Rose Byrne on Damages Season 4: 'Ellen's Moral Boundaries Are Very Much Pushed'

Damages returns for its fourth season this Wednesday at 10/9c — exclusively on DirecTV — with the grey areas as gunmetal as ever, agendas amply murky, and the frenemyship between Patty and Ellen maintaining its delicious prickliness.

Three years have passed since the events of the Season 3 finale, and a big new bad ripe for legal squashing looms on the horizon: Howard Erickson (played by John Goodman), the CEO of a private military defense contractor that engaged in an unspeakable atrocity which, among other egregious casualties, left Ellen’s high school pal Chris Sanchez (Six Feet Under‘s Chris Messina) suffering from PTSD.

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Is Patty Hewes’ former padwan – now out of the DA’s office and toiling for a private firm – ready to take on this hard target alone? Ellen’s portrayer, Rose Byrne, thinks so.

“Ellen started as a child, then was an adolescent in the second and third seasons, and now she’s really a woman who has come into her own,” the Aussie beauty tells TVLine. “She wants to do things her own way, and this season really, really challenges her in terms of how she does that.”

Meaning, the student may need to – and does – bust out some questionable tactics à la her teacher (played by Glenn Close). “Ellen’s moral boundaries are very much challenged and pushed,” says Byrne.

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With Goodman’s big bear in her sights, Ellen makes the case for her firm to hit ’em hard. An unfortunate turn of events, though, leaves her needing a helping hand – one that Patty, while begrudgingly respectful of Ellen’s talents, is loath to extend forth.

Why can’t these two dynamic women just get along? “I think the weight of their history will always outweigh what is happening in the present day, no matter how hard they forge to move ahead,” Byrne ventures. Close concurs, saying, “It’s a complex relationship – Ellen is younger than [Patty] is, prettier than she is – though I shy away from some aspects of that because I think it’s a cliché, that women are catfighting all the time. But it’s just in Patty’s nature to be alone at the top. I can’t imagine she’ll ever acknowledge Ellen as her equal.”

Ellen, meanwhile, has little interest in filling the late Tom Shayes’ shoes, as Patty’s No. 2. “Tom had the perfect personality for that,” says exec producer Todd A. Kessler (who also plays Patty’s doorman). “He never wanted to outshine Patty — he just wanted to be her soldier, her consigliore — but Ellen believes she can be her own No. 1 and do things her own way. Ellen has the utter conviction that she will outgrow Patty someday, but she’s also smart enough to know that she probably needs Patty to do that.”

How might Ellen school her mentor, and coax her into an assist? Does Ms. Parsons have a trick or two up her own sleeves? ” You’ll have to see,” Byrne says with a wink. “I don’t want to do any spoilers, but… Patty did teach Ellen everything she knows!”

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