Innocence and naivete are long gone as season two of FX’s “Damages” picks up with characters seeking revenge or repentance. With the last chapter airing 15 months ago, the first episode acts as both a flashback and plate-setter as to where the story goes from here. Knowing that both attorney Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) and her boss, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), are lying in nearly every conversation with one another takes the shine off an Emmy-nominated series that, at least early on, is missing a compelling good vs. evil component.
Despite being in the right, it’s harder to root for Ellen now. Yes, her fiance was murdered and she was attacked and nearly killed in Close’s Gotham apartment, but a vengeful Ellen comes across as one-dimensional and unlikable. Being fresh out of law school made her doe-eyed virtuosity a winning attribute. Now, she’s working with the FBI in a made-up infant mortality case to get back at Patty, and spite doesn’t suit her.
As the episode opens, the show again uses the device of time-shifting, with Ellen apparently trying to get information from a hostage. Then it’s six months earlier and Patty is on “Live With Regis and Kelly” chatting about her victory in the Arthur Frobisher case.
Speaking of which, Frobisher (Ted Danson) is recovering from gunshot wounds at an undisclosed clinic. Danson plays him as weepy and vulnerable, which is quite a departure from the defiant Frobisher who previously had vowed to defeat his enemies.
Two new characters show promise. As Daniel Purcell, William Hurt — reuniting with Close for the first time in the 25 years since “The Big Chill” — has information “that can take down an industry” and is being stalked for his ultra-sensitive material. He has a history with Patty and reaches out for her help.
In episodes two and three, Purcell becomes more entangled and writers Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman offer him up as someone with significant trust issues. It’s difficult to figure out where his allegiances lie, but that could pay off down the road.
Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood”), meanwhile, is part of a therapy group, and makes a connection with Ellen, who’s attending but doesn’t seem to be getting much out of it.
“Damages” works best when it doesn’t show its cards early on, so it’s hard to make definitive judgments after only a handful of episodes. Predicaments and positions can often change, and seeing a character move from one end of the ethical spectrum to the other can be reinvigorating. Here’s hoping there’ll be a few such shifts along the way.
Tech credits and overall production are mostly solid, on a par with season one.