Perry Mason seeks redemption and a new path in the latest episode.
The death of Elias Birchard propels the series forward, putting Della Street and Perry Mason together and forging a partnership that will build into the classic Perry Mason series. While the first half of the series portrayed Perry as a drunk and ruthless PI, broken by his experiences in the trenches of World War I and his doomed marriage, Chapter Five offered something of a redemptive arc for the titular character.
Matthew Rhys delivers a compelling, understated performance; the scene with his ex-wife showed him that he could never get back the marriage he lost, nor establish a relationship as father to his son Teddy, despite the happy brief reunion in the back yard. Perhaps that is why he decides to take Della up on the suggestion that he takes on Emily Dodson’s case. By the end credits he is taking the bar exam, having established his credentials as an apprentice to Elias for two year, and following in his mentor’s footsteps. The darker aspects of his personality might still be lingering beneath the surface – his violent attack on Emily’s corrupt replacement lawyer Frank Dillon (Matt Malloy) could easily bite him down the road. But this could also be the point at which he cleans up his act and transforms into the magnetic, successful lawyer we know.
Again, Juliet Rylance gives a courageous performance as Della; we haven’t seen much of her connection with Perry but there was a real bond forming between them. After the horrible discovery of Elias dead in her home, she soon set to work hiding evidence from Dillon, desperately searching for a lawyer that could defend Emily adequately and convincing Perry to defend Emily. The scene where they shared a drink after Elias’s death reminded me of the bond between them the original series and follow on TV movies; there was some nice insights in her character too – her decision to leave her family’s wealth behind and forge a career of her own continues to make her a compelling character in this 1930’s LA.
Also of note is officer Paul Drake and the exploration of racism in a time where black people did not have the same rights as over. It’s particularly poignant in the current climate where the Black Live Matter debate shows that there is still a long way to go. The scene where Paul, his wife and friends are kicked off the beach by a white police officer was particularly disturbing. It’s the sort of think that should be unthinkable in the present day and sadly isn’t. Bar the one tip a couple of episodes ago, Paul’s story still feels very different to Perry’s and I wonder where his story will go; as an unwilling ally to Perry or through the exploration of racism in the 1930s, there’s plenty of interesting material to explore here.
Sister Alice’s proclamations that Charlie Dodson would be resurrected has certainly divided the church – her rapturous sermon, complete with the poor wheelchair-bound parishioner forced to his feet in a display of god-like miracle certainly shows the power she wields. But there is a growing group who see her as a blasphemer and aren’t willing to let her stay. It’s a powder-cake of a situation, with Emily Dodson, now free courtesy of Emily’s good will and church wealth, is caught in the middle of it. I still can’t quite make out where all this is going, but it is certainly one of the most intriguing aspects of the show.
Chapter Five was the most focused episode yet, setting Perry Mason on the path to becoming a lawyer and defending Emily in court. But the rich world-building of the show continues to impress – from the exploration of Perry and Della’s pasts to Pete Strickland’s continued investigation into the corrupt detective Ennis to the inner workings of the church and Paul Drake’s tenuous position in society, there is plenty to keep us interested even as Perry Mason starts to show signs of becoming the court case drama we all know and love.
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