Perry Mason Chapter Four Recap: You gotta have faith, faith, faith

Perry Mason Chapter 4 Merrick Morton/HBO

Perry Mason “Chapter Four” comes with a reckoning for E.B. and Perry building a wild theory for the death of George Gannon.

NOW STREAMING:

Faith is the theme of the week on Perry Mason. Religious faith, faith in a mentor, faith in a loved one, faith in oneself. Faith drives a smiling family to attempt murder and a congregation to turn against their leader, and faith brings a sad woman back to herself, but loss of faith tears a team apart and loses us a main character this week. 

A new team is at the helm for “Chapter Four”: director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and writers Steven Hanna and Sarah Kelly Kaplan. Their work fits into the show smoothly; I didn’t know there’d been any change until the end credits, and with a series like this where continuity is key, that’s a positive. They do an admirable job of juggling this cluster of characters and plot points, and they even let Perry (Matthew Rhys) smile a little. Just a little, though. Come on, let’s not overextend the poor man.

Perry and Pete (Shea Whigham) cover a lot of ground this week, starting with the pair driving coroner ally Virgil (Jefferson Mays) over to Perry’s house ostensibly to drink and hang out. Though Virgil hopefully asks if they’re going to look at pornography (Perry’s facial expression in response to this query should be the only promotional material from here on out), it turns out that the detectives have stolen George Gannon’s body in order for Virgil to perform a second autopsy. When Virgil refuses and flees, the pair dump George’s body on a golf course so that it has to end up on Virgil’s slab. 

Buoyed by this puckish prank, Perry and Pete develop their theory of the crime: that there had to have been a fourth man involved in the kidnapping, one who killed his three accomplices and framed George. Investigating the hotel where the Dodsons left the ransom, Pete and Perry find a skyway to an Elks Lodge next door, and who should be in attendance at that very moment? Why, Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard)! Pieces are coming together.

Della has finally had enough of E.B. (John Lithgow), and every word out of her mouth this week is entirely justified, though she’ll almost certainly come to regret them (more on that later). She wants justice for Emily (Gayle Rankin) after her assault by the police, but E.B. wants to use it to try to get Emily released. When this doesn’t work, E.B. tries to get a bank loan to pay Emily’s bail but is declined. Embarrassed, he lashes out at Della, and later insults her recordkeeping when he can’t put his hands on some files he wants. At the end of her patience, Della gives him a good tongue-lashing and leaves him at the office. 

Della lives in a boarding house, where we meet a couple of the other residents, namely Myrna (Molly Ephraim) who, we learn, is Della’s girlfriend. The scene where their relationship is revealed could have been done so poorly (I think everyone has seen at least one gratuitous lesbian sex scene on cable), but is instead a sweet conversational scene undercut with locking doors and shutting blinds, actions that point up how these women have to hide. Will Della’s relationship come back into play or is it just a bit of character building? Only time will tell, but as with Paul Drake’s (Chris Chalk) pregnant wife and Sister Alice’s (Tatiana Maslany) health, it’s a piece of character backstory that comes with dark foreboding clouds, just around the edges. 

Despite having scenes with Perry and Emily just last week, Sister Alice’s storyline feels a thousand miles apart from the rest of the plotlines this episode. After a murder attempt by former parishioners who now see her as a heretic, Sister’s doctor attributes her visions to her epilepsy and advises Mother Birdy (Lili Taylor) to severely curtail Sister’s schedule, something that her mother is loath to do since Sister is their cash cow. 

Loss of faith tears a team apart and loses us a main character this week. 

The Elders, Baggerly (Robert Patrick) and Brown (David Wilson Barnes) chief among them, decide that Elder Brown will lead the services and Birdy must get Alice to walk back those resurrection rumors. Baggerly also wants Sister to retract her support of Emily, his son’s “harlot wife”. Birdy isn’t too impressed by this cadre of old white men taking over her daughter’s empire, but she concedes.

Motherly guilt seems to do its work, and Sister appears before her waiting public to read a prepared statement retracting both her resurrection claims and her support for Emily. She’s defeated, so quiet the crowd can barely hear her, but the words of one believer who gives her a blanket for Little Charlie “when he returns” is all she needs to hear before Sister Alice is back, baby! She cries triumphantly that Emily is innocent, Charlie is in Purgatory, and she’s bringing him back on Easter Sunday! Birdy drags Sister back into the house as Elder Brown and the crowd turn against her. 

As intriguing as Sister’s story is so far, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t the sort of show where she’s bringing anyone back from the dead. Is there a way her story can end that doesn’t result in tragedy for Sister Alice? At this point I’m hoping for an Aimee Semple McPherson-esque disappearance where she gets to walk herself into the sunset. It’s also interesting to note that Elder Brown seems to be a true believer, at least so much as he’s sincerely appalled by Sister’s claims and not just concerned about public opinion or money. 

E.B. tries to cut a deal with Maynard (Stephen Root) by using Perry’s Fourth Man theory, but though we see later that this possibility has stuck in Maynard’s craw, during their meeting Maynard parries with old files of E.B. ‘s cases. It turns out that E.B. had misappropriated clients’ funds. E.B. protests that he paid it all back and also everyone does that (Wait, what?) but Maynard gives him a choice: Emily pleads guilty or Maynard will go public with this information and E.B. will be disbarred. 

E.B. shares a quiet scene with Perry where they reminisce about when they first met and E.B., clearly weighed down by Maynard’s blackmail, tells Perry he has faith in him and his investigation. E.B. visits Emily in jail, where he initially tries to get her to plead guilty (he promises he can probably get her “only” twenty years) but he realizes what he’s doing and changes course, assuring Emily that they’re going to get her out. 

The episode ends as we watch as E.B. slowly gets himself ready for whatever new surprises the day will hold. He prepares sugar water for the hummingbird feeder and sees that an earlier interview with himself has been published, an interview where he tried to push Emily’s innocence has been turned into a puff piece. It’s just one more little loss; like the blacksmith that was next door to his original office, E.B. isn’t a part of the present world anymore. E.B. dresses for the day, turns on his gas oven, and commits suicide as he watches the hummingbird outside. He still believes in Perry, in Della, in Emily’s innocence. It’s his faith in himself that’s gone.

Not so, however, my faith in Perry Mason. Once again, this week is a grimy gorgeous collection of shots and sets and tired faces. The concern this week is that the web of characters has spread too far out. Assuming that Lupe and Myrna have more to do later on that just be significant others, where are they going to fit into this narrative? How will Sister Alice’s grand plans for miracles fit into the back alley dealings that Perry and Pete live for? Was that entire Chubby Carmichael plotline just for “comical” nudity and so there was a reasonable candidate to beat up Perry this week? And all of this is not even considering the main mystery of who killed Charlie Dodson and why! 

With E.B.’s death, Emily is now officially unrepresented in court, and I have a weird sinking sensation that we’re going to discover that whoops! Perry has technically been a lawyer this entire time. As much as a return to canon form would have delighted me three weeks ago, it’s a little too late now, and it’s hard to imagine any way that wouldn’t feel forced. There’s still a lot that Perry Mason has to do to stick any sort of landing, but we’re at the halfway point and it just keeps building. It’s a fun, if not exactly heartening, ride every week and I look forward to seeing what comes to pass. 

Additional Thoughts: 

  • Pete. We get it. You cheat on your wife. 
  • Cameos this week include True Blood alum Michael McMillian as one of Della’s fellow boarders and Boardwalk Empire returning champion Gretchen Mol as Linda, Perry’s ex-wife. She’s only appeared as a voice so far, but I can’t imagine that’s going to last. 
  • Paul Drake doesn’t appear in this episode, though he is mentioned while Perry presents his findings to E.B. When asked if Drake will testify, Perry responds with a hearty “Absolutely not”. It’s to Perry’s credit that E.B. still has any faith in him whatsoever.
  • Lupe (Veronica Falcón) offers once again to buy Perry’s farm (not a euphemism), but he refuses with a collection of nostalgic anecdotes, including a mention of his brother who ran away and has never been seen again. Will this mean anything later? I’m not holding my breath. 
  • Virgil sympathizes with Chubby Carmichael’s food fetish since he has a fantasy of being very small and being carried in a woman’s purse. Thanks, Virgil. That’s something we all know about you now.
  • This has to be the last possible week that I have to look at George Gannon’s corpse, right? Right? 
  • No Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry) this week, but we do learn from Maynard that he’s prepared to waive spousal privilege and testify against Emily. What a charmer.
  • Though this show by no means invented the concept, a shot of Perry in front of his evidence wall does conjure up fond memories of other HBO mysteries and leads me to wax poetically “What if Perry Mason was True Detective?”. 
Liked it? Take a second to support The Spool on Patreon!