Don't Think About Season 3 Of Damages -- Just Let It Hit You
Our Marathon Diarist feels battered and bruised, yet mostly amused.
If I'd been forced to watch it over thirteen long weeks, I might have hated the third season of Damages. You guys? It's terrible. The writing veers between laughably blunt and pretentiously obscure; some of the performances are so bad they're probably used to scare acting students; and most galling of all, Patty's dumb son somehow sells paintings in a New York gallery. His success as a professional artist is an insult to the city where I live, and if I'd had time to brood, I wouldn't have stood for it.
However, the lulling magic of binge-watching kept me from brooding. If a series moves at a decent clip and delivers one shocking revelation after another, then I can let the capital-P plot anesthetize me into a contented stupor. Or put another way: so long as I don't stop to think, I can enjoy the hell out of Lily Tomlin's autumn sunrise hairdo.
But I did enjoy this fashion choice, plus several other things in each episode. What's more, I even got a kick out of the metaphorical intentions behind this season. Because as much as they're about the Tobin family's attempt to stash money after Daddy Tobin is indicted in a Ponzi scheme, these episodes are also about the collision of family and lies. Every character takes drastic action to protect his or her family, but every last one of them is also stained by deception.
In the most obvious sense, these choices impact the Tobins and their lawyer Leonard Winstone. In the name of saving each other, they tear each other apart, until Sister Tobin has killed Brother Tobin's baby mama; Brother Tobin has unwittingly killed his illegitimate daughter; and Leonard -- spurred on by his secret con man father -- has insured that the Tobins who turned on him will get sent to prison. And, to its credit, the show makes us feel the emotional devastation of these shenanigans, especially when Tomlin (as Mama Tobin) is on screen.
This season also uses Tomlin's character as a mirror for Patty. While Patty is trying to avenge the victims of the Tobins' scheme, she's also meddling in her son Michael's life, paying off HIS baby mama to leave him. When that doesn't work, she throws her would-be daughter-in-law in jail, and by the season finale, Michael has gotten revenge by plowing into his mother's car. With his mother inside.
The first twelve episodes use flash-forwards to imply that one of the Tobins (or maybe Ellen) has caused this accident, but it's extra-fitting that it's Michael. As Patty's plowing through another family's despair, she's getting rammed by her own.
Toss in the subplot about Ellen's messed-up family -- her sister is a crackhead! Her mother tried to give Ellen up for adoption!-- and Tom's tragic death after he loses his money AND his family, and you get operatic tragedy. As a brutish whole, it's quite powerful -- maybe even devastating. We see all these people, written and played well enough to seem human, get destroyed by their love and venality. I admire the ambition to tell such a big story.
But you know what? I do NOT admire sacrificing every damn bit of logic just so you can make your sweeping points. The creative team -- who is currently behind the equally "meaningful" Bloodline -- doesn't let any writing roadblock get in the way of its literary goals.
To wit: when it's time for Leonard to sell out the Tobins, he needs to get the confession that Papa Tobin conveniently wrote before killing himself. That's already fishy, because why the hell didn't Papa just MAIL the confession, instead of leaving it next to his suicide drugs in a folder marked "deliver to Patty Hewes"??? Did he really believe somebody in the family was just going to send that damning bit of info to the lawyer, tra la la? He only thought that because of bad writing.
But I digress: when Leonard needs to get the confession back from Brother Tobin, he sends his con man father, dressed as a janitor, to collect it from Brother's hotel room. Where the door is apparently unlocked and a fake janitor can just waltz on in. And then Fake Janitor finds the confession in the first drawer her opens. And, oh yeah, please note the name badge on his fake uniform.
JORGE?!?! HAHAHAHA. NOPE.
I could give examples like this forever, but let me add just one more: in the season finale, Tom gets stabbed while trying to help Leonard. But does Tom go to the hospital? NO. He makes several phone calls, reaches out to a homeless man to help him continue his plan, and then somehow drags his bleeding ass across town to his house. And while he's there, Brother Tobin storms in and drowns him in the toilet. It's all very symbolic, since Tom dies in the house he was trying to save, but did it not occur to him that multiple stab wounds might best be treated in the ER? Sigh.
At least Tate Donovan is a good enough actor to pull this off. And at least the rest of the central cast -- including a surprisingly effective Martin Short as Leonard -- can handle the season's weird obsession with pausing. Once you start noticing the air between EVERY line of dialogue, it's like they're waiting for you to scream "get on with it" during each scene.
Some of the supporting players, however, can't hack it. As Sister Tobin, Ana Reeder sets her phasers to "noisy whine" and blows us all to hell. As Ellen's sister, Miriam Shor decides that grunt-screaming every line is the best way to communicate the demons of addiction. And most startling of all, as the cop investigating Patty's traffic accident, Tom Noonan is so mannered and stuttering that he makes Vincent D'Onofrio on Law & Order: Criminal Intent seem subdued. I swear, I've never seen a more self-consciously "quirky" performance, and I just saw that his ass is going to be back in Season 4, so god help me now.
Arthur Frobisher won't be back, though, and I'm okay with that. Because they apparently thought Season 3 was going to be the end of the series, the creators shoehorn in some closure for Arthur's storyline, where he almost turns his life story into a book then gets turned in for murdering Ellen's fianc instead. That only happens because Timothy Olyphant's character conveniently shows up at the last minute to confess all the crimes of the previous two years. It's all really random and totally clunky, but at least we know Arthur's book -- the awesomely titled My Long And Windy Road, but it's supposed to be "wind-y," like the wind -- will never be made into a movie. And at least that means we don't have to see any more scenes with Craig Bierko, cheesing it up as the actor who wants to play Arthur.
Sadly, though, the end of Arthur's story also means we won't get any more appearance from the Ghost of Ray Fiske, who pops up as Frobisher's conscience. Damages looooooves a ghostly conscience, y'all. Ellen's dead fianc? He's here! Patty's Uncle Pete? Come on in! And what about Keith Carradine as an architect who flirts with Patty at a party, then comes over to suggest renovations for her apartment, then turns out to be nothing but the memory of a farmer who saw Patty when she was pregnant in 1972?
I mean...what about that? Why spend so much time faking us out? I guess it's to demonstrate that Patty still feels guilty about protecting her burgeoning career and inducing a miscarriage by walking around the farm. Which...okay. Miscarriage by strolling. Fine. But wouldn't that hokey crap have been just as powerful-slash-cheap without a figment of Carradine showing up in midtown Manhattan? To pick up on my earlier point, the creators clearly thought it would serve their symbolic arc to have his spirit hanging around, so they were like, "Yeah! Ghost Carradine! It's worth it! Call his agent!"
Yet for all this, I'm totally down for Season 4. It's three episodes shorter, for one thing, which will probably make the plot even more relentless. I'll just try to ignore the inevitably terrible writing until it's all over.
Lily Tomlin's hair-did
Tom Noonan's performance, which is really worse even than I described
Mark's Damages Marathon Diary
- The Damages Marathon Diary Kicks Off With Bad Blouses And Bloody Statues
- In Season 2 Of Damages, Patty Hewes Will Read You For Filth
- Don't Think About Season 3 Of Damages -- Just Let It Hit You
- Season 4 Of Damages Was A Diamond Lost In DirecTV's Rough
- Patty And Ellen's Epic War Crowds Out The Guest Stars In Season 5 Of Damages