Perry Mason Chapter Five Recap: What’s legal, and what’s right

Perry Mason Chapter 5 Photo Courtesy HBO

In Chapter Five, Perry Mason finally puts on his legal hat more than halfway through the season in another episode struggling through filler.

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“There’s what’s legal, and there’s what’s right.” That’s the lesson of the week here at HBO’s Perry Mason. First said by Perry (Matthew Rhys) to Della (Juliet Rylance) and then by Della to Myrna (Molly Ephraim), it’s what they’re using to buoy themselves in the aftermath of E.B.’s suicide, with the fate of the Dodson case left wide open. 

“Chapter Five” is again directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven and is written by Eleanor Burgess, and with two women behind the scenes this week it does feel like the women of Perry Mason get to do just a little bit more than usual this week. It’s not quite enough, though, to power through the filler and to justify a major plot shift.

Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) is back at her church, though not back to preaching, and she wants to use some of the donation money ($25,000 of it in fact) to bail out Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin). Mother Birdy (Lili Taylor) isn’t on board, and the two actresses smiling stonily at each other in a battle of sheer pique is the highlight of this episode. “Get off of your chariot, we’re all listening”, Birdy tells her daughter, but after Alice threatens to relieve Birdy of her position, we later see Emily being delivered into the mother and daughter’s care. Emily is thrilled to be released and to be with her idol, and Alice is clearly eating up the chance to be Emily’s heroine. 

Sister Alice decides she wants to get back into preaching in a big way: with an old-school faith-healing revival, and despite Elder Brown (David Wilson Barnes) and his new off-shoot church protesting outside, it goes splendidly. Sister Alice seemingly heals a wheelchair-bound man, and while her whispers to him that the chair is “an excuse” are colder than we’ve seen her be, he does seem to successfully get to his feet at the end. Birdy is unimpressed, but Emily is fully into it. Later, Alice takes Emily to see Charlie’s grave, where Emily, eyes blazing through her tears, asks if Sister will have to “dig Charlie up when she does it?”. Emily is on board Team Resurrection. 

Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham) meets up with a police contact who is carrying a grudge towards Holcombe and Ennis (Eric Lange and Andrew Howard) because he was the first at the Charlie Dodson crime scene but had the case taken from him. Later, when Pete is caught tailing Ennis, Ennis tries to convince Pete that he’s trying so hard to solve the Dodson case because he wants to advance. If he’s cutting any corners, it’s because he just wants to solve it so badly and certainly not because of any mysterious fourth man! Pete seems to go along with Ennis’ explanation, but when he meets with Perry, Pete points out that Ennis’ appearances at every Dodson case-related crime scene are too quick to be a coincidence. Looks like Pete really is on Perry’s team after all! 

Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) returns this week, though he isn’t yet part of the main plotline again. He and Clara (Diarra Kilpatrick) attend a church debate where one speaker advocates for racial equality through protest and action; something that Clara seems to deeply oppose (though this is clearly out of fear rather than disagreement). On a day trip to the beach, Drake and Clara are forced off of the beach along with the rest of the (Black) patrons; the white police officer moving everyone out is dismissive and rude when Clara protests that her husband is also a police officer. Later that night, Drake angrily notes that his position means nothing, but Clara tells him that she’s reconsidered her early stance and wants him to fight for what he deserves and she will support him.

[W]ith two women behind the scenes this week it does feel like the women of Perry Mason get to do just a little bit more than usual this week.

Now, it’s strongly probable that Drake will conclude the series on Perry’s team (more on that in a bit) and possibly no longer on the police force; but it’s hard at this juncture to see that as necessarily a positive. Drake fully states that he is a cop, that’s what he wants to do, and if he leaves that job, even for a “better” one, is that a step up for the character? Hopefully he moves back into the primary storyline next week and we can get a better idea of what he wants.

And now, to talk about Perry and Della this week. Della discovers E.B.’s body and calls Perry and the pair stage the scene to look as if E.B. passed naturally in his sleep, they then take his body upstate to his family. Della visits Emily at Sister Alice’s and meets her new court-appointed lawyer (Matt Malloy) a proper weasel who, Della soon learns, is secretly working with Maynard Barnes. Della hides some evidence at her place and tries to hire Emily a new, decent lawyer, but between the bad optics of the case and the lack of funds, it’s not looking too good. 

I don’t like to say that I called things (a lie), but I called this week’s Big Twist: after Perry gives a drunken and impassioned speech about justice and fairness to Della, she forges a letter from E.B. that claims that Perry has been E.B.’s legal apprentice for two years. This, they explain to Birdy, Sister Alice, and Emily, means that once Perry takes the bar exam in a fortnight, he can act as Emily’s attorney. That’s right, folks; five episodes in, the show has finally decided to become Perry Mason

That’s right, folks, five episodes in, the show has finally decided to become Perry Mason

To that end, a new canon character enters the game as Della arranges for Perry to meet with ADA Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk, who heard “It’s set in the 1930s” and went for it with his entire “hey there dollface” attitude), who coaches Perry for the bar exam. The episode closes on Perry being sworn in as a new lawyer, with an impeccable “How did this just happen?” look on his face. You and me both, Perry. 

Putting aside the technicalities for now (is two weeks enough time for anyone to successfully prep for the bar, even with coaching?), this new plot point is wobbly at best and contrived at worst. There have been five full episodes of Perry Mason as a private detective, acquiring evidence by less than legal means, choosing the worst possible path ¾ of the time, someone who, in this very episode, decried following the law. Della spent the majority of their scenes pointing up his flaws not forty minutes ago!  And now, on the basis of one fiery speech (made while very drunk) he’s the best hope that they have? 

Will Ennis break down in the courtroom and confess on the stand? Wait…actually, let’s hope that does happen. Perry also, let’s be real, generally looks like a crumpled paper bag, which isn’t really the best courtroom brand for Emily right now. Yes, I’m sure Della will clean him up, but the overall “Surprise, you thought he wasn’t a lawyer, but now he is!” turn just isn’t sitting well. Hamilton Burger’s introduction is done with a flourish that’s dependent on the audience knowing who that is, and when a show has seemed as determined as this one to make its own way, an introduction that’s all but holding for the applause seems a little out of sorts. 

There are three episodes left and we still don’t know who killed Charlie Dodson and why; anything else about Baggerly’s religious community plans; no one has mentioned anything further about the movie studio (remember that?); and lest we forget, a full on resurrection that’s been promised. Time’s running out, Perry Mason, let’s start tying some things up.

Additional Thoughts: 

  • Pete! He’s offered a chance to cheat on his wife with a sex worker paid for by Ennis, but he declines! 
  • Cameo Corner! At E.B.’s family mausoleum, Perry and Della meet his son Byron (Ian Lithgow), with whom E.B. clearly had a terrible relationship. This meeting (and hearing about Della’s own Bad Dad) inspires Perry to visit his ex-wife Linda (Gretchen Mol) and their son, Teddy (Cooper J. Friedman). It’s not a great visit, though Teddy is happy to see his dad. 
  • One of the goals of Elder Brown’s Reformed Radiant Assembly is to return the church to its “White Christian origins” which, ugh. Not surprising, but still gross.
  • I hope there’s enough money in the firm’s coffers to get Perry a new tie. 
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