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Barracuda Lawyer Battles Mercenaries; Meth-Peddling Teacher: TV

Glenn Close in "Damages," Wednesday on DirecTV's Audience Network at 10 p.m. New York time. Photographer: David Russell/DirecTV via Bloomberg

Barracuda attorney Patty Hewes takes on a ruthless military contractor in the fourth season of “Damages.” My money is on Patty, played by Glenn Close with delicious malevolence.

Last season, in another ripped-from-the-headlines storyline, her law firm clashed with a financial con artist eerily similar to Bernie Madoff. The stakes are higher this time, as Hewes and protege Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne, better every season) go up against High Star, a private war-fighting force that knows how to battle.

The story begins when Ellen reconnects with old high-school boyfriend Chris Sanchez (Chris Messina), a High Star soldier just back from an illegal mission in Afghanistan.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress, Sanchez has drawn the attention of High Star’s politically connected leader Howard T. Erickson (John Goodman, the latest in the show’s strong line of against-type guest stars).

The juiciest role, though, goes to a full-tilt Dylan Baker as a sadistic fixer who makes sure nothing and no one gets in the way of High Star’s profits.

Sticking with chronology-hopping format, “Damages” occasionally flashes forward three months with images of a tortured, hooded figure in an overseas prison. Sanchez is the most obvious guess, but the show has a way of surprising you.

Based on two reviewed episodes, it looks like “Damages” isn’t tinkering with its proven formula. A little more risk-taking would be nice, but it’s hard to argue with success.

One important footnote: After three seasons on the FX cable network, “Damages” is moving to DirecTV’s Audience Network. The network is only available to DirectTV subscribers, so if you don’t have the satellite service, you’re out of luck.

“Damages” airs tomorrow on DirecTV’s Audience Network at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2.

‘Breaking Bad’

The drug kingpin on “Breaking Bad” speaks barely a line of dialogue during a tense seven-minute interrogation scene in Season Four’s first episode. But he’s got a box cutter in his hand, and the show has the guts to let it do the talking.

Convincing the skittish that the pitch-dark series is worth some stomach acid can be a tough sell. The comic moments that lightened the show’s early days are mostly gone. What’s left is a rich, compelling drama about the indecent choices of a seemingly decent man.

Meth Maker

Bryan Cranston is Walter White, a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who started cooking meth to provide for his wife and handicapped son. Over the course of three seasons, Walter’s deepening involvement in New Mexico’s violent drug underground has left him with options ranging from heinous to wretched.

Last season ended as Walter’s young partner Jesse (Aaron Paul, as good as Cranston) appeared to execute Gale (David Costabile), a lovably goofy friend who turned into a potential rival.

“When you make it Gale versus me or Gale versus Jesse, Gale loses,” Walter tells drug boss Gus (Giancarlo Esposito).

Jesse’s emotional deterioration hardly looks like winning. “Breaking Bad” isn’t always easy to watch, but turning away is harder.

“Breaking Bad” airs July 17 on AMC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****

‘Rescue Me’

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a fitting and, frankly, welcome end point for “Rescue Me,” Denis Leary’s sometimes searing, often unsteady chronicle of Trade Tower survivor guilt among New York’s firefighters.

The dramedy ran low on fresh ideas at least a season or two ago, and this summer’s seventh and final batch of episodes does little more than run out the clock on the 9/11 timeline.

“Normal is dead and buried underneath Ground Zero,” says Leary’s cynical smoke-eater Tommy Gavin. Pregnant wife Janet (Andrea Roth) has demanded that Tommy abandon the brotherhood in favor of a safer job. So will he or won’t he?

If the question of Tommy’s fate seems less urgent than it once did, the blame falls on the series’ stubborn resistance to emotional follow-through. Tragedies on “Rescue Me” are routine, honest consequences rare.

In the premiere episode, Tommy’s young firefighter nephew Damien (Michael Zegen) remains severely brain-damaged after a building collapse last season. Yet the horror of that situation seems barely to register on the “Rescue Me” characters, most jarringly so in Callie Thorne’s cartoonish Sheila, Damian’s mom.

Also in the first few episodes, “Rescue Me” rehashes old plots and jokes. Is probie Mike (Michael Lombardi) really gay? Will Lou (John Scurti) lose weight? Will Black Shawn (Larenz Tate) marry Tommy’s daughter Colleen (Natalie Distler)?

The show has earned enough goodwill to keep me around for the answers. But I’m watching that clock too.

“Rescue Me” airs tomorrow on FX at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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