Standing Up For What’s Right in ‘Perry Mason’ Episode 5 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers fromPerry Mason Season 1 Episode 5, “Chapter 5.“]
The Perry Mason origin story reaches a pivotal point as the downtrodden detective becomes the slightly less downtrodden defense lawyer in a slow but important episode for the series.
Taking a stand and putting others before your own self-interests—those are the qualities that define many of the characters on this show. And yet, it’s also their biggest burden. Because striving to live up to those virtues is not an easy task, at least not in all facets of life. Take EB Jonathan (John Lithgow), for example. He prided himself on fighting for the little man, no matter the cost to his career or reputation. And it cost him dearly. As honorable as defending the innocent may be, it didn’t reward EB with money and success. He died a troubled man, suffocated in debt, a laughing stock of the court, and ultimately, a failure, as he abandoned Emily (Gayle Rankin) when she needed him the most.
EB also failed to uphold the values he lived by in court in other areas of his life. While he always tried to be there for his clients, he wasn’t there for his family, his son, his grandkids. As we discover when Della (Juliet Rylance) and Perry (Matthew Rhys) travel out of town for EB’s burial, he was an absentee father. “Did he ever talk about us?” EB’s son asks. “He was a very private man,” Perry says, an excuse laced with the detective’s own family-related guilt. But EB’s private life only served to trouble him further. “He was living a lie,” Perry tells Della back at the hotel as they drink to their boss’s untimely demise. “Here lies EB, defender of all the innocent, all-round good guy. Unless you’re talking to his son,” eulogizes Perry. “Here’s to all the sh**ty fathers in the world.”
“Sh**ty Fathers” could have been the title of this episode. Perry’s not exactly in the running for any dad of the year awards either. His situation scarily mirrors EB’s. Perry, too, is a troubled father with an awkward relationship with his young son, Teddy. Try as he might, he isn’t there as a consistent presence in Teddy’s life. There’s clearly a lot of love between father and son, as we see when Perry unexpectedly drops by his ex-wife Linda’s (the great Gretchen Mol) house. But, as Linda says, these once in a blue moon, fly-in visits are not healthy for Teddy in the long-run. Random surprise appearances do not make up for his failures, the unsent checks, the messed up birthdays and Christmases. Perry wants to do better, be present, and do what’s right, but it’s a constant struggle.
When Perry suggests Teddy come stay with him on the farm, Linda is more than reluctant. “It’s hardly a farm,” she scoffs. “Then why did you tell him I’m a farmer?” Perry wonders. “Because I don’t know what to tell him it is that you do,” she snaps back. It’s not the state of the farm Linda is concerned about; it’s Perry, the drunk and disheveled detective who snoops through people’s dirty laundry and hangs out at the morgue. It’s morbid, and in Linda’s eyes, not a real or honorable job, certainly not an example she wants to set for her son. The thing is, Perry’s job, as grimy and disturbing as it can be, is honorable—it’s done in the name of justice, at least for this current investigation. As he tells Della, “The way I see it, there’s what’s legal and what’s right.”
Della, too, comes round to Perry’s way of thinking in this episode. As I said before, Della is the show’s moral center. She has also experienced terrible fathers, having run away from home at age 25 to dodge an arranged marriage and a draconian dad who wouldn’t let her go to college. “Goodbye, inheritance,” she quips. Della is self-made, a scrappy warrior, who not only fights for herself but others. Her loyalty to EB was unwavering; she even moves his corpse to the bedroom so that it doesn’t look like a suicide. Sure, it’s partly for the insurance claim, but it’s also to save face for EB’s memory. And her continued commitment to doing right by Emily is admirable.
Seriously, Della works her ass off, trying to find Emily a suitable new lawyer, someone who will fight for her cause, unlike the DA-approved replacement, Frank (Matt Malloy), who is essentially Maynard’s (Stephen Root) puppet. Della listens in on Frank’s calls as he passes info to the duplicitous Maynard, revealing that the goal is to convince Emily to accept the plea deal. Of course, Della is not going to stand for that, and so, she takes a page from Perry’s dirty book of tricks, doing what’s right, if not wholly legal. She stashes important files and evidence at her house and sends Perry to intimidate Frank—all to buy her time to find a new defense lawyer.
However, no one else is willing to step up. One of EB’s old acquaintances calls Emily’s case a “career killer.” No lawyer in their right mind would take it on, no matter the money or what they think regarding Emily’s guilt or lack thereof. And, sadly, he’s right. Everyone Della calls on her list of 50-plus lawyers rejects the offer. The risk is too high. But there is one man who might be up for the task or, at the very least, willing to do it. As Perry rants about the screwed-up system, personal ethics, and how the DA doesn’t have any physical evidence, Della grabs a coffee and starts furiously hitting her typewriter. She realizes an opportunity in front of her. Why doesn’t Perry represent Emily?
It’s a preposterous thought. Or is it? As Della tells Emily, Perry knows more about this case than anyone. He’s researched it, and he’s investigated it thoroughly. “He’s committed to making sure the truth comes out in court,” she says. She also lies and forges a document that says Perry has been serving an apprenticeship under EB for the past two years. More importantly, as Perry states, he’s the only person willing to represent Emily and fight for her innocence. Where he fails in fatherhood, Perry makes up for in his work. And one bar exam cram session later, Perry is being sworn in as a lawyer. He might not know quite what he’s gotten himself into, but Perry Mason the lawyer is here.
Elsewhere in the episode, other characters are also learning to stand up for what’s right. Even the cynical Pete (Shea Whigham), usually only concerned about money and a good time, commits to taking down the slimy Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), even if Perry can’t afford to pay him. More importantly, however, is the war being waged in the black community, represented here by Officer Drake (Chris Chalk) and his wife Clara (Diarra Kilpatrick). Clara is uncomfortable after a political advocate gives a speech at the couple’s local church about standing up against racial injustice and segregation. “There’s no point in fighting to change what can’t be changed,” she says. “It’s easy to get folks riled up, but then you’re left high and dry, and what good have you done?”
However, her opinion changes after a racist white cop abruptly shuts down their day out at the beach. The officer orders everyone to leave, for nothing other than the color of their skin. When Clara tells the cop that her husband is a police officer, he couldn’t care less. In bed later that night, after trying to ignore what happened, Drake calls his wife out on it and she apologizes, admitting that she was wrong about what she said at the church. “You do what you need,” she says, “and I’ll be right there next to you, wherever, and whatever.” It’s a heartbreaking and yet powerful moment, as Drake is also about to become a father. He knows he must stand up to make sure he’s bringing his little girl into a world where she can not only survive, but thrive.
As for Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), I’d like to say she’s also standing up for what’s right, but her methods are becoming increasingly maniacal. Her loyalty to Emily is respectable. After all, she makes her mother, Birdy (Lili Taylor), cough up the $25,000 for Emily’s bail, and brings the accused mother into her home. But all this talk of miracles and bringing Charlie back from the dead is worrying, especially as Emily, still grieving, is starting to believe it. And it’s ironic in an episode about metaphorically standing up that Alice demands a disabled gentleman physically stand up from his wheelchair. The whole miracle healing ordeal is almost like a circus spectacle. Alice feeds off her followers’ adulation, but you get the sense it’s all going to end in tragedy.
Perry Mason, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO