damages (+ nurse jackie)

simon and i have been watching damages and nurse jackie. the first two season of the former are available on dvd, so we basically gorged on them and absolutely loved them. the series is built like a long film broken into episodes, like the wire, and starts with a small, tantalizing taste of what happens at the end. this is also the format of each episode: we get a minute or so of the end, then a caption says, “six months earlier,” and the story resumes chronologically. every episode closes the gap between the chronological story and the end, which is in the meantime doled out to us in greater portions. of course, the end is entirely shocking and you have absolutely no idea (though by the end of the season you have your suspicions) how the show will get from where it is in the narrative present to the preposterous conclusion.

i loved this format and thought it worked particularly well in season one. the writers were able to keep the various narrative strands untangled and coherent, which seemed a feat of mametian brilliance to me. the show is a pleasure to watch — it’s beautifully shot and edited, it has a great cast, and it’s wickedly written.

damages is about pathology and the destruction of love. it’s also, very much, about women, which is a great part of why i like it so much. glenn close plays patty hughes, a high-power attorney who takes on corporation in class action suits. while being apparently a good guy who fights for the underdog, she is pretty much heartless. she is entirely into herself, has no morals, has no professional ethics, seems almost completely unable to love or even be decent. in other words, she is a sociopath.

ellen parsons, played by aussie rose byrne, is an attorney fresh out of law school whom hughes pursues, hires, and… damages, in pretty short order.

glenn close plays her role with the same complexity, intelligence, and class as meryl streep played miranda priestly in the devil wears prada. unlike miranda, who is meant to be hugely repressed, patty is just evil, but close does an amazingly convincing job at showing her vulnerabilities and, ultimately, a lovability that frankly defies any attempt at rationalization.

byrne is a fabulous actor. she plays everything on her face, and she does a fantastic job of being both a star-struck ingénue and a sly quick learner. in the second season she rocks.

the supporting cast is marvelous. ted danson, in particular, is a stealer.

the series reminds one of the devil wears prada in a number of respects. one of the most interesting to me is its play on feminism in the form of presenting two archetypes of the liberated woman, namely the older woman who got far because she got tough and became one of the guys (that patty hughes is “one of the guys” is repeatedly stated by various characters in the show), and the third generation feminist who probably wouldn’t even call herself a feminist but takes the gains of past struggles for granted. patty hughes is married, but it is significant that ellen parson’s lovely boyfriend has to die (this is the first scene of the first episode of season one, so i’m giving away nothing). ellen cannot become a legitimate member of the (male) legal world without sacrificing a great chunk of her unthinking femininity as a price.

another interesting aspect of this and various other tv shows is that they are excellent vehicles for older actors — especially, but not only, women actors. just like meryl streep, glenn close is a class act in aging (notwithsting the obvious plastic surgeries; david bianculli has compared her to mirren’s inspector tennison, but by the end of prime suspect mirren showed her age; glenn close looks fabulous, but i would have preferred this fabulousness to come with a few expression lines). since movie viewership is declining and tv viewership is growing (is it growing?), this seems pretty cool to me.

i invariably perceive battle of wits between women as erotic. to me, they are the female equivalent of male buddies’ big tumble-down full-out fights — the only way for guys to touch, the only way for women to be intellectual rather than domestic with each other. close and byrne are locked in a combat so tight, it feels to me like love. i felt the same about miranda and andrea (anna hathaway) in devil. i know some people don’t feel this way, but i do, and thoroughly enjoy the frisson.


i just started watching nurse jackie, and the point about older actresses applies here too. i have no words to say how fabulous edie falco is. she owns the show with such ease and mastery, it’s a wonder to behold. and her face looks like her skin is all there. she’s a fierce, sexy, butch, tough, tender, and smart-assy character, and i love her.

6 thoughts on “damages (+ nurse jackie)”

  1. I love Zoe on Nurse Jackie, one of my favorite TV shows out there (the other, The United States of Tara is also worth watching). And when it comes to Edie Falco, it’s pretty remarkable how quickly Carmello Soprano fades into memory while getting hooked on Nurse Jackie. That is the mark of a fine actor!

  2. Because of your appreciation of Damages, Gio, I’ve finally watched it. I got it out of the library three different times, but never got to an episode the week I had it. And it’s hard to get Kris and I watching anything together — she goes to bed too early — but I was waiting… until last night, everyone in bed, I saw that the first season was available streaming… and damn. Two great opening episodes. I’m glad you’d written such a strong review, which kept it on my radar. More later — I think I’ll be roaring through this one.

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