[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Perry Mason, “Chapter 8.”]
Well, it only took eight episodes, but our pal Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) managed to… Well, he didn’t exactly catch the bad guys. But he did manage to keep his client Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) for being hung for the murder of her baby son. So that’s something!
The final episode of Season 1 completes Perry’s journey from schlubby private investigator to somewhat less schlubby defense attorney, with a few loose ends blowing in the breeze, but the most important one now behind him. Of course, before Perry finds something resembling a resolution on that Carmel cliffside, he still has a case to resolve.
After both Birdy (Lili Taylor) and Emily lick their wounds following the brouhaha at the cemetery, a good chunk of the beginning of “Chapter 8” is all about the testimony of Det. Ennis (Andrew Howard), which is slow to be revealed as Perry’s imagining of what could be possible, if he put the man he knows to be a major part of this criminal tragedy on the stand. It’s a deliberate homage to a phenomenon/trope from the original Raymond Burr series so legit it has its own Wikipedia page — the “Perry Mason moment” is defined as a moment during court proceedings where new evidence gets entered into the record in a dramatic fashion, changing the outcome of the case.
In the real world, these moments are as rare as they were common during Burr’s time as the character, and this iteration has decided to hew close to reality. It’s Della’s (Juliet Rylance) friend and ADA Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) who has to remind Perry, more than once, that “no one confesses on the stand.” But Perry has a hard time accepting this as fact, especially since Ennis is the one man who could tie everything together.
After Hamilton shoots down the idea of confronting Ennis on the stand, the question remains: What should Perry do next, if he wants to save his client? Hamilton suggests just resting the case with the strong suggestion of reasonable doubt, while Della suggests letting Emily testify — an idea that Perry thinks is horrible, but after a blowout fight with her (including a not-so-kind reference to Della’s relationship with Hazel), he ends up doing it. Accompanied by flashbacks to the night Charlie was taken, flashbacks which make it clear just how much she loved her son, Emily is heartbreaking on the stand. Even under the brutal attacks by D.A. Barnes (Stephen Root), she’s the dictionary definition of grief-stricken, “all cried out” of tears for the son she lost.
With that, it’s time for closing statements, and by this point, Perry seems a lot more comfortable in front of the jury, delivering the sort of slightly awkward but passionate address Della knew he was capable of four episodes ago. (Hopefully, this show and Perry himself never forget that the only reason he ever managed to become a lawyer was because Della made it happen with legal trickery and sheer force of will.)
It takes five days for the jury to make a decision — the decision being that it can’t decide. With the jury declaring itself hung, the judge declares a mistrial, and Emily is free. On the courtyard steps, Barnes promises to retry Emily, but that effort might have gotten swallowed up by Hamilton’s decision to start digging into the financials of the Radiant Assembly of God, assisted by Pete (Shea Whigham) and all the evidence he had accumulated.
Oh yeah, it’s very important that we catch up on what Pete’s been up to, by the way. Finally hitting his limit with Perry’s brusque treatment and refusal to apologize, Pete decides he’s quitting to join Hamilton’s staff as lead investigator. However, he does do one last but vital job — bribing one of the jurors from Emily’s case to make sure that the jury was unable to reach a decision. It’s not exactly a hero move, and also one that it turns out was unnecessary: without any promise of cash payments, Perry had managed to convince two of the jurors for real of Emily’s innocence.
Despite #TeamEmily’s efforts, the vibe that night isn’t exactly celebratory, and Emily ends up going to the Radiant Assembly headquarters, having received a note consisting of a single baby footprint. There, she meets the baby that Birdy recovered on Easter Sunday, who Emily immediately recognizes as not Charlie based on their physical differences. But she still cradles the child…
…and as we see in a nice all-encompassing montage, being the mother of this foundling becomes just one of the life changes Emily makes, joining Birdy to hit the road preaching about the miracle of the “Reborn Babe.” We also see Pete on the stand as Hamilton prosecutes a case, and Lupe walk into Perry’s house, owned by her as of the last episode, to find that he’s moved out, leaving behind only a note telling her “The price was fair. Look after the cows.”
Where’s Perry living, now that he’s surrendered the family farm? Who knows! But his name is getting painted, all nice and fancy, on the front door of E.B. Jonathan’s old offices, where Della is negotiating her own terms for the new partnership she and Perry are going to strike up — one which involves the eventual hiring of a real secretary as Della attends night classes to become a lawyer herself. Their negotiations (such as they are, given how much Della’s winning) are interrupted, though, by a potential client — a mysterious Mrs. Eva Griffin. “I’m in trouble,” she says. “And she can pay the retainer,” Della adds. And with that, Perry’s onto his next mystery (one that may or may not follow the same path as the very first Perry Mason novel ever written by Erle Stanley Gardner.
While most characters get something resembling a happy ending at the end of the season here, one character decidedly does not: Detective Ennis, lynchpin of the conspiracy, knows too much about some powerful people, and it’s his own partner Holcomb (Eric Lange) who makes sure to tell him that Ennis’s loved ones will be taken care of, before three thugs come out of nowhere to drown Ennis in the fountain at the casino. Holcomb retrieves the cash and Ennis’s badge, the job done.
There’s one last question remaining, and Perry’s already asked Paul (his new investigator, following Paul’s official resignation f to help him answer it: What happened to Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany)? The answer is that after fleeing from her entire life, even her mother, on that fateful Easter, she’s managed to make it to Carmel, several hours by car away from Los Angeles, where she’s working as a waitress, her platinum blond hair cut and dyed dark brown. Perry finds the diner she’s working at, and the two end up having a sincere conversation about her untouchable faith and his lack thereof. “A baby was killed to prop up your church and you’re telling me you can look at this and still believe,” he tells her, while she makes a point of asking him whether lacking faith has brought him peace. It’s a bittersweet scene for both of them, but Perry seems to have found some degree of peace as he releases the last remaining bit of thread into the breeze.
Love the show’s vintage-but-not-quite title cards? Damn right you do! Collider’s own Drew Taylor got the whole story about how they were designed and made during pandemic times.
- I would watch an entire hour of television that was just Juliet Rylance and Matthew Rhys doing their very best John Lithgow impressions. (A very nice touch in this finale was the close-up on the monogram of the briefcase that Perry uses — E.B.’s legacy live on.)
- For weeks, I’ve been meaning to mention that Matt Frewer, erstwhile character actor perhaps most famous for his work in Max Headroom, is playing the judge in the Dodson case. And this is my last chance, so — hi, Matt Frewer! You were great.
- I have been avoiding making any deliberate comments on parallels between the original Perry Mason and this series, but now that we’ve reached the end of this origin story, my parents at least would want me to point out that we’ve now reached the Burr series’ status quo. Perry is the lawyer in charge, Della is his plucky associate (though this Della has made it clear that she’ll be doing a lot more than answering phones), and Paul Drake, no longer an employee of the LAPD, is Perry’s savvy investigator. The only other major character from the original show to cross over is Hamilton Burger in the District Attorney’s office — Pete was a creation for this series (though hopefully Shea Whigham might pop up in Season 2).
- The final touch of the series — a rearrangement of the iconic Perry Mason theme — was a nice touch. Man, that theme slaps.