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Damages showrunner Daniel Zelman.

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Damages Showrunner Daniel Zelman on What to Expect From Season Four

FX may have canceled Damages, but it looks like there’s no stopping Patty Hewes, the master manipulator of the critically acclaimed show, which has found a new home on DirecTV (season four premieres tonight at 10 p.m.). The new season picks up three years after the last one left off. Patty (played by Glenn Close) is raising her granddaughter Katherine, and Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is taking on a case involving a private security firm that provided controversial military services in Afghanistan. With Patty finally exploring her problematic personal issues (or at least some of them) in court-ordered therapy, and Ellen finally striking out on her own, could there be a role reversal in the offing, with Patty going soft and Ellen becoming stronger? As co-creator/co-writer/co-executive producer Daniel Zelman explained to Vulture at the show's premiere party at the Plaza Hotel's Palm Court, it’s never that simple.

Being on DirecTV means no more standards and practices for you guys. Do you even keep count of the swear words anymore?
I actually don’t have a count. I didn’t keep count. What was your count?

About a dozen in the season premiere.
Yeah, we just use them when it feels right to use them. Once we started writing, it didn’t feel like this big change, because it was like, that’s what a person would say. [Ted Danson’s character] Frobisher had a line in our pilot, he used the word “twat.” And FX made us change it. But the world of Damages this time around involves private military contractors, and it’s not like soldiers are afraid to say fuck. One area that we really had to talk about was, are Glenn and Rose going to do it? To suddenly have them speak like that, it didn’t feel right to us. I believe one of them swears once in the whole season. We’re still figuring out things like, when’s the first time Patty says, fuck? Maybe it’s when she stubs her toe? Or do you want to save it for a very dramatic moment? It’s very exciting to even have to think about that. And there’s some nudity that we weren’t able to have before, but it’s decorative. It’s more like accent notes on a scene where it feels like this person in that scene would be nude, so let them be nude.

Do you think we’ll see a softer side of Patty, now that she’s in therapy this season?
I think you see a softer side, but I don’t know if it’s much softer! Patty’s someone who resists being too confessional. There is a sense of the danger of exposing yourself in a world where information is power, you know? One of the reasons Patty’s so powerful is she keeps that information even from herself. Therapy is something we resisted for a long time with Patty, because of Tony Soprano and everything. It seemed it would be a crutch for us, but at the same time, the idea of Patty Hewes talking to a therapist — I’d want to see that.

Do we discover even a little of what Patty’s damage is?
We have ideas, but it’s not something that can be reduced to a single event in her life. You hear more about it this season, actually. When Patty finally hires a nanny, the nanny’s very religious, and for the first time, we hear about Patty’s attitude towards religion. And she reveals something about her upbringing that we’ve never heard before. There’s a deep, deep fear of being weak and powerless, and her whole life is kind of driven by that. But why is she so afraid? That’s where it gets complicated.

A lot of women who have control issues end up with eating disorders. So what do you think she does with the birthday cake in the season premiere? It’s just sitting there next to her, with only the one slice gone. Do you think after they left, Patty ate the cake?
Oh God, you touched on something really sensitive in a weird way. We cut something out of that scene, for time. What she did, in the original version, she picked up the cake to put it in the garbage, but before she threw it away, she dipped her fingers in the icing and took a huge swipe. And if you notice, Patty definitely drinks more than she used to. In every aspect of her life, she has control issues.

[Spoiler alert.] Plus she got so upset that this nanny got a cake in the first place. She fired her, claiming it was for not observing her granddaughter’s dietary restrictions. But wasn’t it more about the nanny knowing she forgot the kid’s birthday?
The nanny saw something that Patty didn’t want her to see. That person now had information, and it made her feel vulnerable. And that same feeling of being vulnerable is what made Patty try to kill Ellen. Because Ellen knew about Ray Fiske, knew her deepest secret.

And yet it seems Ellen’s inching toward going back to work for or with Patty this season.
Part of the reason is that there’s something addictive about working for Patty. And the other thing is, Ellen forgave her and now has a feeling of power over her. There’s this intimacy that occurs when you know someone’s dark secrets, and Ellen thinks she could hold that over Patty’s head. She could go to the police. It makes her feel this kind of perverse pleasure. And that mythology, we very much want to return to that in the fifth season. That event has not been forgotten. It’s going to bubble up again.

So you’ve already started thinking about what the fifth season will be like?
Yes. We know what the broad shape of it will be, and then we’ll start filling in the details. And casting’s a huge part of it. We definitely want to bring some people along from this season. Like Judd Hirsch [who plays Patty’s mentor], who appears in the fourth episode of this season, Fisher Stevens [who plays Patty’s therapist], Tom Noonan [who plays a private investigator], and Griffin Dunne, who doesn’t appear until the sixth or seventh.

So if one of your co-writers tried to kill you, would you still work with them?
Probably not. [Laughs.]

Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images