The Perry Mason dream team of Perry, Della and Paul looks like it may come together by the end of this season, as all three parties have now intersected. Were those intersections considerably rougher than anything the 1950s TV trio would have gone in for? It’s 2020 and HBO, so… YES.
Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) is in jail, and her only true champions appear to be Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany). E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) seems interested in her only as far as she serves his desire for publicity and his friendly rivalry with Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root), and Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is committed to finding the truth– but not for her sake or because of any certainty of her innocence.
Della and Alice are the only ones who visit her in jail, and it’s a good thing they do. Della catches her judge-mandated matron, Barbara (Alison White), off-duty. She smells a rat and maneuvers her way past the guards, catching Detectives Ennis (Andrew Howard) and Holcomb (Eric Lange) in the act of beating a confession out of her.
The confession would likely have been accepted without doubt by the public, too, after a broken Emily initially pleaded “guilty” in her first court appearance. Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry) certainly blames her for the death of their son, and Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick) has withdrawn his financial support for her defense.
Without Baggerly’s money, E.B. Jonathan, Perry Mason and Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham) are stuck with the choice of publicly abandoning Emily and losing the thread of evidence leading to the truth, or carrying on with uncertain rewards. At this point, all three are still on the job… although it seems E.B. may be less so than he believes. He loses his train of thought a lot. There’s blood in the sink when he shaves, but he doesn’t seem to know why. He’s absent-minded and easily agitated, and Della is clearly concerned about him.
While Emily teeters on the edge in jail and E.B. teeters on the edge everywhere, Perry is on the trail of some promising leads. A visit with Sister Alice and the church elders produces an envelope full of employment references for George Gannon (Aaron Stanford). For the most part, they support the church’s impression of him as a mild-mannered, God-fearing accountant. One reference does stand out, though: a glowing endorsement from gambling honcho Al Howard (Andrew Divoff). Turns out George used to work in his counting room.
Perry takes a trip with Lupe (Veronica Falcón) in her bright red biplane. They fly to the desert, where the casino sits in an oasis at the foot of a hill. In addition to drinking, dancing and getting an in-fountain do-over on their New Year’s Eve kiss, Perry gets some insight from Al. George quit the casino in a fit of religious passion, spraying his employer with spittle as a result of his cheap dentures as he decried the wages of sin.
Perry’s other solid lead comes from Paul Drake (Chris Chalk). Paul is cagey after a threatening encounter with Ennis at the farmer’s market (in which Ennis placed a hand on Paul’s wife’s pregnant belly, legitimizing my fears for Paul’s little family). He’s evasive during Perry’s first attempt to speak with him and flat-out beats him up during the second attempt. Ultimately, his conscience compels him to share what he knows, and he tells Perry the truth about the blood trail he followed onto the roof of the building where George’s colleagues were found dead… and gives him the dentures he found in the alley below.
This information leads to Perry and Pete racing urgently to the county morgue in the night. They sneak into the room where the bodies are kept before cremation, moving corpses aside in the hope that George is still there. He is, and despite his head being blown in half, Perry is able to fit the dentures perfectly into place. He knew they would fit, because he also realized that one of the clues in George’s “suicide” didn’t add up: what kind of accountant burns money?
Perhaps the calmest character in the Dodson drama is Sister Alice. She brings real empathy to Emily in jail, insisting that she would have been every bit as vulnerable to lies when she needed love, and asserting with conviction that Emily is not the one who killed her son– the bad men did that. If Emily found comfort in her words and embrace, she’ll be thrilled to know that afterwards Alice had a vision in front of her entire congregation. God told her she is going to resurrect Charlie Dodson!
A last note on Ennis, the thug most visibly working behind the scenes to subvert justice: he visited a brothel for a regular shakedown and was warned by the madam that Perry Mason’s inquiries at the casino are making her boss unhappy. Who is actually behind baby Dodson’s murder??