The Dodson trial kicks off, but is Perry already out of his depth?
After five episodes of strong world building, Perry Mason kicks off the central court case as Perry takes on the defence of Emily Dodson over the death of her son. While the episode moves into familiar territory, complete with shocking testimonials from witnesses and courtroom rivalry, Chapter Six cleverly doesn’t have Perry Mason transform into the charismatic attorney of the series on which this prequel is based. In fact, his opening speech is nothing short of terrible.
Perry only passed the bar at the end of the last episode; going up against Stephen Root’s ruthless DA Maynard Barnes is quite the leap for his first case – and a high profile one at that. His opening statement is accompanied by a coughing fit, he swears and rants at the judge after having his evidence thrown out proving that Emily’s lover George was murdered and constantly finds his statements overruled. This is not a good start to his dazzling career as an attorney, but it is a thoroughly believable one; Matthew Rhys delivers his best performance yet as a man out of his depth.
Luckily he has allies. Pete Strickland heads into Perry’s old role to hunt down the man behind the opening episode bloodbath and George’s murder, while Della Street proves her worth yet again in obtaining the evidence Perry so desperately needs. Chapter six also forges to bond between Perry and Paul Drake. After the police officer tows the company line in court, his pay off proves too much as he soon turns to Perry to help him, despite the dangers it poses. With his pregnant wife whisked off to family for safety, Paul is now very much in the thick of it and I’m intrigued to see how this story line develops.
Once again, the recasting of Paul Drake as a black police officer opens up new story angles that wouldn’t have been available had he been a white officer. We have seen his frustration build over the last few weeks; has has a strong conscience but it little more than a pawn, forced to bow to the whims of his white superiors. His speech to Perry, how he he can only patrol black areas and can’t arrest white criminals, shows just how tenuous his role is. If white criminals have more power than he, how can Paul have any influence as a police officer? It is a powerful addition to Paul’s back story that does something interesting with the 1930s setting. Given the current climate and racial tension rising again in the US, it’s a poignant narrative too.
Sister Alice’s proclamation that she will resurrect Emily’s child is another intriguing element to the show and only highlights the tragedy of Emily’s case further. She firmly believes that she can’t be convicted guilty because Charlie won’t be dead. Couple with the trial, which is less about cold, hard facts and more about the moral outrage at Emily’s affair, and I can’t help but worry for her, even if the real killer is brought to justice. With her husband turning against her, and Maynard’s case a tirade of sinful horrors, there will be no escape for Emily, even if she is found not guilty.
While Chapter Six ventures into familiar Perry Mason territory, there is still a long way to go. Perry’s first case is crumbling before it has even started. Fortunately there are still two more episodes to go and there are sure to be plenty of surprises before the season is over. I’m genuinely excited for what is going to happen next…
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