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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s a funny old world we live in nowadays, where critically acclaimed series which can’t pull enough viewers to stay alive on the networks that gave birth to them are regularly given a reprieve from cancellation by other networks with less stringent ratings requirements. You may, for instance, recall that we saw DirecTV provide NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” with the opportunity to run its course, allowing the series to come to a masterful conclusion that it never would’ve seen on its original home. Apparently, this business model must’ve worked out relatively well for the satellite network, because damned if they didn’t do the exact same thing for FX’s “Damages.”
Mind you, given the unabashed intensity of the first season of “Damages,” it’s always been a little surprising that the series managed to be anything other than a single-season wonder. Nonetheless, creators Daniel Zelman, Todd A. Kessler and Glenn Kessler have continued to build on the odd relationship between Patty Hughes (Glenn Close) and her former protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) while continually unfolding inventive new plotlines to utilize the unique chronological structure that’s become a hallmark of the series.
When the fourth season of “Damages” kicks off, we’ve jumped ahead almost three years, leaving the tragic death of Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) a somewhat distant memory, albeit one which still warrants mention on occasion. Ellen has found her way into a new law firm – Nye, Everett & Polk – and is just starting to pursue a case involving High Star, a private security firm which has been working with the US government on missions in Afghanistan. As it happens, a friend of hers from high school is a former High Star employee, one who’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences with them, but although Ellen enters into the case with confidence, it doesn’t take her long to realize that she’s in so far over her head that she must begrudgingly go to Patty for assistance. Meanwhile, Patty’s got her own personal problems to deal with, as her son Michael remains MIA, thereby leaving her with custody of her toddler granddaughter, Catherine.
Half the fun of “Damages” has always been seeing who the series brings in for guest roles, and Season 4 is no exception. John Goodman is easily the most recognizable face in the crowd, playing Howard Erickson, head honcho of High Star, but with all due respect to the big man, who does a fine job, he’s unquestionably outshined by Dylan Baker, who – as the inscrutable Jerry Boorman – is creepy, despicable, and brilliantly memorable. Judd Hirsch also turns in several episodes of nice work as Bill Herndon, a former colleague of Patty’s who spends a bit more time with a bottle in front of him than he ought to, and Tom Noonan returns as Victor Huntley, who, although he’s now retired from the police force, still manages to do his fare share of detective work.With Season 5 ostensibly set in stone as the final season of “Damages,” the show’s producers seem to have an end game in place, which is, along with the reinvigoration that comes with finding a new home, perhaps a major reason why Season 4 proves as successful as its predecessors. The level of suspense is just as strong as it’s ever been, with Close and Byrne continuing to play off each other wonderfully, and although it’s crystal clear that the storyline owes more than a little bit of its substance to Blackwater’s goings-on, this is hardly the first time that “Damages” has ripped a bit from recent headlines for a plot line, so who cares? As long as it’s effective, that’s what matters, and rest assured, Season 4 finds “Damages” just as effective as it’s ever been.
Special Features: In addition to the usual deleted scenes and outtake reel, there is a pair of featurettes. The first, “A Case for War: The Cast and Crew Discuss the Fourth Season,” is pretty much exactly what its title says it is, and given that it features a certain number of spoilers, it really ought to have been placed on the last disc rather than Disc 1. The other featurette, “The Evolution of Patty Hughes,” is equally self-explanatory, offering a seven-minute look into the gradual changes in Glenn Close’s character. Alas, there are no audio commentaries to be found amongst the three discs. Oh, well.