How the Season 1 Finale of 'Perry Mason' Sets Up Season 2
There's more legal noir on the way.
While the first few episodes of HBO's Perry Mason reboot were pretty dour, there's peace in how Season 1 ended. Perry solves the murder of baby Charlie Dodson, and while he does't put the killer in jail, the case is basically closed. He meditates on faith while he sets up his new law firm, perfectly setting up the already ordered season two, which will presumably look a little more familiar to viewers of its legal-procedural predecessor from the 1950s.
Watching the finale, it seems pretty evident that these eight hours were both a way of establishing that this is not your dad's Perry Mason and also that it will eventually sort of become your dad's Perry Mason. Matthew Rhys' Perry has gone from rumpled investigator to full blown lawyer in record time -- literally a matter of weeks -- and now he's ready to take on all the sordid cases Los Angeles has to offer. So how did we get here? And what's in store for round two?
Who was responsible for Charlie Dodson's death?
Mason's first test as a lawyer is the gruesome killing of a child who was left on Angel's Flight with his eyes sewn open. The mother, Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin), is charged with the crime, in part because she'd had an affair with a man implicated in the crime and in part due to some nasty Depression-era sexism. After Perry's old boss EB (John Lithgow) kills himself, Perry and his associate Della Street (Juliet Rylance) take it upon themselves to save Emily from the gallows, given that no other lawyer will take on the case. Turns out, Charlie's kidnapping and death was all part of a plot to pad the coffers of the Radiant Assembly of God, led by the magnetic Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), a facsimile of the real life Aimee Semple McPherson. The main perpetrator of the horrific deed was the corrupt Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), who further condemned Charlie by hiring a heroin-addicted prostitute to act as his wet nurse, thus poisoning him with the drugs.
Does Emily get off?
Yes, sort of. Perry's first hard lesson about lawyering is that he can't actually convict Ennis, thus needing to rely on reasonable doubt to acquit Emily. The district attorney Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk), also a holdover character from Erle Stanley Gardner's novels, informs Perry that people don't confess on the stand. (That's a clever little nod to the CBS series where confessing on the stand was commonplace.) Ultimately, the jury is deadlocked nine to three. Of the three who believed she was innocent, one was bribed by Perry's old pal Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham). At this point, it's unclear whether or not Perry actually knows about Pete's actions, but it does add an asterisk to his first semi-victory, and will likely be a source of turmoil down the road.
Who will be back for the second season?
The crucial scene -- really the only one you need to watch if you just want to jump into season two -- features Perry, Della, and investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) hashing out the details of their new firm. Della -- Perry's loyal secretary in the source material -- announces her intentions to become a lawyer herself. By season two, you have to assume her name will be on that door. Meanwhile, Paul has left the extremely racist LAPD behind to work as Perry's lead investigator. Still, don't necessarily expect them to be always in agreement. In an interview with Esquire, Chalk wonders "how much [Drake] actually trusts Perry now."
Strickland will likely still be in the fold as he is going over to work for Hamilton, who will likely fill the role as Perry's main antagonist. That relationship will likely be messy as well: Hamilton and Della are close friends, and they share the knowledge that they're both gay. (Speaking of which, I personally hope Della's delightful girlfriend Hazel, played by Molly Ephraim, shows up some more.) As for the police department, Ennis is offed by his colleague Holcomb (Eric Lange), who now assumes the position of most corrupt person in town.
Rhys is so good at playing a rumpled shell of a man, getting the shit kicked out of of him, but Perry Mason became a stronger show when Perry was actually doing what Perry is known for: strutting around a courtroom. Season 2 will likely be more of that, with Perry also ceding some of his duties to Della and Paul, now primed to challenge their historical archetypes even more.
Is this the last we've seen of Sister Alice?
The very end of the episode finds Perry tracking down Sister Alice, now working as a waitress in a diner. Alice challenges him on notions of belief, which leads him to his final gesture, a symbolic release of the Dodson case. He takes the string he cut from Charlie's sewn open eyes and blows it into the sea. I'm guessing that's a signal that Perry Mason will leave everyone connected with Charlie behind next season, even though Alice's mother (Lili Taylor) and Emily are still peddling their gospel. For now, Mason's done with these believers and the evil that follows them. On to the next person in trouble!
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