows a damning secret about her boss.
The two conspire into blackmailing lawyer Ray Fiske (Željko Ivanek) in order to win the season-long legal case. In their possession are documents and photos showing insider trading between Fiske and a young man. What they don’t realize is that Fiske, a married man, has romantic feelings for said man. Patty orders him to purposely tank the case in court, no way of knowing it’s one secret too many for him. Fiske meets with Patty, where everything seems to go according to plan. Right up to the last moment, when he pulls out a gun and kills himself, human collateral damage laid waste by Hewes and Associates. When Patty and Ellen discuss the next steps in keeping quiet, Ellen reveals guilt over what has happened. Close’s eyes stay on her accomplice, calculating a next move, knowing she has precious time to save herself. She orders a hit on Ellen, which fails. Although both women survive as the credits roll, they won’t be the same.
Patty denies any kind of murder attempt. Ellen hears nothing but lies. No matter the toxic relationship between the two, they keep coming back for more. The obsession Patty has on keeping Ellen close, stems from a painful memory. Seen in a flashback, Patty had to make a choice at the start of her career. She was pregnant, any complications possibly harming the baby if she didn’t take care of herself. Ultimately, Patty chose work, the decision leading to a miscarriage. The trauma of this choice is buried deep in this woman, yet another way to feel in control. What pulls it out ends up being Ellen Parsons. Perhaps this is the daughter Patty could have had.
In Season 4, Ellen prepares to drop a case which can skyrocket her career, all to save the life of someone close. Patty can’t comprehend this. “If you back down like this even once, you will never have the power to win any of the cases you believe in,” Patty sternly puts it. After getting double-crossed by Patty one too many times, Ellen leaves some parting words. “All you have in your life is your next case. There’s nothing else.” Patty sneers, but there is a truth to the words. She is divorced, estranged from her son and has no support system.
In the Season 5 episode “The Storm’s Moving In,” some levity is provided. Ellen and Patty get stuck in an airport when a blizzard effectively stalls their plane. Patty figures Ellen needs something to relax. Seeing the bar is closed, there is only one thing to do. Leave it to Patty to crack open the locked cabinet full of alcohol. They share a drink. It’s mundane, almost too casual for these two. It could make one think of the relationship these two could have had. Until typical Patty tries to force the situation into her favor. Whatever she wants to be for Ellen, be it a mentor or a surrogate mother, cannot happen. Ellen knows too much of what Patty has done and can do. She will not give the satisfaction of forming a bond, Ellen’s stubbornness frustrating Patty to no end. It’s why the final season is a full on battle of wits between them. The stylized elements are engaging, the A-list costars captivating, but there is no series without the collision between Patty and Ellen.
With Tehran halfway through its new season, only time will tell what Close’s spy is capable of and how much of an ally she is to the main characters. It can’t hurt to double the dose of Glenn Close by starting up Damages on Hulu.
There will always be one Patty Hewes. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, a perfect sentiment for the litigator. Although if you were to ask Patty, whatever it takes to win a case, she will get it done.