DAMAGES 4:01 ‘There’s Only One Way to Try a Case’

Patty and Ellen circle a potential case against a powerful military contractor that is already aware of their possible threat.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "There's Only One Way to Try a Case"

Writers: Todd A. Kessler & Glenn Kessler & Daniel Zelman

Director: Todd A. Kessler

Previously on "Damages":

Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her former protegee. Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) were united in their quest to find the stolen millions hidden from the government by Joe Tobin (Campbell Scott) and his family. As they closed in Joe, he personally murdered Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan), Patty's right hand man and Ellen's initial mentor. At the same time, Ellen finally got justice for her slain fiancee when her ex-lover, Wes (Timothy Olyphant) returned and he had billionaire, Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) arrested for his role in the murder.

Patty even found a way to get rid of Jill Burnham ( Wendy Moniz), the older girlfriend of her teenage son, Michael (Zachary Booth). Patty used Jill's pregnancy as proof that she had sex with the underage Michael and she had Jill sent away on statutory rape charges. Enraged, Michael tried to kill his own mother by slamming a car into her's. In a daze, Patty saw Michael emerge from the vehicle before he fled.

Story:

Nearly three years later, Patty is hiring someone to join her employ… as a nanny for her granddaughter, Catherine; who is now in Patty's sole custody. Meanwhile, Ellen is now working at the law firm of Nye & Evertt. While investigating a potential case against High Star (a Blackwater-like military contractor), Ellen watches with fascination as High Star founder and CEO, Howard T. Erickson (John Goodman) testifies in front of a hostile congressional hearing. Looking for more information, Ellen reconnects with Christopher Sanchez (Chris Messina), her high school boyfriend as well as a veteran of High Star's campaign in Afghanistan.

Ellen's first meeting with Chris doesn't go so well, as he refrains from revealing anything about High Star although he does seem to have been traumatized by his stint in Afghanistan. At the same time, Patty is so focused on her own case against a French pharmaceutical company that she forgets her granddaughter's birthday. When Patty finds that the new nanny has taken it upon herself to give Catherine a birthday party, she grudgingly allows it. But when Catherine is put to bed, Patty fires the nanny for a very flimsy reason. As Ellen begins to suspect that there is a strong case for a wrongful death suit against High Star, Chris continues to mentally deteriorate.

At their second meeting, Chris denies knowing anything about the deaths of the troops whom Ellen mentions by name. But later, Chris gets into his car and puts his High Star contract in a letter addressed to Ellen, possibly with other information as well before he puts a gun in his mouth. However, Chris isn't able to pull the trigger and he burns the letter meant for Ellen. At her law office, Patty receives a visit from her ex-husband, Phil (Michael Nouri), who now has a new child of his own. He urges Patty to hunt down Michael and make him live up to his parental obligations to Catherine. Patty says that Michael gave up his chance to be a father, but she leaves out the fact that he tried to kill her.

Later, Patty reconsiders and she hires a private investigator to find Michael. Patty also meets with Ellen over lunch as they discuss legal strategy. Patty urges Ellen not to pursue the High Water case, but she seems to become interested in taking it on herself. Elsewhere, Erickson asks the congresswoman in his pocket to help him secure the new military contracts that he badly needs. His associate Jerry Boorman (Dylan Baker) alerts him to the fact that Chris has been seen talking to Ellen and he suggests eliminating him. However, Erickson refuses to sanction the hit on Chris' life. Erickson even sets up psychological help for Chris to get him past his stress disorder.

At the psychiatrist's office, Chris reveals that he went on an illegal mission for High Star that resulted in the deaths of the men under his command. Ellen soon learns that those same men were the ones that she tried to speak to him about earlier. Ellen finally guilts Chris into helping her build a case against High Star while assuring him that everything will be alright. But Boorman has already murdered the psychiatrist who treated Chris and he seems intent upon taking out Chris as well.

In a future sequence, taking place in Afghanistan three months after the main story, a masked male soldier (who greatly resembles Chris) is tortured and killed by some mysterious men. Ellen eventually finds the man's mutilated body and she breaks down in tears.

Breakdown:

If for some reason you've never seen "Damages" before, then you've been missing out on an outstanding legal drama. The fourth season premiere of "Damages" maintains the high standards that we've come to expect from the series, even with a potentially much smaller budget on a new network.

"Damages" stands out from other legal shows because it mines its stories almost exclusively from events taking place outside of a main trail rather than rely on courtroom theatrics. It's also managed to remain extremely topical. Last season tackled the Bernie Madoff scandal with the Joe Tobin storyline and this year, the target appears to be similar to the infamous military contractor, Blackwater/Xe. John Goodman has a lot to live up to in order to match the impact of Ted Danson's Arthur Frobisher; but Goodman's performance as Howard Erickson suggests a much more human villain for this season.

For all of his apparent bravado, Erickson actually seems to have a heart that Frobisher lacked. He refuses to have Chris killed and he doesn't back down from his position. Erickson also seems to have a good relationship with his children which suggests that he's a family man at heart. However, High Star is clearly guilty of sending men on an illegal mission and it seems apparent that Erickson has allowed his associate eliminate people who are threats in the past. When even Patty Hues is telling Ellen to back off of a case, it suggests a justified level of fear for her personal safety as well as her reputation.

Supporting actors usually get the best parts on "Damages." And this year's lucky winner is Dylan Baker, who is intriguingly creepy as Jerry Boorman, Erickson's murderous associate. It's telling that Boorman was already following Chris before his discussions with Ellen went forward, not to mention that he sets up an illegal wiretap on Ellen almost effortlessly. Boorman's murder of the psychiatrist was also a strong cinematic moment. Boorman is clearly someone who enjoys his work a little too much and it's likely that one of the main or supporting characters will meet their ends at his hands later this season.

Even after Michael's attempt on her life, Patty doesn't seem to have changed much. It's no wonder why her son came out so emotionally disturbed after seeing the way that Patty treats Catherine. I think that Patty does love her granddaughter as much as she could love anyone, but the girl is clearly an afterthought in her life. Patty also hasn't lost her knack for playing games with the people around her. Her cold dismissal of the nanny was classic Patty. But it would have been nice if the nanny had told her off instead of meekly taking her severance pay.

Oddly enough, Ellen's character seemed less in sync with the rest of the show than anyone else. It must be hard to keep coming up with ways to bring Ellen back into Patty's orbit, especially after finally getting Frobisher arrested for the death of her fiancee.  Aside from the brief revelation that Ellen is romantically seeing one of the partners at her firm, there just isn't much definition to her personality any more. She seems to exist just for the purpose of getting the case against High Star up and running. It was also asking a lot of the audience to buy that Ellen's old boyfriend was not only a High Star soldier, but he was also the commander of the botched illegal operation that she's investigating. That's a pretty big coincidence to hang a season on.

The future sequence was also less effective than in the past because we don't care about who the captured person is. We're meant to infer that its Chris, but that may just be another one of the show's infamous red herrings. The problem is that none of the new cast members have yet earned the audience's loyalty in the way that Patty and Ellen have already done. If they aren't the characters in jeopardy, then the stakes aren't high enough yet.

Regardless of some minor problems, this was still an excellently crafted hour of television. "Damages" deserves its many accolades, and if it can deliver another season as strong as the last three, then it will remain one of the best shows on the air today.

Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.