Things are heating up in “Chapter Two” of HBO’s Perry Mason reboot/prequel. The core team from the original series have all been introduced now, and the plot of the child murder/abduction at the heart of this season is getting more complicated…
Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) has changed. In the original Perry Mason, Paul was a big, boxy, white, chain-smoking silver fox with a cleft chin (played by William Hopper). The new Paul is a youthful black patrol cop in an overtly racist LAPD. He has a beautiful pregnant wife at home (which in an HBO show indicates a 99% chance of future horrors for poor Paul) and a nose for detecting.
Paul is defusing a tense domestic disturbance in a black neighborhood when a concerned citizen alerts him to two dead white men in an abandoned apartment full of gambling equipment. This makes Paul the first cop on the scene of the kidnappers Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) killed in “Chapter One.” Cautious and observant, Paul spots the blood trail that leaves the apartment, climbs the fire escape and comes to an abrupt end at the edge of the roof… but no third body below.
Meanwhile, Perry (Matthew Rhys) is following a trail of his own.
The cops ambush Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry) while he and Emily (Gayle Rankin) are meeting with Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) after a church service. Just as Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick) informs everyone in the room that the church elders want to hold the baby’s funeral there (at their expense), in comes Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange) claiming he needs Matthew to come down to the station for a lineup.
Rather than having a selection of suspects to survey, Matthew discovers the suitcase he used for ransom money, now sporting a bullet hole in its lid. The cops see the bodies they’ve found as evidence of Matthew being part of a conspiracy to scam money to cover his gambling debts, rather than evidence of his innocence. Their reasoning? Matthew is the illegitimate son of Herman Baggerly, and the kidnappers had to have access to that secret in order to know they could extort $100K from a grocer.
Perry is angry that Herman Baggerly lied about his connection to the Dodsons when he hired E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow), and he sets out to uncover the truth.
His first stop is a follow-up interview with Emily, during which he spies a nosy neighbor across the way. The neighbor contradicts Emily’s tale of having slept through the baby’s kidnapping by reporting that Emily was on the phone all night that night, as per usual. This nugget leads to Perry tailing Emily and Della Street (Juliet Rylance) until he’s able to catch Emily using a payphone and tracks the number she’s been calling.
It turns out that Matthew is a gambler and Emily is a cheater. She has a boyfriend she met at church, George Gannon (Aaron Stanford).
Perry finds George dead at home of an apparent self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. Because he SAW SOME SH*T in WWI (which we know thanks to numerous flashbacks), Perry is cool poking at the man’s blown-apart head with a pencil while he thinks things through. Sure, the green phaeton car seen fleeing the scene of the Dodsons discovering their dead baby is in front of his house. Sure, there’s a suicide note. And sure, there’s a lot of burned cash in the grate, probably traceable to the ransom. For Perry, it’s all too tidy.
He snoops a bit, and a taxidermied alligator on the mantle catches his eye. There was a similarly taxidermied turtle in the Dodsons’ nursery (YUCK), and both animal corpses are labeled “Los Angeles Alligator Farm.” The coincidence sets his proto-lawyer sense tingling, so he examines the alligator and discovers a slew of love letters from Emily to George tucked into a slash in its belly.
Perry dumps the letters on E.B. with confidence that they implicate Emily as the kidnapping conspirator, and that they’ll absolve Matthew of any crime regarding his son. Perry’s sidekick, Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), has also found two Chinese men who can corroborate that Matthew was illegally gambling the night of the kidnapping.
The episode comes to a head during baby Dodson’s extravagant funeral at the Radiant Assembly of God. Sister Alice sensed something when she first clasped Emily’s hand, and it inspired her to speak on “blessed are the mourners” at the funeral.
The auditorium is full of dignitaries, including Clark Gable and all of the detectives and lawyers working on the Dodson case. Sister Alice shocks her inner circle, including her mother, Birdy McKeegan (Lili Taylor!), when she makes a leap from the Bible’s beatitudes to her own, blessing the cops, lawyers, judge, hangman, grave diggers and worms who will mete out justice to the devil who hurt the baby in the coffin before her.
As she leaves her platform, she makes direct eye contact with a rapt Perry as he stands at the room’s periphery. (This is HBO, so these two will definitely sleep together eventually.)
When it’s time for the gathered crowd to make its way from the church to the cemetery, police burst onto the scene and arrest Emily for conspiracy. They load her roughly into a paddy wagon next to the hearse her son’s coffin is being placed in as she sobs and screams and begs them not to do it. Della looks to Perry for confirmation that he and his letters are behind this atrocity, and his face gives him away.
Later, Perry and E.B. debrief over drinks at a gentlemen’s club, where they lament that the cops didn’t let Emily see her son buried before pouncing– as they’d promised to. Perry is sickened by the whole thing, and by the club, and he leaves with the little thread from the baby’s eye, which he’s determined to identify. In his wake, E.B. seeks out frenemy D.A. Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) to shake hands about the outcome that’s serving them both well.
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