This Perry Mason review contains spoilers.
Perry Mason Episode 8
“No one confesses on the stand,” Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) advises the title character on Perry Mason‘s season 1 finale, “Chapter Eight.” And it’s a shame. Not only because this is the very thing which made the iconic TV series character legendary, but because Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is doing so well with it in rehearsal. At least that’s what he tells himself and everyone else around him before clearing out the room to fit his ego.
The battle is over whether Mason should put Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) on the stand, a hostile witness to say the least. Della Street (Juliet Rylance) believes Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) should be allowed to speak for herself after having been dragged through the mud by every man close enough to tug at her. Mason sees this as a crusade for Della, and likens it to a campaign waged as a proxy for her love affair with Hazel. The scene is very telling. It comes after Mason has driven away his closest allies, and it comes off as cruel. We know Della is right to point out she didn’t expect to have her relationship throw in her face by the look on Mason’s face.
Rhys doesn’t hide anything from the camera. We want so much for him to apologize, he bears that weight from his eyelids to his jowls. There is a scene where he is smoking, and in a camera aside which doesn’t show the cigarette, smoke or any other indication of a puff, he still looks like he’s smoking. We can tell he wants to take a drag. I reached for a lighter. He knows what he said to Della is unforgivable, just like Mason knows when he’s overdone his anguished anger. Rhys informs us of Mason’s self-awareness. Just like he’s the reason we know Della Street is always the smartest person in any room.
Mason also skips past apologies when he re-ups Peter Strickland (Shea Whigham), barely against his will. Strickland pegs him halfway, saying maybe this is who he always was if he shaved and put on a suit. Maybe it’s because a suit isn’t a long way from a uniform, which Mason wore in the trenches. But this is also a way to climb out of the trenches, and they all know it. We get the impression Mason is a closed mouth man. Strickland is really the only male protagonist of the series who talks a lot. The contrast is humorous even when the scenes aren’t because a lot of the time the same conversations are told through circumlocution even when they’re at the most direct. Strickland says a lot, but makes his statements in between the lines, except when he’s telling Mason outright how much work he’s done. Mason seems to save his words up for court or desperate tantrums. They are very similar, but what works to a jury is a pain in the ass to a coworker.
Officer Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), new to Mason’s crew, is in personal exile to keep his expecting wife safe, but he keeps this part of him shut out when he’s on the job. He still has to bail out the guy in the new suit. Mason’s are off the rack, however and Officer Drake’s professional look has a tailored feel. It is especially impressive with the jacket off when he turns in the money he had been given to make his precinct look good during his appearance on the stand. He also calls his superior “Joe,” and turns in his badge.
District Attorney Maynard Barnes finds so many ways to present the word “sex” in trial you almost forget he says anything else, but every word of Stephen Root’s delivery drips with innuendo, insinuation and theatrical suspense. Not just the sentences, each word, and as they batter Emily during cross examination it really feels like he’s going to be the one to get a confession on the stand. That would be a fun turnaround, but no, she actually turns it back on him with the power of pitiful acquiescence.
Mason finally gets in a good, solid punch. It looks like it connects perfectly, and it might even coldcock someone, if it weren’t Ennis. He steps back, but that might only be to let his partner back Mason into a pillar. Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange) probably saves the defense attorney’s life by threatening it. Ennis killed a guy last week for taking too long to take a powder. This is a man who can put a lethal spike in the arm of a surrogate mother. It takes three men to douse Ennis’ fire when the final fix comes in. He will be missed in season 2.
Barnes’ closing summation could have consisted of one word, “guilty,” because of all the unsavory bile he puts into it. You wouldn’t think Mason’s closing could be upended, it was equally effective as righteous provocation as it is in pathos, but Barnes does it through sheer disgust. The post-verdict press conference, on the steps of the courthouse, has a timeless feel, as if we’ve seen it in dozens of black and white movies.
Mason and Della do E.B. (John Lithgow) impressions after day three of the deliberations. It shows how much the man meant to them, and is a small bonding moment. The exchange actually finishes during the dueling press conference scene on the courtroom steps when Mason introduces Street to the press as his associate. This is also his confirmation that everything she predicted came true and her status as the smartest person in the room is carved in stone. Former detective Drake further corroborates this when he points out Mason gets his ass handed to him during salary negotiations.
Okay, this is a spoiler, so be warned. The cherry at the top of Mason’s victory in court is supposed to be that he didn’t need to bribe a juror, a mistrial would have been declared anyway. He was that good. But it really is that he tasked Strickland with subverting the law in the first place. He was that bad. It really is a delicious turn on itself.
Emily and Charlie Dodson are reunited. It is a leap of faith, but one the newly deadlock-freed mother is prepared to make. The infant is smaller than Charlie, his arms are shorter and his eyes are brown, she notes. There is a vague Rosemary’s Baby vibe coming out as we see her learn to accept this strange child as her own, fulfilling a dark promise made to a bearer of light. The contrast between this and Drake bringing his wife and newborn to their new home is striking.
Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) ran off at the end of “ Chapter Seven,” and has disappeared. “There’s been a sighting in Albuquerque,” her mother Birdy McKeegan (Lili Taylor) says. Emily is there at Birdy’s side, cradling the baby now known as Charlie, resurrected from the dead, in her arms as the newly formed Holy Church of the New Born Babe ministry goes back to its tent revival roots.
Strickland jumps ship to work for Hamilton at the DA’s office. It’s a steady paycheck which not only allows him to get his badge back, but also to put all the evidence he gathered for Mason to good use. The Radiant Assembly of God church is a fraud. “They’re all just a bunch of crooks posing as men of the lord, and they got all kinds of ways of doing it,” he testifies. Sister Alice believes to the end, though, as Mason finally catches up to her at the diner she’s working at. She’s tired of being lonely, as is he. The scene carries a hint of romantic tension, and a hazy promise of a return visit.
Mason even does the right thing by his entrepreneurial girlfriend Lupe Gibbs (Veronica Falcón). True to form, he doesn’t quite apologize, he leaves a note in a bottle. It appears everyone around the new lawyer forgives him his sins and slights, because of the job he does.
Perry Mason got a continuance for season 2, and “Chapter Eight” is a fitting close to an introductory season. This has been a surprisingly interesting journey for the legendary defense attorney and although it took a while to get acclimated to the sordid backstory, I think I am going to miss the arc of growth of the new acquaintance. I hope his future cases, which will probably be season-long trials, will be able to replace the mounting interest which comes with the possibilities contained in the depths of discovery. It’s been great getting to know Mason and watch him redeem himself by putting truth before justice. Sophomore seasons can be tough, so the jury’s out on whether he will make the transition to a person of continued interest. It is not without precedent, and season one was strong enough to carry the burden of proof.