By Ken Tucker
Updated December 31, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST
Craig Blankenhorn/FX

The TV version of a page-turner suspense novel, Damages commences its second season with flashy storytelling and emotional jolts. Glenn Close’s Satan’s-got-nothing-on-me lawyer Patty Hewes is back, and this time Close is playing off her old Big Chill chum, William Hurt: He’s Daniel Purcell, a Man With Secrets whose wife has just been murdered, a possible result of research he’s done for a chemical company. As Hewes’ new client, Hurt spends the first two episodes establishing himself as a brilliant scientist who is first stunned into gawping inarticulateness at his wife’s death, and then…well, as usual, then something happens I can’t tell you about.

Indeed, there are more twists and turns in Damages‘ opening hours than most shows provide in a full season. We begin as we left off last year: Patty’s protégée, Ellen (Rose Byrne), is now working undercover with the FBI to take down her boss after Patty doubted her loyalty and tried to have her killed. (Ellen/Byrne is alarmingly thin; I’m going to assume it’s because of the tension Ellen is under.) Meanwhile, it’s a gas to find out that last season’s chief and presumed-dead villain, the ex-billionaire embezzler Arthur Frobisher, is still among the living. Ted Danson, snowy-haired and fox-eyed, can do no wrong as the deviously charming Frobisher, even if it remains to be seen exactly how he fits into the new case.

And in episode 2, the guest stars just keep on coming: Marcia Gay Harden shows up as a thrillingly aggressive corporate lawyer who can’t wait to do battle with Close’s Patty. I’m also delighted to see the gangly playwright-actor Tom Noonan (Manhunter) as a creepy-vibe cop who appears to think Purcell murdered his wife. Retaining its glossy Manhattan sheen, Damages feels like upscale crime entertainment, unique on FX’s schedule of stubbled motorcycle anarchists, frowsy firemen, and decadent plastic surgeons.

More mystery envelops yet another new character — Deadwood‘s Timothy Olyphant, as an oleaginous member of Ellen’s grief-counseling group. One of the addictive things about Damages is its ability to work what initially seems to be a peripheral character like Olyphant’s into the series’ core plot in a startling way. All credit is due to the show’s creators — brothers Glenn and Todd A. Kessler (graduates of my beloved Michael Mann 2002 series Robbery Homicide Division) and Daniel Zelman — who wrote the first two episodes with smoothly intricate plotting and bursts of melodrama that rarely spill over the top. In the new season, the cynical Hewes says, ”Everyone is looking to play an angle.” Some of the angles in Damages are so sharp they draw blood. A-