Perry Mason recap: Haunted by wartime horrors, Mason makes a gruesome discovery
If last week's Perry Mason premiere left any doubt the series isn't the same Raymond Burr-starring version our grandparents used to enjoy, "Chapter Two" should clear things up. With a bullet to the brain.
During a flashback of Mason's tour of duty, we're treated to the sort of grisly, war-is-hell realism typically reserved for the big screen. Back in Depression-era L.A., a three-legged dog rummages for sidewalk scraps while Mason waits for a shop to open. He's hoping to find a match for the thread used to stitch Charlie Dodson's eyes open. He enters the store to find wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling spools of thread.
Things are more hopeful at the Radiant Assembly of God temple, where we meet Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany). The charismatic preacher is condemning “thieves and fornicators” to her faithful, collection plate-filling congregation. Like a rock star working a crowd, she offers her hands to her adoring audience, while also giving her “radio box” listeners a shout out.
As the service closes with all the spectacle of a Broadway show, attendees Mr. and Mrs. Dodson are ushered backstage for a private meeting with the preacher. Sister Alice's mom Birdy (Lili Taylor) and the Church Elders, including Herman Baggerly, are also in attendance. Herman informs the grieving couple the church will host Charlie's funeral service and cover all expenses. Birdy shoots him a look suggesting she wasn't consulted on this decision.
The meeting is interrupted by Detective Holcomb, who has “good news.” He needs the Dodsons downtown to look at a line-up. Meanwhile, Mason's paying Pete a visit, trying to convince his sometimes partner — who's still pissed about the failed Hammersmith Picture's shakedown — to help with the kidnapping case. After some buttering-up and a $23 retainer, Pete reluctantly accepts.
We next meet Paul Drake, a policeman in the midst of clearing up a domestic dispute between an older couple. The husband — carrying a shotgun and threatening to shoot his wife — shows no respect for the African American officer, but Drake's able to talk him down and get him in cuffs.
But Patrolman Paul's bad day's just beginning. During the arrest, he's called across the street to apartment 206, where he finds the corpses of two of the men executed by Detective Ennis. Other evidence includes illegal gambling paraphernalia, the empty suitcase, and a blood trail up to the roof. The astute officer follows the trail best he can, but it ends at the building's edge. A peek at the ground below reveals an empty stairwell.
Later at the LAPD, Matthew Dodson and E.B. are anxious to see that line-up. But Detectives Holcomb and Ennis — now in possession of the suitcase and intel on the bodies — have something else in mind. Enter D.A. Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root), sporting a neat pencil mustache and a mouthful of accusations. He also has an eyewitness who spotted Dodson clutching a bundle the night his boy was taken. Barnes also paints the suspect as a desperate, indebted gambler. The mic drop that leaves E.B. dumbfounded, though, is the deep, dark secret that big-shot Baggerly is actually Dodson's dad. As Matthew's arrested, Barnes offers the press a polished statement and a wide smile for their cameras.
Back at E.B.'s office, an extremely pissed-off Mason is firing away at Baggerly for lying about his bastard son. Herman claims Matthew's a good, God-fearing boy incapable of harming his own offspring. He also fires back at Perry, calling him out for not fully disclosing his dishonorable military discharge before Baggerly hired him.
Perry next visits Emily Dodson, who's obsessively scrubbing her deceased son's crib. He informs her of the witness that fingered her husband, and questions the status of her relationship with Matthew. While she deflects, Perry takes another look at the souvenir turtle he previously photographed. A sticker on its underside reveals it came from the Los Angeles Alligator Farm.
He also spies a nosy woman outside, a crazy cat lady type who's more than happy to gossip to Mason about the Dodsons. According to the chatty neighbor, Emily was “gabbin' away on the phone” the night of the kidnapping. Coincidentally, Emily's on the horn right now, talking up a storm. Perry snaps a pic through her window. He then heads back to his darkroom for some photo-developing and a bit of brooding. We get another flashback of his time fighting in France. It's another brutal, up-close scene that plays out like a level from Call of Duty.
Cut to Della Street and Emily casket shopping for Charlie. Two salesmen push embroidered satin coffin interiors crafted by a “seamstress in Oxnard,” but the distant Mrs. Dodson is hungry. Over cigarettes and a barely-touched bowl of soup at a nearby diner, Della tries to comfort Emily. But Dodson excuses herself and heads for a payphone, where she's immediately frustrated her call can't be connected. Perry, who's secretly staking her out from the diner's counter, has better luck. He tricks the operator into giving him the last number dialed, then uses the 1930's equivalent of a call trace to secure the address.
Holcomb and Ennis are also busy scoring info, joining officer Paul Drake at his precinct for a not-so-friendly conversation. Drake believes the scene he discovered isn't the result of another drug deal gone bad. He also offers his thoughts on the blood trail, a take Ennis tries to massage away. When the patrolman nervously backs his claim with some forensic analyst-like knowledge, the detectives offer backhanded compliments, reminding him, “There are no colored detectives.”
At a private club, where sharp-dressed men smoke pipes and sip spirits, Barnes and E.B. talk over the day's events. The former apologizes to the latter for ambushing him with the Baggerly news. He then offers him a deal: Matthew signs a confession, avoids the death penalty, and the murder gets pinned on the stiffs in apartment 206. E.B. says he'll see him in court, to which Barnes retorts with this sick burn: “This is a hanging case, E.B., not some gray-hair that wants to leave her sweaters to a cat.”
Back at the Radiant Assembly of God, we learn Birdy does more than dote over her daughter. Like a general commanding a war room, she's planning the seating for Charlie's funeral; she won't rest until both the mayor and Clark Cable have front row seats. While Baggerly defends his son to the other Elders — who aren't keen on the attention his arrest will bring the church — Sister Alice works on the sermon.
We next catch up with Mason, who's casing the residence Emily was desperately trying to call. He discovers a dented car, the same getaway ride that swiped the trolley, which is small potatoes compared to the pile of clues he's about to uncover. A dead body, with a mutilated face, sits by a shotgun. In one of the episode's more stomach-churning moments, Perry pokes at the head with a pencil, revealing some sort of foreign dental object among what's left of the victim's mouth. Nearby, a typed suicide note neatly ties up all loose ends, placing wrong-doing on the trio of goons Ennis killed. In the fireplace, he finds a pile of burned money.
Beyond what seems to be a treasure trove of staged evidence, Perry spots a small, souvenir alligator on the mantel. Cut across a label reading “Los Angeles Alligator Farm” is a cavity filled with love letters between Emily and a man named George. Mason heads to the Dodson home toot sweet to confront Emily. She plays dumb, calls George “a friend from church.” Perry's not in the mood, he pulls out the incriminating letters and tells her George is dead.
Fired up over the secret affair, Perry lays it all out for E.B. and Street. “She's lying and letting her husband swing.” Pete chimes in to reveal he's got a witness placing Mr. Dodson at a “dice joint” the night of the crime. Mason believes it was George who was spotted clutching a bundle by the Dodson home. They all agree Matthew's a degenerate gambler and Emily an adulteress, but neither probably killed their own kid, at least not intentionally. Street's quick to defend the mourning mom as a mere pawn, but Perry's not so convinced.
We next get a peek at Paul Drake's home life. His pregnant wife is preparing dinner and he's complaining his “dumber than a bag of hammers” boss forced him to change his report of the crime scene. The following morning, we find Sister Alice, eyes shut tight, sitting at her vanity. She seems to be psyching herself up for Charlie's service, but a close listen reveals what sounds like a baby's cry playing in her mind.
Birdy retrieves her for the service, and Sister Alice kicks into adored evangelist mode. With all the city's big wigs in attendance, she goes off script, holding them, “the most powerful men in the city,” accountable for catching and executing the devil that put Charlie in a box. By the time she's blessing the worms that'll eat the flesh of this devil, her faithful followers are stirred into a frenzy, and the “powerful men” are exchanging uncomfortable looks.
Things escalate outside when Emily — holding Sister Alice's hand and trailing her son's coffin — is approached by the police. Holcomb places her under arrest for the “conspiracy kidnapping of Charlie Dodson.” The press pounce, Holcomb tips his hat to E.B. and Barnes, and Street shoots Mason dagger eyes. As Perry looks away in shame, Emily's ushered into a paddy wagon, her deceased son into a hearse.
Back at the private club, E.B. and Mason are having a drink. The attorney's celebrating because Emily's arrest means her husband's release and, of course, a happy Herman Baggerly. Perry's fiddling with the matchbox containing the thread and feeling bad about Mrs. Dodson not getting to see her son buried.
E.B. assures him he made the “right call,” but Mason's haunted by something Street said to him earlier: “Infidelity is not murder.”
As the episode approaches its closing moments, a montage sees Street visiting Emily in prison — delivering what looks like Charlie's blanket — and Drake revisiting the crime scene at apartment 206. This time, he heads right for the stairwell, where he finds a portion of a dental plate; an item that looks suspiciously like the counterpart to the object Perry found in George's mouth.
While Drake studies his unusual find, Mason slides into another wartime flashback. With many of his men suffering brutal, slow deaths all over the battlefield, he repeatedly makes the impossible decision to put them out of their misery. Most of the men, in the grips of gruesome deaths, welcome the release. But one soldier, who's had his leg blown off and his foaming at the mouth, has yet to accept his fate. He extends a trembling hand toward Mason, his captain. With his pistol pointed at the young soldier's head, Perry says “Forgive me,” and pulls the trigger.