HBO defied both their own tropes and those of the original Perry Mason in their reboot/origin story’s Season Finale, “Chapter Eight.”
There are three big departures from form for HBO and the classic character of Perry Mason in the reboot’s Season One finale:
- Paul Drake’s (Chris Chalk) family survives! After numerous moments in which Paul and his wife, Clara (Diarra Kilpatrick), look hopefully ahead to life with their new baby– the kind of moments that tend to be followed by bloodshed on HBO programs– the Drake family ends the season in good shape. Paul leaves the force without any retribution against the people he loves (so far), and Paul and Clara welcome a healthy baby into their home.
- Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) and Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) never sleep together! Despite weeks of locking eyes and sharing chemistry on an HBO show, these two never get naked and familiar. What??
- Perry doesn’t win in court. In the original Perry Mason, the titular character has a spotless record as a defense attorney and regularly evokes courtroom confessions. This episode pokes fun at that directly with a fantasy courtroom scene during prep in which Perry is breaking Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) on the stand. His reverie is disrupted by Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) interrupting to refute every aspect of a TV-style Perry Mason win in favor of dull legal tactics, saying point blank that nobody ever confesses on the stand. Ultimately, Perry succeeds in his first foray as a lawyer by getting a mistrial.
If this Perry Mason were the miniseries it was meant to be, rather than Season One of a now-renewed show, the cinematic finale might not feel quite as flat as this reporter found it. Maybe this is part of HBO putting their stamp on it: the audience gets the answers they want, the loose ends are tied up but somehow it isn’t wholly satisfying.
Intermingled with Perry doing his very best maneuvering in the courtroom– veering from tenderly walking Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) through her version of events [at Della’s (Juliet Rylance) insistence] on the stand to passionately urging the jury to have the courage to honor Truth in their ruling– are quiet resolutions to most of the season’s storylines.
We don’t see Emily and Matthew (Nate Corddry) formally acknowledge the faults in their marriage, or its end. We do see what happened between them the night Charlie was taken in flashbacks while Emily is on the stand, giving us insight into how broken their partnership was before tragedy befell them. And we see Matthew and his father, Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick), showing on their faces in court that they understand that they may have chosen the wrong side throughout… and that they’re not going to publicly change course.
Alice doesn’t confront her mother with the many abuses she’s suffered in service of survival. Birdy (Lili Taylor) never finds her daughter after she ran off when they “found Baby Charlie” in the street after the failed resurrection on Easter Sunday. Emily knows the new baby isn’t really Charlie. However, the audience knows that Emily makes peace with having this consolation baby and finds a new home with Birdy as they begin traveling Southern California with a revival ministry built on the myth of Charlie’s resurrection. And Perry finds Alice working incognito in a coastal diner, where she hasn’t lost her faith and they do not make any bold steps towards a physical or romantic relationship.
Perry never apologizes to Pete (Shea Whigham) for undervaluing his contribution to the case, and Pete agrees to pay a juror to ensure a hung jury. (Which turns out to have been unnecessary since he isn’t the only juror who contributes to the mistrial.) When Pete tells Perry that he’s accepted a job with the DA’s office, working for Hamilton for stability and to get his badge back, there’s no firm declaration of either a truce or a break between them. Their relationship is strained, but it’s ongoing.
Perry also never apologizes to Lupe (Veronica Falcón) for telling her to f-off when she brings him a conciliatory bottle of mezcal and $7000 for his farm (on top of what she paid for it at the tax auction), but he does leave the empty bottle in the empty farmhouse for her with a note acknowledging that it was a fair price.
The public will never know the full facts of what happened to Baby Charlie, but Ennis killed most of the conspirators and gets killed himself by Chinese mafia types while his partner, Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange), looks on. The audience knows that the Radiant Assembly of God received “donations” in the amount of Charlie’s ransom shortly after he died, and we understand that Ennis has just been a climber covering his own a** since things started going sideways. Elder Seidel (Taylor Nichols) and George Gannon (Aaron Stanford) really were where the buck stopped in the conception of the scheme, and as involved as Ennis was, he was neither the mastermind nor a puppet for some bigger bad guy or larger conspiracy. And now he is dead, so he won’t be a source of continued problems for Perry Mason or the city of Los Angeles.
DA Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) isn’t humiliated with a complete loss to upstart newbie Perry Mason in court, and his mayoral bid isn’t completely undone by the mistrial. However, he does have a meltdown at a reporter outside the courthouse in front of gathered media, which can’t be good for a budding politician. And we do know that Hamilton Burger is hiring new investigators, as one might when he’s assured of a promotion. And we know Emily leaves town on the revival circuit, suggesting that Barnes never gets the retrial he wants. The implication is that he’s finished, but we don’t have the satisfaction of anything concrete.
At the end of the day, the most straightforward wrap-up happens after the trial is in everyone’s rear view. We see PERRY MASON being painted on the door of what used to be E.B.’s office. We witness Della schooling Perry in what she’ll be paid, what her path to advancement in the firm will be as she progresses through law school on Perry’s dime and how her duties will evolve as time passes. Perry and Paul witness and accept her terms– today it’s Perry Mason and Associates, but in two years’ time it will be Mason and Street, with Paul Drake in place as the firm’s investigator starting now.
So… justice has been done, kind of. Emily is free, Perry is established as a lawyer, Della is on track to have the career she deserves, Hamilton and Paul are in their proper places and all of the men behind Charlie’s kidnapping are dead. But in the modern world we don’t get that outcome via one brilliant lawyer and his team dazzling the jury and revealing all on the record. Everything and everyone happen in grey areas in today’s television landscape, and perhaps we can just be grateful for having been served a few surprises by HBO veering from form and letting Paul Drake have a happy ending and Tatiana Maslany keep her clothes on.