Perry Mason barrels toward its finale and finally starts to pick up steam in “Chapter Seven”, as Perry finds his lawyerly footing.
Allow me to start this week with a mea culpa: Myrna’s (Molly Ephraim) name isn’t Myrna, it’s Hazel. I haven’t mentioned that she’s always wearing gloves, but she is, and it’s because she’s a hand model, ostensibly for Myrna Loy. Apologies to you, apologizes to Hazel, apologies to the hands of Myrna Loy.
This week’s episode not only brings back the photos of poor Charlie Dodson’s body, but it also opens with a heavily suggested sexual assault on a minor, and a major plot point is discovered, once again, while looking at a naked corpse. Content warnings abound.
“Chapter Seven” opens with a young woman standing in a field, hearing the slightest whisper of voices around her. It’s Sister Alice as a girl (Ella Kennedy Davis), back when she and Birdy (Lili Taylor) were traveling across the United States from Canada. A car appears, driven by a pleasant-looking man who, upon hearing of their troubles, offers Birdy a spare gallon of gas. That’ll get them to the next town, but no further, and that town is unlikely to have a gas station.
Birdy admits to the man that she and Alice are in trouble: no gas, no food, no money; and he tells her that he’s willing to help them, for payment. His eyes move to Alice and it’s clear what he means, and clear that Birdy understands him. Taylor allows approximately 1,000 emotions to pass over Birdy’s face in about twenty seconds, but she ultimately settles on a blank mask as she turns and calls Alice to come and “thank this nice man”. Birdy’s shame isn’t enough to forgive her, as proven when Young Alice fades into current Alice (Tatiana Maslany), who sits at dinner with her mother and Emily (Gayle Rankin), staring daggers at Birdy.
In court this week, Perry (Matthew Rhys) brings in JL Hicks (Todd Weeks), the Radiant Assembly’s former accountant whom Perry visited at the end of “Chapter Six”. Both men agree that they are working to make up for past sins, which in Hicks’ case means giving Perry his personal copies of the church’s ledgers. Perry has Hazel bring up those documents during Hicks’s testimony in a great little piece of theatrics. Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) is none too pleased by the revelations these books provide, most importantly that the Radiant Assembly was in debt to the tune of $100,000, the same amount as Charlie’s ransom.
Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick) takes the stand and Perry gets Baggerly to acknowledge that Elder Seidel (Taylor Nichols) was entirely in charge of the church’s finances. Baggerly also admits that Seidel last approached him for money only a few weeks before Charlie’s kidnapping, which Baggerly refused to give him. The amount he asked for? $100,000. Perry is finally finding his lawyerly footing this week!
Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) meets with Nina (Stacie Greenwell), the police department secretary, who brings him the internal file on the Dodson case. Drake learns that a witness made a call to the LAPD after Charlie’s murder, reporting a sighting of the kidnappers at a roadside motel. Drake is initially iced out by the manager but gets more information from one of the housekeepers.
Drake goes to Perry’s and fills him in on the new intel: kidnappers Sarecki (Matt Lasky) and Nowak (Charles Baker) were at the motel with a baby, who kept crying and disturbing other guests. A third man (Ennis) later arrived with his “wife”–a Chinese woman described as “having a lot going on upstairs”, and the baby stopped crying. Perry realizes that Ennis brought a woman to be a wetnurse for Charlie and that he must have brought her from Madame Jin’s, a brothel that Ennis shakes down for protection money.
The Perry and Drake show moves to Madame Jin’s, where Perry uncomfortably leafs through Madame’s “catalog” of sex workers and their services before asking Madame (Eileen Fogarty) if there are any women who are lactating. For a gritty reboot of a man, Perry is about two seconds from combusting out of sheer embarrassment.
Madame calls in Tang Lin (Pamela Chau), whom Perry asks about Ennis and the motel, learning it was a friend of Tang Lin’s who went there, a friend who has gone missing within the last few days. Before Perry can get more information, he’s set upon by Madame Jin and her bouncers, who throw him out and are about to do more permanent damage before Perry is saved by Drake.
Perry is finally finding his lawyerly footing this week!
Perry goes to the morgue to see if he can locate the missing woman’s body, and she’s there, listed as a Jane Doe. Virgil (Jefferson Mays) notes her numerous track marks and Perry, clearly dreading the answer, asks what would happen if a baby was nursed by a heroin addict. The baby, Virgil says, would suffocate.
We’ve finally learned how Charlie died and it’s rather more horrifying than I’d anticipated. That poor baby. That poor woman. Was she there when it happened, to see the outcome of what she was forced to do? And then to be murdered for a part that she never wanted to play? The writer this week (Howard Korder) has succeeded in and wringing sorrow from the audience for a character who has never (to my knowledge) appeared alive on-screen.
The next day is Easter Sunday. The cemetery is overflowing with onlookers who watch as Charlie’s coffin is pulled up and Sister begins to pray and speak in tongues over it. Sister opens the coffin only to find it empty. Bedlam ensues, and both Sister and Birdy are injured in the melee. Emily tries to climb inside the grave, screaming that she wants to be with her baby, until Perry manages to gather her up and bundle her inside a car driven by Della (Juliet Rylance).
Birdy and Sister have also managed to get to their car, and a caravan of reporters follows them as Birdy directs their driver to take a different route than their police escorts. Birdy asks her stunned daughter to trust her as the street is suddenly blocked by a crowd of people gathered around something unseen. Birdy declares that this is where they’re meant to be, as she gets out of the car and goes to the crowd, where a woman is holding a crying baby in a blanket. “He was just in the middle of the road!” people are muttering, as Birdy dashes over, takes the baby, and starts to proclaim that he is Charlie Dodson, born again.
Birdy tries to get Sister to hold the baby and claim this as her work, but Alice ignores her mother and takes off running. Birdy continues to tell the onlookers that this is Charlie Dodson, but it’s clear not all of them are buying it, and “Chapter Seven” closes as Alice runs from her failure, and her mother, and her life.
This week’s episode also allows the cast (namely Rhys and Chalk) to be funny.
Tim Van Patten returns to direct this week, and the direction and the music (by Terence Blanchard, doing phenomenal work weekly) combine to create possibly the most tension-filled episode of the season thus far. Both major Sister Alice scenes (the opening flashback and the Easter Sunday resurrection) are adventures in slowly-building dread. Between Birdy’s allowing Alice’s abuse and the rising fear that we were about to see Charlie’s body tumble out of the coffin in front of his mother, I covered my eyes more than once.
This week’s episode also allows the cast (namely Rhys and Chalk) to be funny. Korder does an excellent “buddy” sequence, and as distressing as the visit to Madame Jin’s turns out to be, the lead-up to it is the closest to lighthearted that we’ve seen.
As a penultimate episode, Perry Mason “Chapter Seven” is pretty perfect: questions are answered, evidence is gathered, and while there are still plenty of twists and turns to deal with in the finale, Perry Mason is nailing the turn into the home stretch. I won’t pretend that knowing it’s been renewed isn’t part of my satisfaction with how things are shaping up, but since it’s unclear whether the Dodson and Sister Alice storylines will be part of Season Two, I’m not going to rely on it. I’m believing in you, Perry Mason, don’t let me down.
- Perry tells Pete (Shea Whigham) to keep an eye on Elder Seidel over the weekend, but Pete, not the best at tailing, loses Seidel in a crowd. Perry takes out some of his pent-up worries and frustration on Pete, who advises Perry to hire Drake to help him because Pete is out.
- Elder Seidel meets with Ennis (Andrew Howard), who ultimately ends up stabbing Seidel to death and staging it like a robbery.
- Remember how Lupe (Veronica Falcón) kept telling Perry, over and over, that she was going to buy his land? Well, turns out that Perry hasn’t paid his property taxes in years, there was an auction, and Lupe did just that. Pay your taxes, kids.
- When Drake goes to Perry’s to share his information, he catches Perry in a self-pity spiral in front of his parents’ graves, wondering how to “tell” his father that he lost the last ten acres of land. Drake: “My father owned two pairs of overalls and a Liberty bond that he split with his brother.” Perspective, Perry, please.
- Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) returns this week to have a fancy dinner with Della and tell her that she’s too wrapped up in Emily’s case. We’re led to think that he’s infatuated with Della, but it’s revealed that he too is in the closet, and considers Della the only person he can be himself around. I fervently hope we get more of this friendship in Season 2.