Damages: Season 3 (3): “Do you feel blessed?”

It’s a fun game to think of all the old films whose plots wouldn’t work in the era of mobile phones: Dial M for Murder, The Sting, Finding Nemo (allowing for fish mobiles).  By contrast nowadays they get routinely deployed as key plot device, notably The Wire which undermined its very name as Stringer Bell’s crew used and summarily tossed untraceable pay-as-you-go cells.

But I can’t recall a piece of TV where mobiles became a trope (critical theory term, mate) – meaning they signified something more than just being a means of saying “hi” while walking.  Damages episode three however pulled off this – so subtly though I’m not sure if I just imagined it. 

Each scene had – naturalistically and not artificially imposed – a mobile conversation, from bars, from offices, from airports, from streets.  And it mattered not which side you were on – DA and private lawyer, victim and villain, Hewes and Winstone – all played out the action on their cells.  Everyone except the estranged-from-Patty-Hewes-never-to-return Ellen Parsons, as she spent time away from NY with her hick family in the sticks.

The mobiles came to represent the sticky, tangled web of connections linking everyone together and which you can’t escape – with Patty as the spider pulling them all together.  And there, in the very last scene, what happens? As Ellen contemplates her broken family life with innocent old-technology VHS family movies playing in the background, she picks up her cell for the first time and calls Patty.  Cue music.  Ellen is back in the web.

Of course, I could be hopelessly deluded.  What makes me think they were trying something is that they had not one single Tommy’s-in-the-dumpster “flash forward to the end” scene, which is as much a signature of the programme as The Wire’s McNulty getting drunk in a bar or Vic getting eye-poppingly angry in The Shield.

What else did we learn from this episode?  Three things centred around the hapless Danielle Marchetti, now revealed to be the ex-mistress of both Tobins (a kind of one woman Ponzi scheme of her own):

  • Joe Tobin (son of Ponzi-scheme dad) is a turning out to be shit weasel of the first order:  content to injure his former mistress Marchetti while drunk and then seek to put her life at risk by sending her on a flight so she can’t testify against his corrupt father – way to go;
  • Martin Short (now looking a tad like Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie if she’d then had to dress up in a suit and pretend to be a man – but in a good way) can intone in a beautiful Clintonesque manner:  “I’m just worried about the truth and THAT WOMAN has nothing to do with the Tobins”, while seeking to smuggle Marchetti out of the country;
  • Patty Hewes can still run rings around the best of them, as she lures in Martin Short for a chat with the threat of a fake press release revealing the adulterous Marchetti affair with Tobin pere, simply so she can have Short  tailed as he leaves and find the airport he is leaving from. She’s good (in a bad way).

What do I not understand now?  Leaving aside why they didn’t use Lily Tomlin more:

  • What was that that Ellen found in her sister’s bag?  A breast pump? Drug paraphernalia? At least have pity on the viewer who isn’t a dealer in crystal meth or doesn’t live in Dalston and provide subtitles: “Ellen holds up crack pipe”.
  • What was Marchetti referring to in her delirious post-trauma state: “He whacked it on and off”.  Surely not a Tiger Woods in-joke?  We shall see.
  • What will Tobin-son-of-Tobin do next week?  Since being presented as holier-than-thou in episode one, he’s rushed through breaking the ten commandments so fast you’d think he was on a dare from Moses.  I think all he has to do next time is create a graven image and worship a false god, and he’s there.

Main complaint: no dumpster shots.

Mostly made up by arialbold


Filed under Damages

6 responses to “Damages: Season 3 (3): “Do you feel blessed?”

  1. inkface

    Shame texting doesn’t work so well visually, because many a misunderstanding has come about via clumsy thumb syndrome.

    I’ve also noticed that men of dubious morality in American TV shows tend to wear a certain style of metal rimmed glasses.

    • arialbold

      And it’s also good to know that when the fax has died out in the real world, it can still be used as a plot device – as True Blood showed with fang-banger strangler pic slowly emerging at Bon Temps police station (a la Usual Suspects) and then casually covered by more paperwork.

      I like the glasses ref. Like ageing mafia bosses get to wear big square glasses (Junior Soprano) and the unattractive or the nerds are signalled by thick black frames (Ugly Betty). The semiotics of eyewear in US TV: Shades of Meaning. There’s a whole academic conference theme right there.

  2. Qwerty

    There was a great use of mobiles in Queer as Folk. No, hang on a minute, titter ye not. It was when cool Aussie guy chucks whatsisname’s phone into the canal (it was so long ago I can’t remember anyone’s name except Stuart’s and he wasn’t in this bit).

    It was a symbolic trope (ha! think I’ll use it too) to demonstrate something or other about the difference in their personalities, and also represented cutting whatsisname off from his friends.

    Or something.

  3. inkface

    People might be amazed that we’re such serious academics in real life, but not me. Can we use the word ‘dichotomy’ here randomly too, for effect?