Season 3 of Damages centers on a Bernie Madoff-modeled scandal: Patty Hewes' (Glenn Close) clients are some of the ripped-off investors of a greedhead financier, Louis Tobin, played by Broadway pro Len Cariou.
This being Damages, however, there's also a crucial subplot that bleeds into the rest of the show. You'll recall that at the end of last season, Patty's protégée, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), left the firm in disgust. Now she's working in the New York district attorney's office, but gets drawn back into Patty's web with an assist from Patty's right-hand man, Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan).
A new supporting cast is always a big treat on Damages, and this season we get Campbell Scott as Tobin's prim, moralistic son; Lily Tomlin as Tobin's grim, brittle wife; Keith Carradine as a thus-far-mysterious guy who wants to date Patty; and Martin Short as the Tobin family lawyer. Short is particularly good. Unlike Darrell Hammond's walking-corpse executioner in season 2, Short knows that a comedian doesn't have to go completely dead fish to play a serious role. He does Winstone as his Nathan Thurm character without the tics and punchlines he's a sinister, untrustworthy character who oozes brainy insincerity like oil. Love him. And Close brings a fresh vulnerability to Patty, who is going through a divorce (Michael Nouri's Paul is coolly vengeful). The actress does a subtle job of revealing that, despite all her usual go-for-the- throat moves, Patty's exhausted eyes and sometimes hesitant movements suggest a woman close to a breaking point.
TV shows don't exist in a cultural vacuum, and it may be that, with the return of the time-traveling Lost and the neck-snapping shifts of FlashForward, the trademark time jumps in Damages will start to seem tiresome to viewers. In the two episodes I've watched, the Damages flash-forwards startling scenes of a car crash and its investigation six months in the future are occasionally repetitive interruptions to the show's engrossing present-day scenes. I also wonder whether the public is a bit burned-out on Madoff-based plots. The guy is at once a scourge and a zero, and even an actor as full-bloodedly alive as Cariou has difficulty sparking the show's chatter about manipulated money.
But Damages has pulled everything off in its previous seasons, and I'm hooked on this one, too. Scott is terrific as the conflicted son who's something of a sap, a patsy for Patty and Winstone. Plus, we're promised more Ted Danson as Arthur Frobisher, a reason for celebration. And the bottom line on Close is: Nobody upstages Patty. It's the character's curse, and the actress' triumph. B