Damages is back for one final showdown between Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons.
Season 4 ended with Patty (Glenn Close) stealing the High Star case from Ellen (Rose Byrne) and taking all the credit for bringing down Howard Erickson (guest star John Goodman). But Ellen had the last laugh: She was named as the sole character witness to testify against Patty in her custody battle with her son for her granddaughter.
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But don't count Patty out. In Wednesday's premiere (9/8c, DirecTV's Audience Channel), Patty refuses to take on the case of Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe), an Internet mogul whose Wikileaks-like operation comes under fire when the identity of one of his whistle-blowing Wall Street sources, Naomi Walling (Jenna Elfman), is (accidentally?) made public. Instead, Patty refers McClaren to Ellen, who has launched her own practice. Patty then represents the Walling family in a case against McClaren, which conveniently puts Ellen's testimony against Patty on hold and sets up a final tete-a-tete in the courtroom.
"This fifth and final season is what Ellen hopes will be her final step of maturation: to go up against Patty and defeat Patty in a case," executive producer Todd A. Kessler says. "For us, one of the really exciting challenges was to not have a clear-cut sense of right and wrong. We decided in the storytelling to not have it be, "Oh, Ellen has the moral high ground to stand on." The case and the clients that Patty and Ellen are both representing really provide a great backdrop for keeping the audience guessing who is in the right."
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But why would Ellen seemingly play right into Patty's hand by taking the case? "Ellen has finally gone out into the world and started on her own office," executive producer Glenn Kessler says. "She knows she needs a case and a very high-profile win to put her on the map and to launch her career. To be able to beat Patty and launch her own career in one fell swoop — that's certainly is the icing on the cake. It's a package that you realize by the end of the first episode is irresistible to Ellen."
But before she can even worry about Patty, Ellen has to contend with the super-secretive (and sometimes downright duplicitous) McClaren and his right-hand man, Rutger Simon (John Hannah), both of whom grow impatient with Ellen's methods. "As an attorney, you're never fully aware how much wrangling goes on with the people you're representing," Todd A. Kessler says. "Channing McClaren is someone whose entire professional reputation is based on protecting sources. What Ellen will learn is that the truth is very relative. To be an attorney, you don't necessarily need to know the exact truth, you need to know what you need to know in order to win."
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But is Ellen comfortable going to those gray areas in order to beat Patty? "The question we really explore this season is: How far Ellen is willing to go?" Byrne says. "Has she become Patty? What does she want? There's something very unapologetic about Ellen this season that is refreshing because there has been a lot of ducking and weaving and not quite going to the dark side." Adds executive producer Daniel Zelman: "This is the season where Ellen embraces her ambition. But where will that lead for her?"
Close believes Patty goads Ellen into taking the case because of her own complex narcissism. "In some ways, it would be this tribute to her if Ellen ended up being this great, fantastic lawyer who would be able to win," Close says. "On the other hand, I don't think she ever thinks there's anybody but a No. 2, and I don't think she'd be willing to share that space [at the top] with anyone."
Despite the distraction of custody battles, Close says Patty is laser-focused. "I think she's never been more on her game," she says. "She is at her most ruthless, her most intriguing, her most manipulative. And in some ways that's her tragedy. It's hard for her to get off her game."
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So, who's going to win? Although one fatally provocative image in the premiere hints at the answer, Close says she constantly kept reminding the writers of what she feels is the only fitting ending.
"I kept coming up to them and saying, 'I'm not going to lose, am I?'" Close says. Then she adds in her trademark Patty purr: "I don't want to go through all this time and lose."
Damages premieres Wednesday at 9/8c on DirecTV's Audience Channel.
- Ellen Parsons