So far, every episode of HBO’s new Perry Mason reboot should come with some kind of trigger warning, and “Chapter Four” is no exception. TW / Spoiler Alert: suicide.
It’s “consequences of last week’s actions” time.
Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) is upsetting the apple cart for her church. In this episode, we glean that she started her preaching career on the tent revival circuit. She and her mother, Birdy (Lili Taylor), believe sincerely in her gift of prophecy, and the church was founded on the things she says coming true. Now that the church is a popular (and PROFITABLE) media hub, though, the (wealthy, white male) elders want her to reign in the hysterics and stick to the scripts they’ve approved. Last week’s epileptic seizure / vision, combined with continuing to visit and support Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin), deviate from their script.
As Alice recuperates from her public spell in her lovely LA mansion, her house is thronged with media, fans and detractors. A family from her congregation makes it into her back yard with what they claim is a box of baked goods, but is actually a box of snakes. Another group of snakes, the elders, also makes it into her home to give Birdy a stern ultimatum about shutting her up or being cut off financially.
Birdy tries to mother Alice, and at first it looks like the Sister will fall in line… but when she steps outside to address the crowd on her lawn, a desperate man pushes through to give her a blanket to swaddle Charlie in when she resurrects him. This act of faith restores her resolve, and she shocks everyone by declaring boldly that she WILL resurrect Charlie Dodson on Easter Sunday and that Emily Dodson is innocent. Some of the people cheer, and some start shouting “Blasphemer!”– including the chief elder!
When we last saw Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) and Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), they were piecing things together (literally!) in the county morgue, where George Gannon’s (Aaron Stanford) body was waiting for cremation. This week, they trick their city coroner friend Virgil (Jefferson Mays) into coming to Perry’s house under the pretense of “friends having an adventure,” and surprise him with George’s stolen body in the root cellar. Virgil refuses to do an illicit second autopsy, so they let him leave… and then they hide the body on a golf course within Virgil’s jurisdiction so he’ll be required to conduct the autopsy when he gets it.
With evidence of George’s suicide having been staged forthcoming, Perry and Pete retrace the steps of the three known kidnappers and the Dodsons on the night of the crime from notes taken during Matthew Dodson’s (Nate Corddry) interview. They know there must have been a fourth man, and their examination confirms this. It also leads them to a hitherto unnoticed escape route in the building where the ransom was dropped: a walking bridge that links that building to an Elks Lodge.
They wander into the Elks Lodge, and who should they find in the auditorium but Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), a member. Perry approaches him to hint pretty straightforwardly that he’s figured out *what* happened. He still doesn’t understand who is behind it or how things went wrong.
Last week it seemed like E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) was phoning it in with Emily– and that’s before his funding was cut off. This week we learn that he’s not just possibly suffering from some kind of dementia, he’s also broke. He tries to get a bank loan to cover the costs of continuing the case, but the loan officer he knew has retired and his debt portfolio makes him too great a risk for the loan.
He’s miserable when Perry gives him a heads-up about the trail he’s on, so the prospect of vindication for Emily (and his reputation) really lifts his spirits and carries him with glee to D.A. Barnes’ (Stephen Root) office to broker a deal (drop all charges in exchange for the evidence I’m finding). He’s thrown for a complete loop when Barnes declines, explaining that he has enough evidence of E.B. having illegally borrowed from his clients in the past to have him disbarred. Instead of capitulating, he tells E.B. to throw the case or see himself on the cover of the law journal for the worst reasons.
A shaken E.B. rushes to his office to figure out how Barnes secured the client files that have damned him, abusing Della (Juliet Rylance) so roughly when she comes in that she leaves in a rage, shouting at him that he isn’t acting like a lawyer and that he should remember that she is the “and associates” in the firm’s name.
He falls asleep drunk in his clothes in his office that night, and decides the next day that he’ll encourage Emily to plead guilty. When he breaks this news to her as she sits brokenhearted and bruised in jail, the hurt in her eyes over having nobody to protect her from this frame job stops him in his tracks. He can’t do this to her, and he promises to do the right thing.
Unfortunately for Emily, that doesn’t seem to mean fighting for her. He goes home, has a good night’s sleep, gets dressed carefully, and then sits in a cozy chair in his kitchen and turns on all the gas.
The screen goes black before we can see if Della will find him in time to stop him. She took the previous day off to teach him a lesson, so who knows? She may have missed one day of work to canoodle in bed with her secret girlfriend, but typically she picks E.B. up from his house on their way to the office, so there’s a chance!
Other noteworthy moments in this episode:
D.A. Barnes has a temper tantrum in the men’s room at work and reams Ennis and Holcomb (Eric Lange) for not cracking Emily and for letting Perry Mason out-detective them. How much does he know about who killed Charlie Dodson?
Lupe (Veronica Falcón) and Perry have some pillow talk that involves her trying again to lighten his financial load by buying his farm so she can build a runway. He refuses her $7000 offer and explains that his family home is where both he and his son were born, and that as the last remaining Mason in residence, he worries there will be no evidence of them ever having been there if he lets the hated place go.
Perry also gets beat up by Chubby Carmichael (Bobby Gutierrez), the actor whose career he ruined with explicit photos, while he’s talking to his son on a public phone. Maybe Perry Mason is not that great at his job?