Damages' Bloody Finale
Because the fate of FX's award-winning legal drama Damages is unclear—barring an eleventh hour reprieve—the final episode of Season 3 could wind up being the serpentine thriller's series finale.
Yet, for a show with as many neck-snapping plot twists as Damages, it's safe to say that anything is possible.
Damages' third season, which wrapped up last night, revolved around a Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme that ensnared the fortunes of the well-heeled Tobin family, suffering a very public fall from grace as litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her partner Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) and Patty's ex-protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne)—now an employee of the district attorney's office—sought to bring down the Tobins and return the money stolen from the family's victims.
Daniel Zelman: Patty wants to see Ellen rise and be successful and, on the other hand, Patty wants Ellen's life to be as unfulfilled and problematic as Patty's was.
Warning: unless you have watched the Season 3 finale of Damages, or do not care that we reveal all of the particulars of that finale, do not continue reading this article. Seriously.
Since it's Damages, the road to the final scene was paved with as much blood and betrayal as possible: we learned the identity of Tom's murderer (Campbell Scott's Joe Tobin) and how Tom was killed, just who was driving the car that smashed into Patty (her furious son, Michael), whether Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) would be caught, and the source of Patty's true guilt. All of which was wrapped up with a final scene between Patty and Ellen on the dock of her beach house, concluding with Ellen asking Patty whether it was all worth it in the end.
The Daily Beast spoke to creators Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman about the price of success, Patty and Ellen, Tom's death, Frobisher's comeuppance, a possible fourth season, and much more.
This is your last chance: Major spoilers follow.
The Daily Beast: A lot of loose ends get tied up in the season finale. Did you collectively approach this episode as a possible end to the series?
Todd A. Kessler: Each season finale—because there is one case per season—brings the closure of that case and ends a chapter in the relationship between Patty and Ellen. We didn't approach it as it if were a series finale and we have stories to tell beyond this… One of [our] guiding principles… is to provide closure and not just more questions by the end of the season.
The Daily Beast: Patty, Louis (Len Cariou), Marilyn (Lily Tomlin), Tom, and Ellen each make a choice about their family. Why was theme of sacrifice and family important?
Glenn Kessler: From the very beginning of the series, one of the things that we were very interested in exploring was the cost of success. We laid that out in personal terms in the pilot when Ellen loses her fiancé, [who] is ultimately a casualty of her professional life. Family was always something that we thought of as one of the many casualties as one climbs the ladder of success.
We thought it would be fascinating, instead of just focusing on a CEO in the third season as the antagonist that Patty is going after, to go after a family. Once we hit on that as an idea, we were very cognizant of the very interesting resonances and echoes between what was going on in the Tobin family and what was going on in Patty and Ellen's own lives. Patty's personal life is pretty dysfunctional. Ellen is encountering her own problems. What would it be like if the antagonist family were a very tightly-knit group and that the familial bonds might in fact be stronger in a way than what was in Patty or Ellen's own lives?
The Daily Beast: It was a stunning twist that Louis Tobin started the Ponzi scheme to protect Joe, making him less a villain and more a desperate father.
Zelman: People's motivations for doing what they do are very complex. You never want to look at this family from the outset and say, well, he was the evil patriarch and the rest of the family were victims because he was some greedy man... The characters and the stories don't have very far to go in that scenario.
The Daily Beast: It's revealed that Julian Decker (Keith Carradine) is a figure from Patty's past who is now a figment of her imagination. Is Patty's guilt over her stillborn daughter Julia's death eating away at her?
Glenn Kessler: Patty was in a very difficult position for a woman at that time, particularly with her temperament, having to decide between moving out a situation where she felt stuck—living in a small town—when she had broader vistas of her professional career that lay ahead if she chose to take them. That was a piece of her history that we had introduced in the first season and we knew we wanted to find a way to get back to it, to explain who she was, as a younger woman at a crossroads. Decker does haunt her, over this decision and the path not taken.
The Daily Beast: Should we assume then that that is what Patty confesses to Joe at the police station? Her involvement in Julia's death? Or attempting to kill Ellen?
Todd A. Kessler: We left that intentionally open because there are many things in Patty's life that she could draw from. Patty fully confessing to anyone is really not in her DNA. But to tell Joe enough to get what she wanted from him—which was a confession that he killed Tom—is something that someone like Patty would know how to do without revealing an ounce more than was necessary.
The Daily Beast: The final scene on the dock beautifully sums up the push and pull between Patty and Ellen over three seasons. Why was it important that Patty doesn't verbally answer Ellen's question?
Zelman: It was just more interesting to let the audience sit with that question and draw their own conclusions. It's not necessarily about the question—"was it worth it?"—but more about what Patty is going through... That moment crystallizes something that Patty is lacking, the ability to communicate in a healthy way. Ellen's character, in a certain way, seems a more balanced character. We liked the idea that, as Ellen walks away from that question, there's something, in a very subtle way, that gives us hope for Ellen because she doesn't seem to need the answer… She knows the answer herself and that self-knowledge is something that will feed her going forward.
The Daily Beast: Is Ellen a substitute for Julia? Is that why Patty was so distraught over having to have her killed in Season 1?
Zelman: There's no question that Ellen fills some need in Patty… Patty sees someone in Ellen who could potentially could be as successful as Patty but who could have a more complete life. When Patty meets Ellen, she has a fiancé and Ellen's first major decision in the pilot is to go to her sister's wedding instead of going to the interview with Patty. As the series progresses, we see that Ellen's relationship with her family isn't even that great, but Ellen is still trying to maintain certain priorities in her life and put family over career. There's an envy that Patty has towards Ellen because Ellen is young and of a different generation… Patty wants to see Ellen rise and be successful and, on the other hand, Patty wants Ellen's life to be as unfulfilled and problematic as Patty's was.
The Daily Beast: Is there any chance of Patty repairing her relationship with Michael (Zachary Booth) after their collision? Or is Ellen all she has left?
Todd A. Kessler: The nature of the show is that in the fourth season and beyond, Michael and Patty will still have interactions, in terms of repairing their relationship. We've always used the show… as an expression of a heightened reality for relationships. Whether it's Patty trying to kill Ellen… or Tom losing his life in the third season, these things aren't meant to be taken so literally. In all of our lives, we've had bosses that have asked a tremendous amount from us and have pushed our personal lives to extremes and sometimes to destruction. With mothers and sons and fathers and daughters and vice-versa, there are huge instances of parents interceding and influencing their children's lives and the children lash out. We would fully expect to have Michael and Patty interacting in the series, heading into Seasons 4 and 5, if we are lucky enough to have them.
The Daily Beast: Was it always your intention to have Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) pay for David's murder this season?
Zelman: That was always the intention with the story of Frobisher. He enters the season working on this environmental project, then someone wants to make his movie. We always knew that that would lead to his comeuppance.
The Daily Beast: Why was it essential that Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) be killed off this season?
Todd A. Kessler: From the very beginning [of the show], we had the notion that one of the cases that Patty would take on would lead to personal tragedy for her… The logical place where "what price success?" can lead is not only towards ruining personal relationships but also taking the life of one of the main characters.
The Daily Beast: There were several episodes this season set entirely in the present, rather than in multiple timeframes. Would you continue to use nonlinear storytelling if there is a Season 4?
Todd A. Kessler: The two different timeframes helped to accentuate that we were heading towards the place where the stakes were very high… Ellen being attacked, Ellen's fiancé being murdered in the first season, Ellen shooting a gun at someone in the second season, and Tom Shayes' death. Moving into a fourth season, we would challenge ourselves to come up with something new and there is a possibility that it wouldn't function in two different timeframes like that.
The Daily Beast: Sony Pictures Television is in talks with DirecTV about coming on to co-finance production. How hopeful are you that there will be a fourth or fifth season for Damages?
Todd A. Kessler: We have every confidence that, if there is the possibility of there being a fourth season, there will be. Sony as a studio, since moment one, has been entirely supportive of the show... If it's at all possible, Sony will figure out a way to make it happen. If it's not possible, then we're very proud of the work that we've been able to do these past three seasons with Sony and FX.
The Daily Beast: If a deal can't be reached, would you satisfied with the resolution of where Patty and Ellen find themselves?
Zelman: We've always been satisfied at the end of each season with where we've left things. If the show ends up not coming back… we've left them in a very interesting place. There's some ambiguity there, which is intentional and we find satisfying. I think we would be fine with it if this did end up being the last chapter in their relationship.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.