By Michael Slezak
July 25, 2007 at 09:56 PM EDT

Is Damages the new Alias? Well, okay, probably not, but I saw some interesting parallels in last night’s pilot of FX’s dark new legal drama and episode one of ABC’s late, great spy thriller. Ambitious, idealistic young woman gets mixed up with dubious, dangerous employer, then discovers the ugly truth — but not before her devoted fiancee pays…with his life. And the whole thing unfolds with a time-twisting narrative and an intriguingly hazy mythology.

Central to the show’s success is Glenn Close’s understated performance as ruthless litigator Patty Hewes. The things Close (pictured, with costar Rose Byrne) can do with a simple, knowing grin. Her Patty is like a predatory cat, a dozen steps ahead of her hapless prey, and enjoying the hunt as much, if not more, than the actual kill itself. Still, if Patty was already aware that Katie was the key to the Frobisher case, would she really have taken such a circuitous route — hiring the woman’s future sister-in-law, hoping for the best — as her one and only chance to secure a statement? That said, the fact that Patty would go as far as putting a hit out on innocent Saffron — and pinning it on Frobisher’s men — means she’s (thankfully) not another high-powered TV attorney who’s hiding a heart of gold. Now I’m left wondering what’s motivating Patty: A rampant desire to win any case at any cost, or perhaps a more personal (and sinister) reason for wanting to eviscerate Frobisher? And why the heck would she be so sloppy as to request Saffron’s collar?

Unfortunately, with Close dominating the pilot episode, the rest of Damages‘ cast didn’t make much of an impression on me. That said, it’ll be interesting to see Rose Byrne’s Ellen make the descent from bright-eyed law grad to blood-streaked, bedraggled murder suspect. And Philip Bosco’s menacing-fatherly turn as Ellen’s jilted prospective employer has me hopeful he’ll get more screen time in future episodes. Add some nifty photography and direction — I especially liked that opening montage of Patty’s luxury apartment façade, paired with a classical overture and the sound of a pinging elevator — and I’ll definitely watch a second episode before I decide whether Damages gets added to my DVR for the season. How about you?

addCredit(“Larry Riley”)