When Perry Mason came out last week, I was one of the first to sing praises about the noir series. You can read the first episode review here.
It was a fun reminder of some of the stuff I liked about True Detective and Chinatown.
Some people who read the piece last week think I went overboard with my praise. At the time, I told them to wait. However, the second Perry Mason episode is making me jump off the bandwagon.
I am not the type of person who quickly falls out of love with a TV series (I gave Westworld a serious chance after season 2). So, I am going to explicitly state I am sticking with Perry Mason throughout its first and only season.
So, how was the second episode?
Setting up Perry Mason: Episode Two
If the first episode was about giving us an exciting trailer about each character in the series, episode two was about setting up the season.
We see two new characters get an introduction, Patrol Officer Paul Drake and Sister Alice. One of the off-putting aspects of the second episode was the little time both these characters got.
The story picks up with the LAPD completing their hostile takeover of Mathew Dodson’s life. Dodson was the father of the dead child. The first episode dropped enough hints of the happening, so there is not much surprise there.
However, the biggest surprise was Matthew being revealed as Baggerly’s illegitimate son during the showdown between the LAPD. Again, I believe this reveal could have been a little more drawn out.
The meek display of Baggerly, especially the way he cowers to his religious communion members, was a little surprising. He displayed authority in the first episode, so I assumed he would be some kind of patriarchal villain or anti-hero. None of those things pan out and we instead see the only person in power of the communion. More on that later.
Officer Drake and the Unraveling of Emily Dodson
As the episode unwinds, we see Officer Drake and his place of work. Chris Chalk, the actor playing the officer, is a favorite of mine and I was happy to see him here. Although he had limited screen time in episode two, I am excited for what lies ahead.
The mother of the dead child, Emily Dodson, also starts unraveling. Perry digs up dirt on her with some detective work and finds out she’s having an affair. The man who she was cheating with turns out to be dead, so, well, OK.
The Funeral Service
Finally, we reach the last part of the episode, the funeral service of the departed. This is the point where we learn who the powerful force in the communion is. After Baggerly’s meekness, we see Sister Alice giving a rousing sermon, challenging the city’s cops and politicians to rise to the occasion and punish those who killed the child.
The way this scene is shot, I could sense the writers wanted to spike the drama and emotion. In a largely dull episode full of exposition, this was the part where the showrunners wanted to give viewers some payoff.
And yet, the scene doesn’t quite hit the levels it tries to. It was clear the writers wanted to tie the audience to a momentous rise in pitch. The placid nature of everything leading up to the sermon was a big reason there was no real impact.
The Arrest of Emily Dodson
The subsequent arrest of Emily Dodson after the sermon was a little surprising. I expected this to happen, but not in the second episode itself. It is clear somebody wanted to get both the parents framed for this crime.
In the final scene, we see Perry lost in thoughts as he wanders the street while Officer Paul discovers new evidence.
Predictability – The Problems of Perry Mason Episode Two
In hindsight, this episode was a breeding ground to first establish a false narrative and allow it to gain steam.
False Narrative Tricks
The parents look innocent by all standards (atleast of the murder of their son). The writers are letting them take the fall so that our protagonist (Perry) along with the help of Officer Paul can later tear it down.
If you’re someone who watches a lot of television or reads crime novels, this is not new. Protagonists often have to debunk false narratives and help those wrongly accused. This is a template almost every crime noir series follows.
This trick would have worked more if the writers hadn’t made allusions to the same in episode one. Perry is suspicious of the parents from the beginning. If your big trick in episode two is to then confirm the suspicion, you are being predictable.
Another predictable part was Perry’s backstory. It was clear from the beginning he had a painful history in the military. As far as clichés of hardboiled protagonists go, this is right up there. However, my problem is not with the cliché. In fact, the military veteran character cliché is one I can indulge in all the time.
My problem lies with the rushed nature of the reveal. Perry led his men into a vulnerable position and eventually had to kill some of them or let them die a slow death due to mustard gas.
The visuals of the backstory are amazing, yes. HBO has clearly spent a lot of money and it’s visible with war scene and the general aesthetic of the series. However, a better way to tell this story would have been not showing it altogether. We could have instead heard references to the incident or a character bringing it up to mess with Perry.
Instead, now we know everything about his past. The writers could have made this an element of mystery, a smoking gun for a later part of the series. In fact, some of the time used in telling the backstory could have gone into exploring Sister Alice or Paul Drake a little more.
Forecast for Perry Mason Episode Three and the Season
With the parents out of the way, I expect the story to go in a more inspiring direction. The first episode was a deep dive into Perry (the character), but the second episode began faltering as soon as the attention went away from him.
In episode three, I think we will get more information about Emily’s love interest and his gory death. Then there is the corrupt LAPD detective Ennis who will naturally have a showdown with officer Paul, especially after the latter discovers new evidence. I hope there is less exposition this time. The second episode lacked mystery, which is why the third must bring some of it back.
Forecast for the season? I am still optimistic. Certain decisions in episode two didn’t sit right with me. However, the clean-up act with the parents could pave the way for the real antagonists to arrive.
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