Judging “Damages” off a couple of episodes is always a challenge, given the way this brainy drama dangles a lure baited with teasing tidbits and red herrings. Still, the producers appear to have seized on their reprieve — with the final flight of episodes kept alive thanks to DirecTV — to bring their fans an element of closure, setting up an epic struggle between the two central characters, ruthless plaintiffs attorney Patty Hewes and her one-time protege, Ellen Parsons. All this bodes well for a fifth-season sendoff worthy of the show’s twisty past.
Once again exhibiting a “Law & Order”-like fondness for deriving inspiration from high-profile headlines, the new season begins with a Wall Street whistle-blower (Jenna Elfman) who has provided secrets to a WikiLeaks-like operation, presided over by the strange, imperious Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe).
Without giving too much away, McClaren pretty quickly finds himself in need of a lawyer, and Patty (Glenn Close) manipulates the situation to put herself across the table from Ellen (Rose Byrne), who, silly gal, still harbors ill feelings over Patty trying to have her killed in season one.
To say much more would invite legal retaliation from spoiler-phobic readers, but suffice to say series creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman seem committed to bringing the plot full circle — including the resolution of Patty’s scheming to retain custody of her granddaughter — via a courtroom clash of titans. In addition, they’re again separately using high-stakes legal maneuvering to delve into the nexus of big money and corruption.
In that regard, the current plot neatly meshes with past ones involving a Madoff-type Ponzi scheme, a Halliburton-esque contractor and a CEO ducking a class-action suit. And the echoes of reality are made richer thanks to WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange’s own real-world legal woes.
Not everything works on the show — and its principal device, providing glimpses foreshadowing what’s to come, can become a bit maddening — but there’s a clear focus to these first two hours auguring what could be a truly whiz-bang finish. And if nothing else, Close’s portrayal of Hewes — opportunistic and reptilian, yet oddly vulnerable — will surely be missed.
Like “Friday Night Lights,” this one-time FX series also concludes its run as a footnote — surviving to reach a fully fleshed-out ending thanks to the good graces of DirecTV, which recognized the value in sustaining these marquee series as a means of retaining subscribers.
If you need further evidence of the advantage in having new players join the original-programming game, it’s hard to make a better case for it than this one.