The funny thing about “Chapter 5” of HBO’s Perry Mason is that your reaction to the episode’s final beats will depend wildly on your familiarity with the original Raymond Burr series or other notable adaptations. If you’ve never indulged and are just in the habit of watching whatever happens to be airing each week at 9 PM ET on HBO, your reaction to the ending will be “Wait, now he’s a lawyer?” Meanwhile, pre-established fans of the property are yelling “About time!”
As someone who has seen the original show but not for some time, Episode 5 came as a slap of a reminder that Perry Mason is meant to be a legal drama — something which this take on Perry’s (Matthew Rhys) origins has only sort of touched on up until this point. But now, E.B.’s death means that after Della (Juliet Rylance) spends nearly the entire episode trying to find a lawyer to take on Emily’s case, she conducts a few legal shenanigans, and Perry passes the bar exam and is now officially a lawyer.
Talking about the ending is getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about the beginning! Following up on the sad events of Episode 4, Della comes to E.B.’s house to discover his body in the kitchen — which, with some help from Perry, she restages as a quiet death in his sleep.
Della and Perry go up north to bring E.B.’s body and effects home to his son, and while spending the night in northern California, they bond a little bit over fathers and their children. Della ends up revealing that she came from money (per Perry’s observation) but ran away from home at the age of 25 to escape a forced engagement and her father refusing to let her go to college. The reasoning is pretty clear, given that she’s in a secret relationship with another woman, as established last week and reaffirmed in this episode.
The next morning, Perry leaves early to drop by his ex-wife’s house for a disappointing visit with his son, but Della seems too busy to care, because while Emily (Gayle Rankin) has been released on bail thanks to Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), she no longer has an attorney, and Della’s determined to find someone competent that will take the evidence that Perry and Pete (Shia Whigham) have been collecting and get Emily freed of a crime she didn’t commit. However, that’s tough given how district attorney Maynard Baynes is literally pulling all the strings, ensuring that Emily’s new public defender is working for him and making it clear to all other lawyers in town that taking Emily’s case would be a very bad idea.
Also, we check in with Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), whose storyline largely focuses on his growing discontent with the racism he encounters on a daily basis, first discussed at a political debate probably featuring probably the most black people in one scene of Perry Mason to date. While he rejects the notion of quitting to help start a trucking company — “I’m a fucking cop” — he still seems uncertain about his future.
Meanwhile, it’s been a slow-developing tension, but the split within Sister Alice’s congregation is now set in stone, with her opposition, the Renowed Assembly of God, counting down the days until she fails to revive poor Charlie outside while she conducts tentpole revival-esque productions in the church. In the fervor, Alice talks a man in a wheelchair essentially into crowd surfing, but it seems to work, and she is once again consumed by the Spirit of the Lord.
After scouring for attorneys she knows she can trust and failing, Della gets a bright idea courtesy of a drunken yet passionate rant from Perry, forging papers that say Perry was apprenticing with E.B., and Emily, when presented with them, agrees to let him take the case. The only matter left is the bar exam, but Della connects Perry with a new face — ADA Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk), who motivated by his desire to defeat Baynes, offers “legal advice” that ensures Perry passes.
So now Perry has become (in less than 10 minutes of screen time) s a lawyer, as more of the details come together, and the web grows more intricate. We still need a lot more puzzle pieces to figure out the why of it all, though.
- Even mentioning the off-screen death of a cat is not pleasant. The woman murdered at the beginning? The nosy neighbor of the Dodsens, for reasons currently unknown.
- It’s quite sad that they were estranged, but the actor playing E.B. Jonathan’s son sounds just enough like John Lithgow to establish a family connection — who, it turns out is Lithgow’s son Ian Lithgow, so that explains that.
- Linda’s current squeeze Ed seems a decent sort, and just in case you were wondering, he is in fact right about 1932 being a good year for Spreckels Sugar. (Of course you were wondering about this.)
- They made Rhys shave and get a haircut for that last scene, but hopefully, it’s not the last we’ll see of Scruffy Perry.
Perry Mason airs Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO. For more, check out last week’s interview with John Lithgow and Juliet Rylance.