Trials, murder and resurrection in the latest revelatory episode…
Sister Alice McKeegan has a dark and troubled past; Perry Mason has been hinting at it since Tatiana Maslany’s electric debut in the second episode. In the opening to Chapter Seven, we see why. When her mother’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the charitable Christian man who arrives to help seeks payment in the young girl and Birdy lets her. It’s a chilling scene that confirms Alice has grown up in darkness. Just why Birdy and Alice were so far away from Canada remains another mystery – were they running from something? But the manner in which Birdy fails to fight the suggestion, even leading Alice into the stranger’s arms, suggests this might not be the first time.
The religious fervour of Sister Alice’s proclamation that she will bring Charlie Dodson back from the dead is something the desperate Emily Dodson clings to. But not, it seems, Alice herself. Maslany delivers an intense, troubled performance as the sister struggles with her decisions, never really believing that what she is doing is right but throwing herself whole heartily into the act. With the male money lenders of the Assembly of God Church doubting Alice’s every move, and Birdy playing up to whatever outcome occurs, Alice is very much alone. Emily meanwhile, is so consumed by her faith and desperate need for Charlie to be alive, nothing will convince her that her son won’t be returned to her.
The final sequence in the graveyard is the pandemonium we all expected it would turn out to be. As a viewer you know Charlie can’t possibly be alive and well inside, but the tension certainly ramps up as Alice fumbles to open the coffin. If anything, the discovery that the coffin is empty if the biggest surprise of all; given that we saw the grizzly corpse of Charlie Dodson with his eyes sewn shut in first episode, what cause does anyone have to hide his body? The ensuring chaos, people clambering over one another in a religious frenzy, was a superbly directed spectacle, the explosion of fury and faith that his building up across the previous seven episodes. For Alice, it seems that light has gone out. Even when her car comes upon the crowd huddled around the baby in the road, suggesting a miraculous – and staged – return of Charlie Dodson, she wanders away defeated, leaving her mother to turn the startling events to her advantage by proclaiming it a miracle from God.
Detective Ennis’s actions in the death of Charlie Dodson were also confirmed this week. Perry Mason was soon on his trail to the Chinese brothel Ennis frequents, after Pete Strickland’s investigation closed in on the events surrounding the child’s kidnapping and death. Unfortunately, the tense drama surrounding the case was enough to fracture the relationship between Pete and Perry, allowing Paul Drake to step in, forging the relationship that will be a cornerstone of the original series. It’s great to see Paul take a more active role in the investigation, even with the threat of retaliation from his white superiors. Again, the nature of racial prejudice makes for a more compelling, challenging perspective as Paul struggled to gain evidence from a witness, even with his standing as a police officer.
As for Ennis, events seem to be spiralling out of control. His brutal attack on the witness Pete was hunting, stabbing him over and over again, showed just how dangerous the detective is. There are a number of powerful monsters that Perry and Paul need to overcome; in the courtroom, Perry fared better than last week as the defence took up their case and Herman Baggerly was called to the stand. He is still up against the the experience and superiority DA Maynard Barnes and Judge red Wright, but there was the first hint that he could hold his own in court. Sadly, his personal life fared less well, with Lupe buying his home and giving him one month left to leave. While she has been open and forthright about her intentions from the start, you could still feel the betrayal and hurt in Perry as he lost the one connection to his parents and the family he once had.
There was a lot going on this week as season one raced to the finish line. The defence of Emily Dodson began after the scathing prosecution last week. The investigation into Detective Ennis broke Perry and Pete apart, while forging the new relationship between Perry and Paul. Ennis’s murder of the witness, the reveal of Sister Alice’s dark past and the furore over the ‘resurrection’ of Charlie Dodson threw a number of curveballs into the ongoing narrative, leaving a lot to resolve in next week’s season one finale.
Perry Mason gets stronger week after week and this was the most revelatory and dramatic episode yet. There’s an awful lot to resolve in one more episode; I just hope the show can maintain the strong momentum into the closing chapter, because the show is finally starting to deliver on its potential.
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