'Damages' final season premiere: Mournful

Glenn Close, as Patty Hewes, on the fifth

Glenn Close, as Patty Hewes, on the fifth and final season of "Damages." (Credit: DIRECTV)

THE SHOW "Damages"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday at 9 on DirecTV (Ch. 239)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The founder of a Julian Assange-like whistle-blower site has been contacted by Naomi Walling (Jenna Elfman), an executive with a corrupt investment bank who has a big whistle she wants to blow. Best intentions -- or whatever her intentions were -- aside, something goes awry and attorneys are called in.

Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is contacted by brooding, tousle-headed Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe), who operates this clandestine website and now fears a lawsuit. Ellen's archnemesis Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) may ally herself with the plaintiff. The more complicated back story: Patty now has full custody of her son's daughter, but Michael (Zachary Booth) is suing Mom to get her back. Ellen has volunteered to testify on his behalf.

MY SAY Tonight's episode is dedicated in an endnote to the wonderful stage actor Tom Aldredge, who died in January and played Patty's nefarious Uncle Pete. (Pete was killed by the same hit man he had hired to off Ellen back in the first season.) The reminder may be a sad one, but the tribute is appropriate -- one of TV's finest shows of the past half-dozen years gets off to a solid start, but there's also the inescapable sense that the end is near, and in fact it is. This fifth season will be the last, and there's something mournful, even autumnal about tonight's episode (it is, indeed, set during the fall).

You sense Patty's reign of terror is almost over, or soon will be. But her rictus of a smile seems even chillier than usual. She's isolated, alone and unloved. She's a tragic figure who has brought tragedy upon herself. You also fully expect that Close, one of the world's great actresses, will find enough pathos in this last season to ultimately make Patty sympathetic, or at least some degree of sympathetic. M. Emmet Walsh appears later this season as her father. Does anyone smell closure?

BOTTOM LINE Some wild twists, but you've seen a variation before on one of them. Nevertheless, the Patty Hewes story is almost over, and in Close's hands, it's still compulsively watchable.

GRADE B+

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