SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details from tonight’s HBO Season 1 final episode Perry Mason.
It’s a mistrial and the court goes wild.
Rich and exciting as this HBO noir series about the Great Depression has been with sublime acting all around, most notably Matthew Rhys’s turn as the P.I. became a lawyer who overcompensates for his demons and mediocrity with his “eureka!” discoveries – the Perry Mason The case of whoever killed little Charlie Dodson was quite verbose.
Of course, we weren’t entirely convinced that Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) was completely innocent.
However, through various Byzantine rabbit holes explored by Mason, his girlfriend Friday Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and his adjutant investigator Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), our title character discovered that the Radiant Assembly of God was the cause. of Charlie’s kidnapping, with Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) orchestrating all the murders, eventually taking out Elder Seidel (Taylor Nichols) of the church. The church owed $ 100,000, a perfect tune to redeem little Charlie with; his father Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry) the son of Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick), a wealthy benefactor of the Radiant Assembly.
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While the late 50s-early 60s Perry Mason The TV series was known for cases of title character winning by spurring witness confessions on the stand, at the start of tonight’s episode we learn that there will be no such thing in this HBO reboot. Mason imagines taking down Ennis and connecting him to all the players in the Radiant Assembly of God. We think it’s a real court scene, but it’s just Mason coached by Della and Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk; a character who in the original series is the DA and Mason’s foil). Burger breaks Mason’s passionate daydream by strongly advising “no one ever confesses on the stand”.
The best course of action, according to Della, is to let Emily take the floor, and hopefully her sympathies will seep into the jury. Emily tells them a story of how George Gannon wiped her out of a horrible marriage. Yet George tricked her by calling Emily the night Charlie was kidnapped. Alas, she would never kill her baby. “I’ve only had one love in my life, and it wasn’t Matthew, it wasn’t George, it was my son. He was my heart,” he tells Mason and the jury while in the stands.
Mason rests the case, expressing to the jury that he too wanted revenge for Charlie’s death when he began investigating.
“If I thought for a second that Emily Dodson was guilty, I’d take her to the gallows myself,” Mason tells the jury. A mistrial ensues, but as we learn later, it helps when Strickland paid one of the jurors.
Very often with HBO drama series, whether by David Milch, Terry Winter or David Chase (Perry Mason is co-created by Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones, the former a Westworld co-EP, the latter a Boardwalk Empire co-EP with Timothy Van Patten acting as Bricklayer EP and director of two episodes), the tendency, and therefore the surprise, is not to intentionally reproduce what the public wants and craves in the resolution of a season. However, tonight’s season finale serves us a nice piece of red meat and dessert, and that is, we see the villain, Ennis (Andrew Howard), go down. While Mason is able to get a good shot at Ennis outside the courthouse, in the end, it’s the latter’s partner, Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange), who drowns him in a fountain on a California mission.
Meanwhile, Emily joins the remaining members of the Radiant Assembly of God, now led by her sister Alice McKeegan’s (Tatiana Maslany) mother Birdy (Lili Taylor). Emily drinks their juice, playing with their pretense that they truly resurrected Charlie from the dead, even though she knows it’s not hers.
And tying it all up with a perfect bow, tonight’s season finale went so far to let us know what happened to Sister Alice after she escaped the stunt of resurrecting Charlie (her coffin is empty during the reopening). Mason, thanks to the discoveries of Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) (who has left the police force and now works for Perry), tracks down his sister Alice in the coastal mission town where she works as a waitress. As suffocating at times as the Charlie Dodson case was last season, the one it gave Perry Mason a bigger dynamic was Sister Alice’s storyline and how a faith-based church of alleged healers rocked the city. The entire plot of Sister Alice is inspired by Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, an early 20th century Canadian Pentecostal evangelist who pioneered the use of radio with religious services and even used stage techniques in her weekly sermons at the Temple of the Angelus. Sister Aimee even went missing, claiming she was kidnapped. Just as the temple was preparing a memorial service for her, Sister Aimee showed up, and her return to LA attracted 30,000-50,000 people, more than President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 visit to the city.
Mason tells Sister Alice that she knows what happened: that the church was involved in the kidnapping of Charlie Dodson, that Ennis put together a crew. Mason still has questions about how the baby’s body was removed from his grave.
“A child was killed to support your church … can you look at it and still believe it?” Mason asks Sister Alice. He still believes in the power of God, while Mason lost all hope of this when he fought in the Great War.
“Did you really think you could bring Charlie back?” he asks.
“Yes No?” Sister Alice answers as she walks away.
While some critics have complained that the HBO series doesn’t really pay much homage to Raymond Burr’s original show, it capitalizes where it can on some iconic characters and cases in the IP created by Erle Stanley Gardner. So for anyone wondering where season 2 is going (HBO just picked up thanks to awesome ratings), the creators of the series won’t let us guess. A new client, Eva Griffin, walked into Mason’s office tonight. Della says of her, “She’s a woman who claims to be Mrs. Eva Griffin. Seems fake to me. I looked for all the griffins in the city list. There are many Griffins, but no Eve.”
The character is taken from Gardner’s first Mason mystery The case of the velvet claws, in which Eva Belter (aka Griffin) is captured in a photo leaving an illegal gambling club with a politician. Fearing she will be blackmailed, she asks Mason for help but appears dishonest and tries to incriminate him. Her murdered husband is the blackmailer. In the book, Della calls it “all velvet and claws”.
Cue Fred Steiner’s Perry Mason theme song.