A little murder between friends

When my best friend Aaron went to his undergrad orientation um, 5 years ago (yesssss. . . let’s go with five), he joined his little cohort group for some of those dippy get-to-know-you games we all love to hate. His happy-go-lucky campus guide proposed a round of “Two Truths and a Lie,” that fairly self-explanatory pastime in which people who’ve just met each other test their fibbing skills and share information about themselves. Everyone did their thing. “I went to Bible camp, I hablar Español and I truly believe that love IS a battlefield.” All terribly mind-opening, all wonderfully useful and fun. Ah, but when it came to Aaron’s turn, he haughtily glanced at his peers and disinterestedly shrugged. “My whole life is a lie,” he said.

And this is why I love him.

Aaron read Machiavelli in high school and immediately applied it to his existence there. Aaron was often offended that I didn’t use my God-given “weapons of womanhood” to confuse men and women alike into giving me free stuff. Aaron is the person I would call if I “accidentally” murdered someone and needed to dispose of the body. I know this because he told me should I ever need him to he’d show up at my door with garbage bags and a shower curtain, ready for duty.

Glenn Close

Glenn Close as Patty Hewes

So, when I watched Season One of the F/X show Damages on my handy dandy streaming Netflix, I immediately thought “this is an Aaron kind of show.” Starring Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons — a young lawyer at her first real (read: cutthroat) job — and Glenn Close as the infamous Patty Hewes — a powerful celebrity attorney with iced Evian in her veins, Damages starts strong and remains rivetingly. Though it is another lawyer drama in a sea of many, Damages stands out as sharp and multifaceted. Much like the now cancelled Terriers, the entirety of season one reads like a tight and intelligently planned short novel. The characters are fleshed out early and well, and its narrative tricks with time recursively reveal layer after layer of personality and depth of plot. At various moments the show is a whodunnit, a whydunnit and a wait-what-the-hell-was-done? This refractive form of storytelling keeps the viewer involved, eyes peeled for a clue, the overconfidence of a poker face or the tiny tic of a tell.

Beyond this, Damages is also intricately structured through its relationships. Using the dog as a trope, friendship and loyalty are centrally explored. Many characters have a dog — even Patty, who struggles with having/owning a son, keeps a ginger-speckled cattle dog in her yard and by her side. Important meetings and watchings take place in the concrete confines of New York City dog parks. Much of the criminal action of the season is sparked by a threatening message expressed not on notepaper or email, but in the form of a dead dog. No cats in sight, the concept of canine as man’s best friend is obvious but also spins out into questions of loyalty, dominance, pack order, protection, domestication and the bestial tendencies that rise out of humans and animals alike.

Patty’s cold and knowing advice to ingenue Ellen echoes throughout: “Trust no one.” Can there be friendly competition? Can any relationship survive without trust? Where is the line between genuine respect and the cloying of the sycophant? Offering few simple answers, Damages keeps its audience guessing at the intentions and machinations behind every remark, each act. Is Ellen of the same ilk (or breed) as Patty? Can we empathize with Patty or do all her life’s choices protect the carefully wrought shell of a psychopath? At what cost do we trust?

Such questions reverberate from screen to real life.

Who will be at your door at three in the morning, shower curtain in hand? Do you have a person? Is that person a friend? Remember, Aaron is taken.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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