Perry Mason: 1.04 Chapter Four

Compelling world building and characters take precedence in the latest episode.

A warning of spoilers as we delve into the events of the latest episode…

As Perry Mason season one reaches its mid point, the case of the Dodson child murder continues to open up intriguing new developments and takes its toll on a number of pivotal characters. The crime noir tone of the show is perfectly suited to the slow burn of Mason’s investigation, clearly pointing to a fourth suspect that might be the corrupt detective Ennis. But the real meat of the episode is the fate of poor defence attorney Elias  Birchard, who is unravelling at every step.

It was clear last week that Ella’s was no match for the public spectacle of Stephen Root’s DA Maynard Barnes and this week, any attempt to sway the case in his favour was soon undone with the threat of disbarment. Maynard showed his true colours this week, blackmailing Elias and showing himself to be utterly ruthlesa when it came to getting what he wanted. John Lithgow presented a fragile figure of a man, one out of touch with the world around him. Gradually he lost everything; the backing of Herman Baggerly, the upper hand in his case against Maynard and even the respect of his legal secretary Della.

Juliet Rylance continued to bring passion and integrity to the role of Della Street. Her anger at Elias was inevitable; his refusal to accept her for what she is worth lost him one of his closest allies. Her secret relationship with housemate Linda offered another fascinating facet to the character who was such a pivotal element the original Perry Mason TV series and 80s TV movies.  The revivalnis doing a great job of developing her beyond the loyL legal secretary role she is best known for. But this was also Lithgow’s episode. His suicide attempt was brought upon by despair, the loss of the life he once knew. I’m intrigued by how his death will shake up the show in the second half of the season. Lithgow has brought plenty of passion and gravitas to the role, one that is surely going to impact on Della and Perry moving forward.

Perry Mason and Pete Strickland continued their investigation, roping in poor hapless mortician Virgil with the promise of something fun before entrapping him into performing a second autopsy on prime – and dead – suspect George. Dumping the naked corpse on the golf course was  particularly dark move, but one that enabled Perry to get the second autopsy he so desperately needed and open up the case of the Dodson murder. I suspect with Elias’s suicide, this might be the point he steps into his mentor’s shoes to take up the defence of Emily Dodson.

Chapter 4 also continued to build out Perry’s character. Talking about his past to Lupe, we saw a man haunted  by the loss of everyone close to him. The brother that walked out and never returned. His parents. A broken marriage and absent child. Matthew Rhys delivers a compelling performance as a man broken by his past, finding his only real passion in the investigation. His connections to Lupe and Pete ground him; there was even a brief, lovely moment of recollection with Elias about the time they met, a time when Elias might have been poorer but was certainly happier.

I’m intrigued by where the Sister Alice storyline is going. After her proclamation that she would resurrect the Dodson child in the midst of an epileptic fit last episode, the house-bound preacher faced the wrath of the men that finance the church, and – in a particularly disturbing the moment – the Corinthians-spouting family with the present of a viper to poison her for her heresy. Tatiana Maslany continues to deliver a mesmerising performance; there are plenty of secrets hidden behind her persona and relationship with mother Birdy (a terrific, understated performance by Lili Taylor) and her determination to proclaim the impending resurrection of Charlie Dodson, against the wishes of the church and the crowd, make her something of a wild card. The loose connection to Baggerly and the Dodsons aside, there is still something of a disconnect with the main case; hopefully there will be a decent pay off when the storylines converge.

Chapter 4 was another strong episode, with John Lithgow delivering a tragic performance as Elias. The case didn’t progress much further, but the focus here was on the compelling character work of Perry, Della, Elias and Alice. Perry Mason‘s world building is superb. I’m just hoping it gains some momentum as we head into the second half of the season.


Updated: Jul 14, 2020

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