The breakouts

YOU'VE heard this plot line before: Ambitious young upstart goes to work for a powerful pro and quickly learns that the real world is one crooked place. But have you heard the one about the powerful pro who tries to bump off the young hopeful?

By the end of the first topsy-turvy season of FX's "Damages," high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes has killed the dog of a witness she'd like to silence, had her son kidnapped and sent to boot camp, watched a colleague commit suicide and tried to have her would-be protege, Ellen, killed.

Kinda makes those Plan B tactics deployed by "The Practice" look benign. But then "Damages" isn't your average legal drama. (There are no courtrooms here, no juries.) It's a smart character drama posing as horror. Think red herrings, shadowy alleys, bloodshed, double-crossing, triple-crossing, flash forwards -- all with star Glenn Close leading the way.

"Patty is not purely evil. Being purely evil is ultimately pretty boring," Close says. "Patty keeps everyone, including the audience, off-balance. She's compelling and seductive, smart, at the top of her game. That kind of role doesn't come often for women."

So what's a barracuda like Patty to do for an encore? Even Close isn't sure yet. "I still don't know why Patty does what she does."

Season Two will begin peeling away the layers, says Daniel Zelman, one of the show's creators, "but she's never fully revealed. The enigma is what makes her intriguing."

"It's all become a part of the game," Close says. "It's like living in a serialized novel."

Which is not to say the producers have plans to morph the show into some never-ending mind puzzle like certain other nighttime dramas.

Their challenge next season? To produce the same twists and turns as the first even while the game this time is clear: Ellen is out to get Patty.

"This time you know what both these women are after," Zelman says.

"For us, that's a whole new puzzle."

-- Denise Martin

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