After watching the series finale, who do you think is ahead? Vote at the bottom of this post.
The most significant recurring question we wrestled with was where Ellen would wind up when the series ended. Would she ultimately adopt Patty’s win-at-all-costs approach to her career? Or would she finally choose to value her personal life more than professional success? In the series finale, we show both. But before we get there, the women put each other through the ringer in their pursuit of victory.
Patty’s subconscious is still plagued by visions of Ellen. The episode opens with a dream. Patty comes downstairs to find her father Lyle in her living room. He points a shotgun at her and asks what happened to her little girl. After a moment of confusion, Patty sees Ellen—dressed in the bloody overcoat she wore in the pilot after being attacked— sitting on the dining room table. The shotgun appears in Ellen’s hands. Patty sees visions of the farm where she miscarried her baby, Julia, years earlier and then she flashes back to Ellen, who pulls the trigger, waking Patty.
Though her subconscious seems to be giving her a warning, Patty is relentless. Rutger Simon switches sides and agrees to testify against McClaren. Patty tells Rutger that she plans to go after Torben and Herreshoff when the McClaren trial is over. Later, Patty drops by Ellen’s office to inform her, sending Ellen into a rage.
Earlier in the episode, Ellen visited a doctor who told her she needs to eliminate stress from her life and adopt a much mellower schedule or she risks losing her baby—this is the first time we’ve heard Ellen’s pregnant. The doctor’s advice is the same advice Patty heard from a doctor decades earlier. Patty decided to forge ahead, and she lost her baby in the process. We wanted to explore how Ellen would react in the same situation.
Initially, Ellen’s desire to beat Patty and exact some measure of revenge outweighs her personal life. She betrays Chris by turning his V.A. contact over to the authorities and proceeds full steam ahead into the McClaren case. When Rutger Simon goes missing, Patty withdraws her case against McClaren, handing Ellen a victory. But Ellen doesn’t stop there. She still wants to reveal Patty’s secret to the world at Michael’s custody hearing. That morning, she’s on her way to work to meet Michael, Scully (her assailant) and Cooper (her private investigator) so they can head to the custody hearing together. But Ellen becomes dizzy outside her building, loses her balance, smacks her head on the ground and loses consciousness. While Cooper tends to Ellen, Scully tries to make a run for it. When Michael threatens to turn him in, Scully shoots him dead in Ellen’s office.
Over the years, we talked about Patty’s desire for victory and professional success eclipsing all other aspects of her life. As Michael said in Season 3, everyone either leaves Patty or they die. In Michael’s case, it turned out to be prophetic.
Even in her grief, Patty plays the ultimate head game with Ellen. When Ellen visits Patty at her beach house to offer condolences about Michael’s death, Patty blames it on her, arguing that if Ellen hadn’t enlisted Scully to testify then Michael would still be alive. Patty also claims the McClaren case never mattered to her—her goal was to see how far Ellen would go to win. Then we see a flashback to what happened after Patty told Ellen that Rutger Simon had switched sides. Ellen went to Helmut Torben and explained that if Torben didn’t act now then Rutger would take them all down. Torben then had Rutger murdered. By shining a light on Ellen’s tacit approval of the murder, Patty says Ellen’s “finally in the game.”
This was a glimpse of how Ellen could have followed down Patty’s path, but in the end we didn’t want her to assume Patty’s throne. So we added an epilogue to get a glimpse of Patty and Ellen’s life a few years in the future. They bump into each other in a Manhattan pharmacy. Ellen has stopped practicing law and has a 5-year-old daughter with Chris Sanchez. Patty is still practicing law, and still alone. Patty has a daydream that Ellen introduces her daughter and thanks Patty for everything she did for her. But it’s just a dream. In reality, Ellen says nothing to Patty.
We had discussed multiple endings to the show over the years. A clear-cut finale with either Patty or Ellen dying, going to jail, or getting disbarred seemed a little too easy. In the end we wanted something more elliptical, and the epilogue provided that.
Damages Season 5, Episode 9: Whose side are you on?