main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Series: Damages
Margaret Thatcher has nothing on this Iron Lady.

"When I am through with you, there won't be anything left..."

A dark conspiracy/thriller/drama series with a legal theme starring Glenn Close as the ruthless lawyer Patty Hewes. Unusually for a legal series, each season follows a single case in detail rather than a Monster of the Week format. Damages is extremely dark, about as far on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as you can get - the "good guys" on this show, such as they are, would be villains in any other. The (Season 1 - anything beyond would contain spoilers) cast includes:

Patty Hewes: A brilliant attorney who wins her high-stakes lawsuits by any means necessary. Hewes is a tempered-steel Iron Lady, but still manages to frequently surprise with the depths she'll sink to to Pay Evil unto Evil. Her backstory and true motivations are slowly revealed as the series progresses. Could easily be the poster child for Amoral Attorney, and in any other show, would be the villain.

Ellen Parsons: A Na´ve Newcomer right out of law school hired by Hewes. Essentially the entire first season is one long Break the Cutie for her, as she slowly catches on to the rules of Patty's world and begins to manipulate them for her own ends. Serves as something of a Foil for Patty early on, before Taking A Level In Badass. The contrast and relationship between Ellen and Patty is a central theme of the show, and in fact the rest of the plot was constructed around it.

Tom Shayes: Patty's right-hand man and Ellen's mentor. Tom's morals are somewhat less flexible than Patty's, which in this show just makes him the Butt Monkey. Serves as Patty's Lancer, when she has something his morals can handle.

Arthur Frobisher: A Corrupt Corporate Executive on the receiving end of the Season 1 case. Selfish, arrogant, and ruthless in his attempts to defend himself. Already at a slow roll down the slippery slope at the series open and picks up speed over the course of the season.

Ray Fiske: Frobisher's lawyer and Patty's Worthy Opponent. Unusually for an antagonistic lawyer, he's fairly sympathetic and his legal ethics are if anything stricter than Patty's (not that that's saying much). Does his best to rein in Frobisher's bull-headed tendencies, and to keep the wolves at bay to win the case without bloodshed.

The show makes heavy use of Anachronic Order to create drama and tension, as the pieces of the Foregone Conclusion fall into place. Each episode reveals one piece of the puzzle in each the present and the future, and maintains a mix of events that a Genre Savvy viewer will catch on to just in time and Shocking Swerves that subvert such Genre Savvy to great effect. The political twists and turns are deep enough to make Tom Clancy blush, without becoming a Kudzu Plot.

Damages didn't maintain a strong viewership during its first season, and has continued to drop in ratings since, despite wide critical acclaim. The show went three seasons on F/X before being cancelled, and has been picked up by Direc TV for two more; the first two seasons are available on Netflix. Seasons 4 and 5 will each be ten episodes in length.

Now has a fledgling Character Sheet that needs some Wiki love.


  • Aborted Arc: Wes's Krulik's past and motives for going after Ellen: it's implied in season two that he both has his own personal interest in hurting Frobisher, as well as his own past (implied to be a former cop for whom Rick Messler was blackmailing to get him to keep an eye on Ellen.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Danielle Marchetti is impossibly young to have a daughter Tessa's age, considering they're only ten years apart.
  • Advertised Extra: Marcia Gay Harden as Claire Maddox in season 2 only appears in 7 out of 13 episodes.
  • Affably Evil: Arthur Frobisher and, to a lesser extent, his Dragon Ray Fiske.
  • All-Star Cast: The closest a TV show has ever come to this: Glenn Close (how many other series can you name that have five time Oscar nominee for their star?), William Hurt, Martin Short, Marcia Gay Harden, Campbell Scott, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman and Ted Danson have all had regular roles on the series and there's not another show on TV with that kind of roster outside of its one off guest cast list.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The ending theme for the Japanese release is "Perfect Me". The ending theme for the second season is "Rain" by Michi.
  • Amoral Attorney: Oh, God, yes!
  • Anachronic Order: Every season. An interesting use - each episode reveals two sections of plot, months apart from each other, with the "past" segments telling How We Got Here and the future ones unfolding the story.
  • Anyone Can Die: If your name isn't Ellen Parsons or Patty Hewes, keep your life insurance premiums current.
    • Of the main cast members of the first three seasons only Ellen, Patty, Wistone or Claire Maddox aren't dead or in prison.
      • And as of the season 5 premiere, Ellen can be crossed off that list.
      • She cannot, actually, as it was faked.
  • Anti-Hero: Patty Hewes, full stop.
  • Anti-Villain: Joe Tobin in season 3. He starts off as a genuinely nice guy whose world falls apart when his father's corruption is revealed and he even considers cooperating with Patty. Ultimately, he breaks under the pressure, falls off the wagon back to being an alcoholic and does a lot of horrible things to try and protect his family.
    • Ray Fiske may also apply. While he is guilty of insider trading he is a Boy Scout in comparison to Patty and resists Frobisher's attempts to resolve his problems through violence.
  • Arc Words: "Trust no one."
  • Ate His Gun: Ray Fiske does this in front of Patty after she blackmails him near the end of season 1.
  • Bad Ass Lawyer: Say what you will about her methods but Patty Hewes will always get her job done.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible
  • Beard of Evil: Rick Messer sports one of these.
  • Big Bad: Arthur Frobisher in season 1. Pell and Tobin for seasons 2 and 3 respectively.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Season 3's finale for sure. Former Karma Houdini Arthur Frobisher finally gets arrested for some of his crimes, but at the cost of Wes turning himself in for his part in them. The main case is solved but only after Tobin has murdered Tom, Tobin's mother has committed suicide and Winstone has managed to escape with a lot of the Tobins' money. On top of all that Patty's son tries to kill her after she has his girlfriend sent to prison for statutory rape and its revealed through flashbacks that Patty's deceased daughter was killed in the womb via intentional miscarriage, due to Patty putting her career first over motherhood. Ellen asks Patty if everything she's done for her career is worth it to which Patty doesn't reply.
  • Black and Gray Morality: At best. There's these people, see, and they go around blackmailing, burgling, bribing, and occasionally having people killed. And they're the good guys. The bad guys do all that stuff, but not for good reasons.
  • Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: Patty gives one of these to Ray Fiske.
  • Break the Cutie: The entire first season is one of these for Ellen Parsons.
    • Season four has that for Chris, Ellen's love interest.
  • Break The Bitch: But You Don't Do That Anymore, with Patty's actions ending up getting her son Michael killed.
  • Bungled Suicide: (Season 2) Uncle Pete attempts to kill himself rather than help the FBI against Patty. Patrick finishes the job after Pete wakes from his coma.
  • Butt Monkey: Arguably Tom Shayes. He is one of the few characters in the series with black and white morals and he gets little to no respect for it. He even gets Killed Off for Real in Season 3!
  • Broken Bird: Ellen by the end of season 1, and it's heavily hinted that Patty has this in her backstory.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Kendrick in season 2 is about as cartoonishly evil as it gets. Hiring hit men, destroying the environment and slowly killing wildlife and residents, ruining the lives of friends he's know for decades, all while chuckling and smoking a cigar while boasting how he'll happily go to Hell as long as he dies a rich man.
  • Career Resurrection: For Ted Danson. While he hadn't completley gone away after Cheers he had sort of fallen into has been territory with parts in unsuccesful films, a failed sitcom (Ink), a fairly unpopular one (Becker) and cameos as himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm. However, when the first season of Damages made it onto the air though critics couldn't stop talking about his suprisingly strong dramatic performance as Arthur Frobisher which gained Danson his first Emmy nomination in 15 years (including two more for his guest appearances in the subsequent seasons).
    • This renewed exposure also helped gain him a supporting role in the HBO sitcom Bored to Death and in the fall or 2011 he took the lead role on CSI.
  • Career Versus Man: One of the largest underlying themes in the show is Ellen currently battling over how much of herself she's willing to give up in order to further her career, and how Patty seemingly gave up any real ambition for a domestic life long ago. This is brought home further with the revelation that Patty induced a miscarriage when she was younger so that a baby wouldn't interfere with her new job. And in the season 5 finale, Ellen chooses to give up her career once and for all in order to be a wife and mother, after getting multiple people dead directly because of her, nearly killing herself and her unborn child from the stress of work.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While the show was always dark, the first three seasons had the characters going up against white collar criminals and business men. The fourth season opens up with Ellen picking a fight with the largest privatized army in the world, getting them tangled in the grizzly underbelly of illegal war crimes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The phone calls one of the FBI agents in season 2 keeps on getting and says are from his wife actually end up being important.
  • Cleanup Crew: Uncle Pete calls one in to get rid of the evidence that someone attacked Ellen.
  • Clear My Name: Arthur Frobisher's chief motivation. Subverted, in that he's actually guilty as sin, and does even worse things to win.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: implied to have happened to David before he was killed, fortunately off-screen. On screen for poor Tom in the S3 finale.
  • Completely Missing the Point: Arthur Frobisher in the Season 1 finale. He tells his son that, "I made a very big mistake, and I'm going to be paying for it for the rest of my life." And just what was this big mistake? "I trusted too many people."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Arthur Frobisher. Walter Kendrick. Dave Pell. George Moore was actually listed in the credits as "The Executive" for a while.
    • The main villains in season 5 apart from Rutger are this.
  • Detective Mole: Rick Messer retrieves the one piece of incriminating evidence at the David Connor murder scene by flashing his badge and walking straight in the front door.
  • Directed by Cast Member: Tate Donovan (Tom Shayes) directed 3 episodes.
  • Dirty Cop: The favored henchman of the show's villains. It makes cleaning up after a bit of Dirty Business much easier.
  • Doing It for the Art: Hardly anyone watches the show anymore and the ratings fall steadily every season with the third season seeing a cancellation from FX and a budget slashed move to Direct TV but it hasn't kept top flight film actors from doing season arcs. It also says something for a famous film actress like Glenn Close to stick with a tv role that probably pays considerably less than any films she's in with a salary increase being fairly unlikely.
    • Same with Rose Byrne, who's movie career has taken off as well, during the course of the series run.
  • Dramatic Irony: An enormous source of tension for the show, provided by the Anachronic Order.
  • Driven to Suicide: Multiple characters. So far Once a Season.
    • Season 1 — Ray Fiske after being blackmailed.
    • Season 2 — Uncle Pete after being nabbed by the FBI.
    • Season 3 — Both Marilyn and Louis Tobin. Louis by poison, Marilyn by drowning.
    • Season 4 — Kinda sorta Gerald Boorman. More of a Suicide by Shell-shocked soldier whose men he killed.
    • Subverted in season 5, where Naomi Walling's murder is set-up to look like she was Driven to Suicide. And so far, nobody suspects otherwise.
  • Dying Clue: Whoever Arthur Frobisher got to kill George Moore should have been fired. They didn't check his pockets for the key piece of evidence that ended up blowing the case wide open.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ray Fiske, who doesn't have the stomach for what he's gotten into. He Ate His Gun for it. Initially, Arthur Frobisher as well.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect
  • Evil Versus Evil: Depending on your interpretation of Patty Hewes. If you see her as a very dark Anti-Hero, then it's Black and Gray Morality, but certainly her behavior would make her the villain in any other show.
  • Evil Virtues: Frobisher's determination and ambition are constant, and he's quite proud of them.
  • Family Values Villain: Frobisher, at first.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dave Pell.
  • Foregone Conclusion: In Season 3, you know via a Flash Forward in the first episode that Tom Shayes is going to die. Doesn't make the scene itself any less heartbreaking though.
  • Fake American: Ellen is played by the Australian Rose Byrne, while Katie is played by British actress Anastasia Griffith.
  • Flashback Effects: Used to show shifts between the present and future timelines. The removal of the effects is used to great effect, showing the present catching up to the future and the conclusion of the story.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Define "good".
  • Guilt Ridden Accomplice: Arthur Frobisher's Achilles' heel.
  • It's All About Me: Both Patty and the show's villains are childish and hate to lose.
    • Season four takes the cake with Jerry Boorman; a corrupt CIA Agent who has gleefully broken EVERY law imaginable, all in the name of ensuring no one can out him for the laws he has broken part of the "War on Terror". Seven episodes into the season, pretty much EVERY act of murder or violence can be linked to Boorman, either directly or through him forcing his cohort, Howard Erickson, into doing it under threat that if he doesn't and Boorman gets busted, that he will take Erickson down with him.
  • He Knows Too Much: Chris in season four
  • Heel-Face Turn: Ray Fiske. Subverted. He decides to kill himself instead.
    • Also Wes in season 2.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Frobisher.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: In season 1. The one behind the blackmail of Gregory Malina? Frobisher. The one who put a hits on George More and David respectively? Frobisher.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Wes Krulick.
  • How We Got Here: Each season had numerous flash forwards throughout, but you're not given the full context until the very end.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode is named after a line of dialogue spoken by a character in said episode.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Ray Fiske in regards to Gregory Malina.
  • Instant Mystery, Just Delete Scene: The show loves this trope.
  • Insult Backfire: Walter Kendrick is being told to "Go to hell". His response?
    I probably will. But while I'm here no one's gonna take away my goddamn company.
  • Ironic Echo: "Because I know Patty..."
  • Iron Lady: Patty Hewes, oh so very much.
  • It Was Here, I Swear: When Ellen Parsons sends detectives to Patty's apartment looking for the man who attacked her, the body, the blood, and the broken window are all gone, and the place is (almost) spotless.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Marilyn Tobin murmurs something along those lines to herself in the season 3 finale,right before she commits suicide.
  • Jerkass: Arthur Frobisher, who continues to see himself as The Woobie. It apparently does not even enter his mind that he has actually done some very bad things, and has therefore earned the bad things that keep happening as a result.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Patty Hewes steps in where law enforcement has failed.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Frobisher does so with gusto once he gets past his conscience. He starts out as a Family Values Villain and goes downhill rapidly.
  • Killed Off for Real: Everyone the show kills off is actually dead, although some keep coming back in dreams and flashbacks.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: The ultimate fate of Rick Messer.
  • Mad Mathematician: Finn Garrity, the coked-up math whiz turned energy trader in season 2. In the finale he goes nuts and stabs Patty.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: These were Rick Messer's exact words to Wes Krulick in Season 2.
    • Also in season 2, FBI Agent Harrison's murder is made to look like an overdose.
    • Naomi's murder in the season 5 premiere is made to look like a suicide.
  • Manipulative Bastard
  • The Mole: Wes
    • Rutger in season 5.
  • Motive Misidentification
  • Morality Pet: Frobisher and Patty's sons.
    • Howard Erickson and his kids as well
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: This is Jerry Boorman's philosophy, as well as Rick Messer's.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Combined with Break the Cutie in season 1 with Ellen Parsons.
  • Never One Murder: Arthur Frobisher senses this truth. He decides to go ahead anyway.
  • New Old Flame Daniel Purcell is this for Patty.
    • Season four Chris is this too for Ellen, introduced as her high school sweetheart.
  • Nice Guy: Tom Shayes.
  • No Name Given: Many, many characters, some important, some not. Most get names eventually, but even then, the credits continue to refer to them as "Bearded Man" or "Pockmarked Man."
  • Not So Different: Patty is, if anything, more ruthless than Ray Fiske in the first season. Fiske's only initial crime was insider trading, and he constantly resists Frobisher's bull-headed attempts to make things go away. Compared to Patty's several direct killings, blackmail, etc, Fiske is practically a Boy Scout.
  • Not So Stoic: Patty Hewes, just not in front of anybody else.
  • Not Quite Dead: At the end of season 1, Ellen assumes that she killed the attacker in Patty's home, but he actually survived.
  • Oh Crap: Rick Messer's last word, as he sees Wes in his rearview mirror, hiding in the back of his car. With a gun.
    Messer: ...shit.
  • Older Sidekick: Uncle Pete.
  • Once a Season: Somebody close to Ellen or Patty dying and every finale has ended with a scene of Patty and someone else (Ellen in seasons 1 & 3, Tom in season 2) at her lake house.
    • Once every other season, a main character is found dead at the end of the season premiere and the why and the how of his or her death is revealed throughout the season. It started with David in season 1, then Tom Shayes in season 3, and Ellen in the last season, season 5. Though that was fake...
  • Only Mostly Dead: In season 2, Daniel Purcell assumes he killed his wife. She was actually still alive, barely, when Kendrick's henchman comes in and Kills Her For Real.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: The spot of blood on Patty's shoe later revealed to be from Ray Fiske eating his gun.
  • Out of Focus: Patty herself takes a bit of a step back during the middle of season one, where the focus is put more on the rest of her firm while she mostly serves as backdrop to their day.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: SO. MUCH.
  • Perfect Poison: Used by Louis Tobin and on Danielle Marchetti in Season 3.
  • Pet the Dog: Patty genuinely loves her son. She truly sucks as expressing it, though.
    • Most characters on the show get them. Frobisher has his son as a Morality Pet, Fisk has Gregory Malina, and so on.
    • There's also a lot of screen time dedicated to petting actual dogs and showing responsible dog ownership.
  • Photo Psychic: In Season 3, Ellen only learns that Carol Tobin visited Danielle Marchetti on the night she died because she happened to be in the picture that Ellen wanted a witness to identify Joe Tobin from.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Frequent.
  • Put on a Bus: Wes in Season 3. He's Back for the Finale, though.
    • The few supporting characters of any given season that don't get killed off usually end up getting put on buses at the end of their season.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Frobisher plays at being this, but it's fairly obvious that, his claims of spiritual renewal aside, he's still every bit the selfish and egocentric bastard he was before.
  • Retcon: According to a line spoken by Patty, Michael Hewes is 18 season 2 when he introduces Jill (his older girlfriend) to his mother and stepfather. The stories in season 3 start 10 months after the end of season 2. Jill is pregnant in season 3. Michael uses a DNA test to prove to Patty that he's the father and that Jill isn't being deceptive. Patty uses the DNA test to get Jill arrested for statutory rape of a character stated to be 18 about a year before the sexual encounter she's charged with engaging in? They didn't even bother to mention Michael's mysteriously lower age before the arrest.
  • Revolving Door Casting: With the exception of Arthur Frobisher who has a guest arc in season 2 and 3 most of the supporting characters (especially the plaintiffs) of any given season usually ended up getting killed off or put on buses.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The season-spanning plots are made of this. The first two seasons split up the juicier details of Enron's collapse. With a company rife with accounting irregularities and professed ignorance of wrongdoing by subordinates, Frobisher is a take on Ken Lay; UNR's manipulation of the energy grid by traders to rack up huge profits fictionalizes Enron's role in the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001. In season 3, Louis Tobin's ponzi scheme has many similarities to Bernie Madoff's while season four is pretty much Blackwater and Erik Prince vs Patty Hewes. Season 5's case is inspired by Julien Assange, who's the basis for the character of Channing Mc Laren, and Wikileaks.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Both David and Ray Fisk in season 1.
    • Apparently Ellen in season 5.
    • Actually it ends up being Michael.
  • Screw The Rules, I Have Connections: Dave Pell's M.O. as well as Howard Erickson's.
  • Screw The Rules, I Have Money: Arthur Frobisher's M.O.
  • Series Fauxnale: While the producers have denied this, the season 3 finale works remarkably well as one of these complete with Back for the Finale for a number of season 1 & 2 characters and a Bittersweet Ending that's least cliffhangerish of any season thus far. Ultimately, the show Un-Cancelled by Direct TV and picked up for two more seasons.
  • Shoot the Dog
  • Sickbed Slaying: The fate of Uncle Pete.
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 5 (Full Lockout), due to the Anachronic Order and following the case instead of a Monster of the Week format.
  • Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism: Firmly leaning towards the cynical.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lila. Doubles as Clingy Jealous Girl, and subverts Ax-Crazy.
  • Stepford Smiler: Ellen became this after her fiance's murder in season 1 in order to keep working for Patty. In fact this was noted by the FBI who persuaded her to help them bring Patty down.
  • Straight Gay: Ray Fiske.
  • Strange Bedfellows : Frobisher helps Patty to start the case against Kendrick in season 2
  • Strictly Formula: There's a White Collar Crime case, there's a 3 months later Flash Forward story usually involving one of our heroes in danger or possibly even dead, the audience follows the bread crumbs, there's twists, people die, Patty and Ellen win the case while losing something personal in the process, the season's film actor bad guys die or go to jail, roll credits.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: David.
  • Stunt Casting: Damages often casts film actors who would otherwise never do tv (i.e. William Hurt, John Goodman, Campbell Scott etc.) in supporting roles and they often give incredibly strong and memorable performances.
  • Suspect Existence Failure
  • Suspiciously Idle Officers: Detective Rick Messer, big time. Does he even have any actual duties? In Season 2, this is justified for the FBI agent on Dave Pell's payroll, because it's explained that his supervisor is in on the conspiracy.
    • They actually reveal his background in season two: he's a police detective who spent most of his time in Internal Affairs, where he abused his position helping renegade cops beat any police brutality complaints filed against them and that he left IA in order to become a regular detective, due to policy saying that IA cops couldn't freelance (which is how Messer hooked up with Frobisher.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Ellen is arguably this. While Patty is the central character most of the show is focused on Ellen's Character Development as a result of being involved in Patty's world.
  • Throwing the Fight: Patty occasionally does this, in order to get her opponents to tip their hand.
  • Took A Level In Bad Ass: Ellen.
  • Troubled Production: Season two, full-stop. William Hurt's role in the season was dramatically scaled back due to problems behind the scenes (Hurt had problems coping with the production style of the series, where the actors were kept in the dark regarding their character's storylines and only given segments of the script before filming). To fill in the gap, actor John Doman was brought on to play the evil corporate executive who Patty was trying to bring down as the new main villain character, while Marcia Gay Harden had her role expanded as Patty's foil during the season.
  • Twist Ending: Several plot threads seem to point to one solution then out of the blue will head for another, completely unexpected resolution. One of the reasons why critics loved it.
  • Un-Cancelled: F/X had canceled Damages before Direc TV came to the rescue.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: With inverted gender roles for Patty Hewes and her son.
  • The Unreveal: The contents of David's wedding gift to Ellen.
  • Villain Protagonist: Patty Hewes seems to exceed Anti-Hero by some degree! In fact she is often Faux Affably Evil though for Ellen she starts out as a mere Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Rick Messer's public image is that of an exemplary police officer. He's anything but.
  • Wham Episode: The use of Surprise Tropes is this show's trademark, though the heaviest hitters usually come towards the end of each season.
  • White Collar Crime: How every one of Patty's cases starts. They never end that way.
  • Worthy Opponent: Ray Fiske, during Season 1.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: Ellen apparently has some.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: Patty likes to do this to her employees, just to torture them.

CrowniesLaw ProceduralThe Deep End
DallasAmerican SeriesDance Moms
SherlockThe New TensDoctor Who

alternative title(s): Damages
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy