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Perry Mason Episode 3 – Some Surprises, But the Story Still Totters

Perry Mason

It is always difficult to see a story with great potential go to waste and I can’t help feeling the same for Perry Mason.

In the first episode review, I pointed to the similarities between Perry Mason and True Detective (season one).  Since the initial draft of Perry Mason was written by Nick Pizzolatto (True Detective creator), I assumed the story would latch onto similar themes.

However, if episode two of the series was slow and predictable, episode three is a hot mess with no clear direction.

What Happened in Perry Mason Episode Three?

The first scenes of the third episode set the stage for the trial of Emily Dodson. Both DA Maynard and EB Jonathan drum up their side of the argument while talking to the press. Since a lot of this series revolves around the media shaping public perception, seeing no character playing a reporter is kind of weird.

The first scenes lay a good foundation, but what follows is a confused story which is moving in all directions.

Firstly, we have Sister Alice. Mason visits the church commune and meets some of the top people in it, including Sister Alice herself. His cynical one-liners and Alice’s wry smiles make for an interesting scene, but nothing more.

We then see Mason and his partner (whose name I forget) making sense of George Gannon (the man who is accused of killing the late infant). Gannon apparently worked in a casino. He quit his job some time before the killing of Charlie.

Emily Dodson, on the other side, is withering away. Jail life doesn’t suit her. The fact that George Gannon, the man she was in an affair with, is also accused of killing little Charlie doesn’t help her mental state. In the court room, she switches from pleading guilty to not guilty. The bail is set at $25,000, an amount Emily naturally cannot afford.

Meanwhile, EB himself seems on the edge. His senses seem a little off. Furthermore, when the wealthy Mr. Baggerly (father of Matthew Dodson) basically fires him, he is left in a position to hustle the bail money from other sources.

Perry Mason and Drake have a couple of uncomfortable conversations. Detective Ennis threatens Drake to not talk to Mason. Thus, Drake has to beat Mason to the ground during their second meeting. However, Drake eventually comes to the good side and tells Mason what he knows when they meet for the third time. Drake also hands him the teeth he found in the second episode. Mason is able to match them with George Gannon by the end of the episode. Now he knows Gannon died jumping from the roof in the first episode, not shooting himself with a shotgun.

Sister Alice has a mental breakdown in the end. She is apparently told by God she will resurrect little Charlie.

The Story Dawdles Between Being a Character Drama and Suspenseful Thriller

I am a sucker for murder mystery. It is part of the reason I was excited about Perry Mason after the first episode.

However, it is fair to say now that the story lacks direction.

Generally, whodunit stories walk along two paths. The first path is character drama. Examples of character dramas are True Detective and Chinatown.

In these kinds of stories, the murder investigation is only a sideshow.

The main focus is on studying the characters and their lives. You would feel the same while watching something like True Detective. The mystery of who killed Dora Lange is important to the characters. For us, the audience, the fate of Rust and Marty is of greater significance.

In a suspenseful thriller, the investigation assumes great importance. Almost any Sherlock Holmes story is an example of the same. Most recently, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was an example of a classic whodunit that is geared towards building suspense rather than character.

Perry Mason tries to do both these things, and is failing at both. In the first episode, it tried to pretend to be a character drama. It worked then because the main focus was always on Mason. However, the following episodes are trying too hard to build suspense.

These attempts are not working and are largely very predictable. We knew Perry and Officer Drake will collaborate at some point. We knew Ennis would try to silence Drake at some point. The greatest thing pulling Perry Mason back is its predictable nature. Generally, this is not a problem if you have interesting characters worth exploring.

However, most characters in this series are only pretending to be interesting. The most interesting character left in the story is Officer Drake, and we don’t see him very often. Mason’s mystery is dead and his cynicism is far too predictable. Sister Alice is too vague and ambiguous to have a real impact on the story.

No Sign of the Real Antagonist

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the story until now is that there is no sign of an antagonist. Who killed little Charlie?

Even if the killer is someone we have already seen, there should be a sign pointing to the same. A hint. A glimmer. There is nothing until now which shows a grand scheme of a malevolent mind.

Generally, I respect the choice of creators on the type of antagonists they wish to create. However, Perry Mason is one story that needs a big villain. When you set up your story to be a noir thriller, you need to have a big antagonist pulling the strings on the other end.

We are already three episodes in. For an eight-episode season, I think we should have had some insight into the main villain. Don’t forget, the story still has other arcs to explore, such as Sister Alice, Officer Drake, EB, Emily Dodson, and Baggerly. I wonder where the antagonist will find the time to develop and show his (or her) true face.

Final Words – Perry Mason Episode Three

I will continue watching Perry Mason, but I have to admit I regret signing on to write a review for each episode. Nevertheless, I finish whatever I start, and so I will write a review for every Perry Mason episode.

A note future self – don’t make rushed decisions!

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