‘Damages’: Season 4 DVD review

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Formerly shown on the BBC in the UK, this hard-hitting US corporate law drama was initially cancelled after its third year by FX. Despite a second lease of life with DirecTV, commissioned for two further ten-episode seasons, Damages is now sadly without a UK broadcaster. Consequently, Season 4 makes its British debut on DVD.

Set two and a half years on since the events of the third season, which culminated in the death of firm partner Tom Shayes, we find Patty Hewes’ sometime protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) out on her own and looking for a case.

While previous storylines have focused on class actions, environmental issues and Ponzi schemes, this time the show centres on the continuing ‘war against terror’ in Afghanistan. Following up on an old schoolmate and high school crush, Ellen wilfully engages with the murky world of ‘High Star’ security as she investigates events that cost the lives of three former soldiers. The plot draws its inspiration from the real life Blackwater Security scandal, focussing on military work performed on behalf of the US government by private security contactors.

The implacable Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), on the other hand, has become increasingly isolated after the death of Tom, the breakdown of her marriage and disappearance of her son Michael. She is also reluctantly attending court ordered therapy sessions to control her ‘anger issues’.

With the added dimension of responsibility of her young granddaughter, Patty seeks to discover the fate of the child’s estranged father, engaging a private detective to track his last known movements.

Like Ted Danson and William Hurt in previous years, John Goodman is the latest high profile guest star, here taking on the role of the embattled Chief Executive Howard T Erickson. Goodman’s performance is compelling; painted as an outwardly moral father and patriotic leader of men, Erickson is pushed into a corner as the pressure mounts. Under fire, he goes to extreme lengths to protect his men, his organisation and its multi-million dollar global operations.

Erickson’s shadowy contact is Jerry Goodman (Dylan Baker), a twisted wildcard whose motives are both surprising and shocking as the investigations reveal the true nature of High Star’s operations. Another notable guest is the wonderful Judd Hirsch, of Taxi fame, in a scene stealing set of appearances as Patty’s washed up former colleague Bill Herndon.

Damages is, as ever, as much about the dynamic between Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons as it is about the case. High Star offers Ellen a chance to make a name for herself, but in a twist of fortune she has become the instigator. She courts Patty for her support and resources, becoming as manipulative as her former mentor. Yet Ellen struggles to maintain a professional distance from the case and Patty questions she truly possesses the killer instinct.

With a mystery set up in revealing flashes, both forwards and back in the show’s traditionally non-linear style, layers are peeled away to give a rewarding final reveal that involves a tremendous double-cross. On a personal level for the two principals, the balance of power appears to shift irrevocably between them and battle lines are drawn for Season 5, which is billed to be the last.

Extras: A Case for War – a 13-minute promotional feature with the cast and crew discussing the series; The Evolution of Patty Hewes – a 7-minute documentary on the way the programme’s enigmatic central character has developed during the series; nine deleted scenes, revealing a few interesting points; and 4 minutes worth of outtakes and general silliness from the cast.

Released on DVD on Monday 16th July 2012 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment UK.

> Buy the DVD boxset on Amazon.

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