The first selling point of the FX original series Damages is right there on the cover: Glenn Close, the fatal attraction herself, coming off her TV debut on that other FX series, The Shield, and accepting the queen-bitch crown on her own show. Her role as amoral civil litigator Patty Hewes evokes the icy manipulations of Meryl Streep's recent work (The Manchurian Candidate, The Devil Wears Prada), minus the mental instability. To the now-stereotypical image of the lawyer as a puppeteer in a power suit, Close adds a generous helping of mommy issues, turning the best episodes of this thriller into Freudian nightmares.
But a character like Hewes typically can't be the lead (Shield and Sopranos aside); she acts as a foil for a more conventional protagonist. Here, it's Rose Byrne as the (yawn) idealistic young lawyer who, soon after taking a job with Hewes & Associates, compromises her principles while trying to extricate herself from the boss' apparently omniscient plots. Damages' masterstroke is in structuring this whole character arc as a flashback, from the moment in the pilot when Byrne stumbles out of an elevator covered with blood and winds up in a police interrogation room. As the season progresses, more of the present-day violence comes to light while the flashbacks delve into the mysteries surrounding the firm's big insider-trading case against corporate bigwig Ted Danson. After 13 episodes, the storylines have caught up to each another, but haven't brought anyone to justice—so in season two, Byrne promises to wield more of the upper hand as she investigates Close undercover, right inside her offices.
A season-long plot like this has to be shoehorned into an arbitrary number of episodes, and a few in the middle of Damages spin their wheels. Byrne can't hold the center as the nice girl trying to have it all, but it hardly matters when big stars are chewing the furniture so entertainingly. Danson, especially, is a revelation, playing the baddie with a sense of aggrieved frustration, while Zeljko Ivanek, as his lawyer, becomes an object of pity and fear. And through it all, Close commands the series with such icy resolve that a slight widening of her eyes in shock and surprise can chill viewers' hearts.
Key features: Sporadically interesting commentaries with the creators, joined by Close and Ivanek on two episodes; an unusually revealing making-of featurette.