‘Perry Mason’ Closes the Case & Looks to the Future in Season Finale (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Perry Mason Season 1 Episode 8, “Chapter 8.”]
If I didn’t already know a second season was in the pipeline, part of me might have been dissatisfied with the Perry Mason season finale. That’s not to say the episode was bad, far from it. It had the usual high caliber performances and some scintillating courtroom drama. But it deprived us of finality. I suppose you don’t always get exactly what you want, and that’s a lesson for both the audience and the characters.
We never quite get that famed “Perry Mason moment,” though the opening of the episode teases us that it may come. Perry (Matthew Rhys) grills Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) on the stand, swiftly moving through evidence and tying the crooked cop to the kidnapping. Sweat drips from Ennis’s forehead as a relentless Perry goes in for the kill. But this dream scenario is suddenly interrupted by assistant district attorney Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) telling Perry that it will never work. “Nobody confesses on the stand,” Burger states. The sad reality is this is just a dress rehearsal—a fantasy scenario that would never play out so perfectly in court, despite Perry’s insistence that he could make it happen.
Getting culprits to confess on the stand was a staple of the original Perry Mason, and I suspect many were expecting it to happen here. I know I certainly was. As I said, if this was a one and done series, that very well might have been the ending we got. But the show is coming back for Season 2, and so Perry’s big win in court is being held back for now. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s probably more realistic in the grand scheme of things. As cunning and determined as Perry is, to get such a victory in his first trial would be too much of an ideal happy ending. There needs to be more trials (literally) and tribulations on that journey.
Instead, the show opts for a half-win. Della (Juliet Rylance), in a last-ditch effort, pushes for Emily (Gayle Rankin) to take the stand, much to Perry’s reluctance. “I’ve watched a parade of men get up there and demean her,” says Della. It’s time for the woman at the center of this story to have her voice heard. Perry is in full-on petulant mode here, accusing Della of being on a “crusade” and using Emily as her proxy. “Padding around your boarding house with your little hand model girlfriend isn’t the same as being framed for killing your f***ing kid,” snaps Perry. He can be a real dick sometimes when things aren’t going his way.
But, as tends to be the case, Perry “wakes up and realizes Della is right.” He lets Emily on the stand to tell her side of the story to the jury. Yes, she had an affair. She fell in love with George Gannon—his kindness a welcome relief after years spent in a loveless marriage with Matthew Dodson (Nate Corddry). Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) goes on the attack, trying to get Emily to snap by bringing up how she abandoned Charlie while having motel sex. This time, though, Emily is able to compose herself. She is willing to admit that her affair led to Charlie’s death but makes it clear she had no part in the actual crime.
Emily’s statement and Perry’s closing argument paint a picture of a young woman who fell in love with the wrong man. A dedicated mother with an uncaring husband made a mistake and paid the ultimate price by losing her child. As Perry reminds the jury, there is no actual evidence tying Emily to the crime; she is only guilty of having an affair. Maynard may speak of abandonment and false confessions, but that isn’t enough to say beyond a reasonable doubt that Emily committed this horrific act. “You will never achieve justice if the truth is hidden behind lies,” says Perry, pointing to the District Attorney’s various deceptions throughout this case.
It’s an excellent performance from Perry and one that comes from the heart. If he’d been in this form throughout the trial, he might have won the case outright. It’s not enough for a not guilty verdict, but it is enough to cause a jury deadlock, thereby resulting in a mistrial. That’s not exactly a win, but it isn’t a loss either, which was probably the best Emily could hope for at this stage. Except that’s not quite how it happened, is it? As Perry and Della celebrate and make plans to continue working together in the future, Pete (Shea Whigham) glares at his cunning old pal.
You see, Perry had “one more move,” an insurance policy in case Emily flopped on the stand or his closing argument wasn’t strong enough. He paid off a juror, using Pete as a go-between to hand over the bribe. While it taints the “victory” somewhat (especially as it seems two jurors flipped without the cash incentive), it’s totally in keeping with the Perry we’ve seen this season. He’s willing to cut corners in the name of justice. What was it he said to Della again? “There’s what’s legal and what’s right.” This is a man who stole a corpse remember, so what’s a little jury tampering? It’s too much for Pete, though, who already tried quitting last week. This time he’s out for good, accepting a job offer to go work for Burger.
As for Emily, she’s a free woman, though one without her son and family. What does she do now? As she tells Della at the start of the episode, “I would do anything to have my son back.” Perhaps that is what leads her back into the arms of the church. She accepts Birdy’s (Lili Taylor’s) “miracle baby” as her own, even though she knows deep down it’s not her Charlie. It’s a false comfort but comfort nonetheless. And this is perfect for Birdy, who still can’t locate her own daughter after she took off running last week. Emily is basically the new stand-in for Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), joining Birdy on her nationwide miracle tours and paraded in front of the believers.
Alice, meanwhile, is sort of an afterthought in the season finale. She only features in the closing moments when Perry tracks her down at some out-of-town diner. Even though the case is over, Perry wants to know if Alice moved Charlie’s body. We don’t get a clear answer, and we still don’t really get a clear picture of who Alice is. Last week, I thought she was purposefully self-sabotaging as a means of escape. But judging by her reaction here, she still believes in her healing powers, or is at least unwilling to give up the delusion. “You want to find things and know the truth, what comfort has that ever given you?” Alice asks Perry. Again, it comes back to this idea of living with a false comfort because the truth is too ugly to face.
The remainder of the episode ties up loose ends. An embarrassed Maynard snaps in front of the press. Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange) has Ennis killed—I guess Holcomb is just as dirty as his partner and doesn’t want anything coming back on him. Officer Drake (Chris Chalk), who is also sidelined this episode, quits the force and has his baby. Meanwhile, Perry finally accepts the sale of his farm to Lupe (Veronica Falcón), leaving her a note to “take care of it.” And he starts up his own law firm with Della and Drake as associates. Della makes it clear she’s more than a secretary; she will be training to be a lawyer and sharing profits 60/40 with Perry. “You’ll make a great lady lawyer,” Perry tells her. “I’ll make a great lawyer, no modifier,” she retorts.
So, even if the conclusion to Emily’s case wasn’t wholly satisfying, what the show has set up for the future is promising. I said early on in the season that I’d have liked to have seen more of a law firm drama with Perry, Della, and Co., taking on different cases—sort of like Better Call Saul but more focused on the courtroom side of the proceedings. Now, it seems we may get just that in Season 2, and who knows, we might finally get that Perry Mason moment, too!
Perry Mason, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO