[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Perry Mason, Season 1, Episode 6, “Chapter 6.”]
A recent article on Vulture about what it’s like to make police shows in the year 2020 featured this observation from an anonymous director/producer, who shared that:
A cop once told me that you can never trust a police officer on the stand, because that person will always say whatever’s necessary to put the defendant in prison if they believe he is guilty. There is no fear of perjury. That’s gotten me out of jury duty quite a bit, by the way — whenever they ask me if I can be unbiased about cops, I say, “Well, no, because I was told by a prominent ex-cop to never trust them on the stand.”
This very understandably came to mind while watching “Chapter 6” of Perry Mason, the episode which comes closest yet to resembling the original Raymond Burr series because so much of it takes place in the courtroom. Emily Dodson’s (Gayle Rankin) trial is in full swing, with Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) determined to see her swing for the death of Baby Charlie, and while Barnes makes a meal out of painting Emily as a lustful, evil woman who killed her child, Perry’s (Matthew Rhys) first few at-bats as her lawyer are all strike-outs.
It’s almost painful to watch as Perry chokes on his own tongue during his opening statement and stumbles during the cross-examination of Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry). Perhaps the worst moment of that first day: Because Emily never told him the full truth about her relationship with George Gannon (seen in flashbacks played by Aaron Stanford), he’s unprepared for the motel owner who testifies about the time in November when George checked into two of his adjoining rooms, so that George and Emily could have sex while baby Charlie laid on the bed next door. It’s hardly a criminal act, but it’s yet another chance for Barnes to paint Emily as a slut, and Perry chews Emily out for lying to him.
Perry’s floundering when it comes to what to do next — his crack squad of Della (Juliet Rylance), her “special friend” Myrna (Molly Ephraim), and Pete (Shea Whigham) are maybe getting closer to making a connection between Charlie’s deceased kidnappers and Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), but there’s nothing concrete. However, Pete did make a new discovery when it comes to George, specifically that a business owned by him included the Renowed Assembly of God as an investor, and Della starts digging into the financials of the church, with some help from a ledger swiped from their offices.
How that might help Emily’s trial is so far unclear, beyond helping them actually track down Charlie’s murderer, something Perry did promise to do on top of defending Emily. In the meantime, Perry has a big decision to make: Paul (Chris Chalk) did help him out with the key clues needed to prove that George didn’t commit suicide, but Perry gave his word to never reveal that Paul did so. When Paul takes the stand, it’s Perry’s chance to reveal the truth about George — all he has to do is betray his promise… something he ultimately decides not to do, letting Paul maintain his lie about following the blood trail down to the street.
Perry’s choice, plus a “gift” from Paul’s lieutenant that sends a very clear message, ends up being the push Paul needs to do something resembling the right thing. He brings the denture to Perry’s house and plants it in one of the many boxes of evidence Barnes tried to drown Perry with — that frees Perry up to ask the coroner (Jefferson Mays) about it on the stand. Paul also makes a point of getting his pregnant wife Clara (Diarra Kilpatrick) out of town, because he may now be determined to help Emily’s case but he knows that there are very real dangers involved.
While the battle rages inside the courtroom, Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) is still making preparations for the Easter Sunday resurrection of Baby Charlie, while her critics keep an active countdown going for the revelation not of a new living baby, but Sister Alice being revealed as a fake. Birdy (Lili Taylor), lacking faith in Alice’s abilities, is preparing them to run, though Alice is convinced that she’s on the right path. Her faith seems to be pure and true — but the day of reckoning will soon be at hand.
The trial features another major setback for Emily’s case when Barnes calls the prison matron to the stand, who says she overheard Emily confess to the murder of Charlie while talking to Sister Alice. Emily screams that the matron is a liar, but it doesn’t do all that much good.
Not taking the stand is Ennis, even though — as his partner Holcomb (Eric Lange) comes to find out — his involvement goes a lot further than just being geographically convenient to the crime when it was reported. Both of them might be dirty in some ways, but Holcomb is concerned about the degree to which Ennis is involved with Charlie’s death, or at the very least who can finger him for being involved.
Whoever might be involved in this conspiracy, Della’s uncanny research abilities might have just uncovered a new player: An address for a plot of land bought for very cheap, in the town of Girard that Baggerly told Matthew about in Episode 3. Perry drives out to meet the owner of said land, a man named Jim Hicks, who greets Perry at the door, noting that “I’ve been waiting for you to find me.”
The above is a whole lot of plot summary, but that’s because “Chapter 6” was a pretty dense episode plot-wise, even if it was surprisingly full of set-up given that there are only two more episodes left to go. Though there are two more episodes left of the season, not the show in full: Whether or not Perry Mason is a limited series had up until this last week been a very vague thing, but it appears HBO has been happy enough with the series to greenlight a second season. What that second season will look like is a very hard question to answer, in part because of the pandemic and in part because so far Season 1 has been all about Perry’s slow-then-very-very-fast journey to becoming a licensed attorney. Certainly we can count on one thing: Based on what we’ve seen so far. Season 2 will hardly be anything resembling a traditional legal procedural.
- Watching Stephen Root act, especially in the episode’s opening scenes, goes beyond scenery-chewing. It’s like watching a true gourmand delicately devour an entire honey-glazed ham — pure magnificence.
- Paul’s monologue about how he’s not even able to cuff a white man was extremely welcome. This is a character who’s been more sidelined than he should have been, and hopefully that improves over the final two episodes.
- Perry talking to himself as E.B. was perhaps a slightly overdramatic moment, but Rhys’s delightful John Lithgow impression and the refrain of “you can’t prosecute from the defense table” was cute.
- For some reason, during Perry’s opening statement in court, I found myself remembering the lyrics to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Would it make sense for someone to recut that scene to the Oscar-winning song? Probably not. Would I like to see that happen? Very much so.
Perry Mason airs Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO.