[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Perry Mason Season 1, Episode 7, “Chapter 7.”]
Perry Mason‘s seventh chapter bears the distinction of being the episode that, basically, explains everything. Key bits of truth and fact had been dolled out in the previous six episodes, thanks to Perry’s relentless dedication to putting the pieces together, but we now have a nearly complete picture of what happened to Charlie Dodson that fateful December.
Let’s just summarize it here, so everyone is on the same page: After wealthy Mr. Baggerly (Robert Patrick) stopped contributing to the extremely in-debt Radiant Assembly of God, a kidnapping scheme targeting his grandson was created involving Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), George Gannon (Aaron Stanford), and two Polish gentlemen — one of whom worked with Ennis in Denver, Colorado several years ago, in a non-law enforcement capacity. Also working in Denver at that time was Elder Seidel (Taylor Nichols), who is in charge of the Radiant Assembly’s finances, tangling the known kidnappers and their unknown accomplices together, on top of the fact that the exact amount of Charlie’s ransom, $100,000, happens to be nearly exactly the amount of debt currently owed by the church.
The kidnapping scheme went tragically awry after the men, hidden away at a motel, tried to quiet the screaming baby by bringing in one of Madam Jin’s (Eileen Fogarty) prostitutes, who specializes in granting clients a taste of breast milk. Unfortunately, the prostitute in question was a heroin user, and her dosed breast milk was likely what caused Charlie’s death (though she can’t testify to that effect, as she also just died). Anyway, Charlie’s death and the resulting panicked reaction of the kidnappers kicked off the series of events that brought us to this tragic point: With Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) and his team having basically solved the case, but with no clear way to ensure that justice for Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) will be possible.
That’s a lot of information to unload, but the episode makes remarkably speedy work of it, thanks to the pre-built foundation of previous episodes. (One thing’s for sure: the second half of this season has moved a lot faster than the first half.) Only about three days pass over the course of “Chapter 7,” but plenty gets packed into them, including the title card event: Sister Alice’s (Tatiana Maslany) promised Easter resurrection of Charlie Dodson. The cemetery is packed with onlookers, who react to the ultimate reveal of Charlie’s very small but very empty coffin with outrage and violence. Perry and Della (Juliet Rylance) nearly get torn apart trying to get Emily to safety, while both Alice and Birdy (Lili Taylor) get roughed up while making their escape.
Prior to that, it should be noted, we got some important check-ins on key characters, such as Della’s friend Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk), who takes her out for a very nice dinner she’s not hungry enough to eat. Despite joking about Della being his fiancee, Hamilton is clearly gay, confessing to her that “you’re the only person in this town I can be honest with.”
Also, Perry decides to pay a visit to Lupe (Veronica Falcón) at the airstrip bar next door, but she has deeply unpleasant news for him: Because he hasn’t paid his property taxes for five years, his property was put up for auction, and she has made good on her often-made promise to buy it and turn it into another airstrip. “I didn’t think you were fucking me so you could fuck me,” Perry snaps at her, to which she coolly replies “I’m a businesswoman.” She promises not to exhume his parents from their current resting spots (which honestly feels like pretty much the very least she can do).
Pete (Shea Whigham), meanwhile, has been put in charge of tracking Elder Seidel, but unfortunately he loses track of Seidel in a crowd. The bad news here is that after Perry (taking out his anger on the wrong person) yells at Pete for screwing up, Pete quits as Perry’s investigator. Oh, and Seidel, after successfully escaping the city, meets up with Ellis to make a getaway and avoid testifying … but said getaway ends up taking the form of Ellis stabbing him to death. Here’s a bit of good news, though: With his wife safely out of town, Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is conducting his own investigation, and comes to Perry with the key bits of information that lead to the discovery of how, exactly, Charlie died. If Pete is truly out of the picture, then Paul might be a worthy successor — should he ever choose to stop being a cop.
All of this is bookended by two incredibly illuminating scenes spotlighting Sister Alice: The first a flashback to Birdyand a barely pubsecent Alice (played by Ella Kennedy Davis) stranded on the side of a desolate country road with a car outta gas. A “generous benefactor” happens to come across them, offering to help them reach their destination “and not ask for much in return.” He’s looking at Alice when he says it, and thanks to the brilliant acting of Taylor, you can tell how much she hates telling Alice that “the Lord has sent this good man to rescue us — go and thank him.” But she still does it, illustrating that even before Alice became a prophet, Birdy wasn’t afraid to take advantage of her daughter.
This gets reflected in the final scene, following the failed resurrection attempt at the graveyard, when Alice and Birdy’s car pulls up on a crowd surrounding a just-found baby — who Birdy immediately declares to be the reborn Charlie. A dazed and bloodied Alice refuses to respond to her mother’s claims that “this is your miracle!” Instead, she starts to run… and it doesn’t seem like she’s going to stop anytime soon.
And that’s the end of the episode! One more chapter to go in Perry Mason’s origin story. One more chance for him to save Emily, now that we’ve basically figured out what happened to Charlie. Perry Mason has made its share of mistakes over the course of what we now know officially is just the beginning of this story, but perhaps its smartest choice was to essentially “solve” the mystery at this point in the season. Because now the question isn’t what happened, but rather whether or not the people responsible will receive justice.
- Kudos to casting directors Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy: While Ella Kennedy Davis isn’t a dead ringer for Tatiana Maslany, their physical resemblance is damn close.
- Barnes (Stephen Root) slyly showing the jury the autopsy photos of Baby Charlie again was such a well-choreographed dick move, I almost missed it the first time I watched it. Root is such a talented actor on so many levels, but his talent for making a character like this easy to hate but still captivating cannot be underestimated.
- Maybe it was the vibe of the action, the production design’s evocative feel, or the natural chemistry of the actors involved, but Paul’s meeting with Miss Nina (Stacie Greenwell) at the dance hall was perhaps one of the episode’s most enjoyable moments.
- Sister Alice’s Good Friday radio broadcast was a treat as well, if only for the chance to appreciate the way in which live drama was performed for an audio-only audience at this time in history.
- One of the other best decisions made in this redevelopment of Perry Mason, the more I think about it, was the decision for this version of Della to be a lesbian. Not only is LGBTQ representation in period dramas like this a rare thing, but with there being no chance of a Will They/Won’t They dynamic between Della and Perry, their friendship has a unique energy that casts the pair as equals and peers first.
Perry Mason airs Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO.