HBO’s Perry Mason: Chapter Two Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
On this week’s episode of HBO’s Perry Mason, Chapter Two, we get a taste of new characters, both seemingly good and bad, and get new information about our titular protagonist as well as the case at hand.
In last week’s premiere, we were introduced to a new kind of Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) – one that’s full of regret and traumatized by mistakes from his past. This week we actually delve more into his dark days in the midst of WWI and see some of the horrors he encountered. Just showing the gruesome sight of Mason running through a desolate battlefield with bullets screaming by would be horrifying enough for anyone to understand how traumatized he is, but that’s unfortunately not even the worst of what he’s forced to do. We eventually learn that Mason was discharged from the Army through a “blue ticket” – a method formerly used by commanders to discharge homosexual and African American soldiers.
It’s great to see the series continue to divulge into lesser talked about aspects of its time and while it’s left a mystery what the exact reason that Mason was discharged, possibly being that he is gay, we get a glimpse of his actions during a major battle that could be the reason why. While retreating from an incoming gas attack, Mason is shown putting wounded soldiers out of their misery with bullets to the head. It’s a grisly scene that makes you perfectly understand why he’s so haunted and why he’s so determined and conflicted with his decision-making throughout this episode.
With the end of the last episode leading us to believe that detectives Holcomb (Eric Lange) and Ennis (Andrew Howard) play a big part in the kidnapping and murder of Charlie Dodson, there’s more to the story than anyone imagined. The police are still trying to pin the whole situation on Matthew (Nate Coddry) by uncovering an interesting part of his backstory that’s stayed hidden – that he’s the bastard son of Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick). Baggerly is the man who hired E.B. (John Lithgow) and Mason in order to help Matthew not be convicted of something he didn’t do. However, with the appearance of District Attorney Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) and him siding with the police, Matthew wasn’t going to remain innocent for long. It’s an interesting secret that definitely causes some unhelpful waves in their defense and only becomes more complicated with what Mason finds out about Emily (Gayle Rankin).
Tasked with making sure there are no loose threads in the investigation since he still can figure out anything about that thread he found last week, Mason finds out some information about Emily that blows the whole case wide open. Mason proves how capable he really is as there’s a great scene of him using the help of a phone operator to figure out who Emily has been trying to secretly call. It leads to some gory results, like really gory, as he finds that she’s been writing letters to George Gannon (Aaron Stanford) – the guy that fell off the roof trying to escape Ennis. Here, we see that he has appeared to blown his head off with a shotgun, which is absolutely horrifying to see the aftermath of, but we know that that’s not true and Mason isn’t buying it either. He’s surely convinced that Emily is hiding other things and all the details that the cops and Maynard are using to convict Matthew are really reflected by Emily’s affair.
Now, it seems like a lot of details are all coming into play at once, but the episode does a great job spacing all of the details out and fleshing out all of the opinions and attitudes of everything we’re seeing. Mason and Della (Juliet Rylance), who gets to show her determination and care towards helping Emily throughout the episode, are at odds with Mason ready to slam cuffs on Emily to save Matthew and Della reminding everyone that “infidelity isn’t murder.” It’s actually nice to see Mason not exactly be perfect here, as recruiting Strickland (Shea Whigham) to get more info only puts him in hot water with E.B. and his acquisition of Emily’s letters isn’t exactly legal, and that Della’s words do ring true to everyone and that she makes a strong impression on the investigation. It’s also riveting to see E.B. and Maynard have a head to head rivalry throughout the episode as Lithgow and Root absolutely thrive in their respective parts and their battle of wits is going to be great to watch unfold as more secrets come out. With all of this new info breaking out all of a sudden, everything E.B. says about everyone being a liar and Baggerly says about people only telling things they want to know is truly the name of the game.
We’re also introduced to the strange presence of Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), the leader and preacher of the Radiant Assembly of God, and it’s quite an introduction. Sister Alice is truly a captivating force that preaches so strongly and with conviction, you would almost think that it was as if it were life or death for her. Her church looks more like a politician’s rally rather than a house of God and that she’s putting on a show for the incredible number of followers she has sitting both in front of and behind her. Maslany is the definition of scene stealing and the sermon she gives to Mason and the rest of the one-time visitors is legitimately scary. It’s still unknown whether there are more dangerous motivations for her wanting to help Emily and the Dodson’s get by, but it seems like there’s a more controlling presence in her mother Birdy (Lili Taylor).
On a side, the entire sequence of Emily dealing with the loss of Charlie basically on her own is very touching and really hits hard. From picking out his infant sizes casket to the very emotional speech from Sister Alice, it’s a very tough issue that’s dealt with very well in this episode and I love how it pulls no punches in how hard things are on Emily and everyone involved. It’s all made even harder with her not even being able to see her son be buried as Mason divulges information about Emily’s affair to the police in order to save Matthew and they arrest her at the service. It’s traumatic tragedy that’s easy to resonate with and what makes Della visiting Emily in jail so meaningful and telling about her character.
Lastly, there’s also another introduction to a new character to this series that’s actually a major part of the Perry Mason series – Paul Drake (Chris Chalke). Drake is often depicted as Mason’s right-hand man, but here is just a beat cop that stumbles upon the bloody mess that Ennis caused last week and becomes suspicious of his fellow officers. Right from the first scene with him breaking up a domestic dispute, you can tell that he’s stern and determined to do what’s right with how he handles things. He’s certainly not afraid to get his hands dirty if he has to and after a conversation with Ennis and Holcomb where they throw condescendingly racist remarks his way, he’s surely not stupid to their suspicious behavior. Chalke makes a great first impression and I’m excited to see him slowly solve things alongside Mason throughout the season.
The second chapter of HBO’s Perry Mason gives the series the direction and depth it needed as it introduces some great new characters and dishes out some dark realizations as it fleshes out more info about Mason’s haunting past in WWI and about the series’ central case. If you’re still on the fence about checking this series out, there’s no better time than now to start watching.
Watch the Trailer Here: