While the second season of “Damages” built and improved upon the first, because of the loose ends that were tied up, the third flight is forced to undergo a reboot — and does so quite effectively. Incorporating both a clearly Bernie Madoff-inspired financial scandal and a murder mystery, there’s a “Law & Order”-like “ripped from the headlines” quality to the festivities, albeit serialized, elongated and employing the FX show’s demanding time-bending formula. Any way you slice it, this is big-brain TV — the kind of program that must be watched with close attention paid to the small details.
The first two episodes again boast topnotch casting, if not perhaps quite the same level of wattage displayed in season two.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close, a two-time Emmy winner for the role) has been appointed by the U.S. government to locate billions bilked from investors by Louis Tobin (Len Cariou) in a sweeping Wall Street fraud scheme. The really interesting ethical dilemma, however, surrounds Tobin’s son Joe (Campbell Scott), who has been cooperating with the authorities but finds his impulse to do what’s right severely tested.
Not far away, meanwhile, is Patty’s former employee Ellen (Rose Byrne), who has moved on to a job in the district attorney’s office — one that begins to intersect with the Tobin case, and thus bring her back into Patty’s dangerous orbit. Byrne has grown in the part since season one, and her strange relationship with Hewes and Patty’s loyal colleague Tom (Tate Donovan) hints at new dimensions in these opening hours.
“Damages” has come to be defined in part by its use of a tricky narrative device — jumping back and forth in six-month intervals, foreshadowing what’s going to happen while gradually puttying in how those events unfold. The series has also made good use of its backdrop of big money, white-collar corruption and corporate power, which have proved to be extraordinary timely themes in light of recent headlines.
A happy consequence of that milieu has been the conspicuous casting of older actors in meaty roles, which has benefited the show enormously — from Ted Danson’s recurring gig as mogul Arthur Frobisher to Cariou and Lily Tomlin as his wife in the latest salvo.
In a sense, “Damages” has become the U.S. answer to British costume dramas — only here, the sumptuous outfits are fresh off Manhattan’s runways, and the Dickensian villains generally have better teeth. FX has often made its bones by seeking to push the pay-cable envelope in terms of standards, sometimes gratuitously so; “Damages” demonstrates that envelope-pushers needn’t be edgier, necessarily, just smarter.