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Mondays with Mason: Chapter Seven

Uncharacteristic for this series, episode six begins with a camera crawling on a field after a girl. The episodes as you may remember just begins mid-scene or mid movement with the words Perry Mason in the largest of art-deco fonts that could occupy our screens.  Much like below

But here is the camera slowly following a little girl admiring nature’s beauty, it’s Sister Alice, no, it’s just Alice before she became the ‘instrument of God’. The only other time this series went back in time was to show the impact the Great War had on Perry Mason. 

Sister Alice is an odd character in the Charlie Dodson case, her story thread strain runs parallel to the case but they never seem to meet, but it’s not too far away. Our now dead George Bannon and Emily Dodson first fell in love in Sister Alice’s Radiant Assembly of God. The establishment itself was funded by Herman Baggerly, who was Charlie Dodson’s grandfather as we got to know, but the biggest trick that the series played is in the character of Alice. The trick was to focus on the grand standing assurances made by the sister and to make us question her power and circle around the drama between Alice and her mother. 

All that is broken in the pre credits sequence. 

A lot of other assurances are broken too in this episode as we approach the end of the mystery, like for instance the friendship between Perry and Pete; both have been on the street detectives from the start but I guess it’s the end of their working relationship. After Perry became a lawyer (he is more confident in his appearance in court), they are no more on equal footing and yeah Pete does “fuck it up” at the most inopportune moment. 

Perry not only loses a working friendship but also his family property which is a terrible blow considering that’s all his motivation when he was in the dumps. In these thick of things though, he fears losing the case more than losing the property. 

There’s a nice running gag about Perry Mason’s suit which attained peak when a lady threw collected garbage as he walked in to court, did we mention that he actually does feel and talk like a lawyer now? Yeah we did, but we also want to point out that Perry is also always on the side of data and points and not emotion and narrative, that’s an admirable thing especially when Della asks him to go easy on the numbers. 

The numbers do make sense, acting on a clue from the last second of the previous episode Perry builds a competent case, almost a winner if not for the misfortune mentioned earlier. What also makes sense are the answers to three of the four questions we raised, and the fourth? Well that’s reserved for the final showdown. 

Just another week. We wait, much like those outside court dangling effigies of baby Dodson, but not with terror but with bated breath. 

The episode ends as it begins, with Sister Alice. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar and has been renewed for a second season.

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Mondays with Mason: Chapter Six

And we are back. 

We mean from the sort of disappointment that episode five was, but this episode does not leave behind the sudden pick up of pace in the story telling. While we have stated that it could be because maybe the writers room just realized that there are not many episodes to go. 

Here we are with Perry Mason, finally taking center stage in a show that bears his name, if you would recall the last bits of chapter five where we see him get his license to law. Six begins directly at the courthouse and it promises to be a cracker. Except for our hero it is his first outing and all he outs are coughs and even the cameramen’s flash falls like lightning bolt.

It’s heartening to see the show come back to its root themes of how really tough it is to go against the system and how even justice is not about plain facts but about opinions, sentiment and circumstance. While Mason is trying his best to build up a face saving defense, he is also stuck with a client (Gayle Rankin is absolutely the best actress on the show) whose inability to be honest costs them a lot with the jury. 

The episode’s best moment comes when Perry gets to go against Matthew Dodson, now siding with the state, it makes a larger statement as to how society views differently the vices of men and women. But again, the case proceeds only around conjecture and that’s only because those who know the truth are too afraid to do so. And evidence…well that was sort of Perry’s trump card becomes futile. 

They only have two more episodes to go and what began as a single thread has now distributed into multiple strands and while old threads continue to provide more clues to Pete Strickland while he goes on a quest to connect the three brutal murders from episodes past. We of course know who did it, come on catch up soon, Mason & associates!

The scene of a frustrated Mason and his team reminded us of a similar scene from A Few Good Men. Keep at it guys, the truth presents itself to those who dig. 

It’s our job to do the recap right, so we tell you what are the questions that are still not close to being answered, 

A> We still don’t know who killed Baby Charlie and why

B> We don’t know what the Radiant Assembly of God is protecting

C> We don’t know for whom Innes is working for, but another dimension of his relationship with partner Holcomb came through

D> We don’t know if Sister Alice is doing the whole resurrection to divert the case away from its real interests

But what we do know is that Perry Mason will ultimately solve it for us. 

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Mondays with Mason: Chapter Five

“Having Lord Krishna in hand, but searching for butter”

Tamil drama aficionados would immediately recognize this line from Crazy Mohan’s (literally) crowning glory of dramatic achievement- Chocolate Krishna,a stage recording which is now streaming on youtube due to the pandemic. 

Yes, somehow Krishna worked himself into the Perry Mason recap too and with striking similarity to the aforementioned line. 

Somehow it seemed only last week, yes it was in last week’s Perry Mason recap was when we praised the show to the skies on how well they are doing character development and the time taken to do it, this format suits the writers well it seemed, take four episodes to paint them with detail. 

But maybe it’s the halfway point, or it’s the rush that comes towards the ending. 

Last week, we knew that this would be the last of E.B.Jonathan,as one character exits the frame, there needs to be someone who should take up his place in the story. A gentle reminder that the murder of Charlie Dodson is still ver much open and honestly this episode does little to further the investigation. 

What it does instead is fastrack changes in character which comes off as a little too easy, all along Perry had been the washed up- what-hope-do-we-even have detective, frankly we were surprised with the turn in this episode, he even gets to be with his son- like a real dad and that probably instills into him a sense of responsibility. 

Meanwhile at the church, Sister Alice with her powers is able to bail out Emily Dodson and give her hope,the best part of the episode is the miracle work that she does in the congregation and the one of the show’s most engaging storylines is about whether Sister Alice is indeed a voice of God or not. The ambiguity still remains. 

The connecting tissue of the primary characters in the series has been Della Street, she is also in some ways the moral compass and now with E.Bs demise she looks for a north star to forward the case. 

And that brings me to the opening drama quote, we all know that she is searching for butter when she has Krishna at hand. 

Slightly disappointing but, let’s get through this.

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TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Four

“Why do you do this, papi?”

Some time in between things, Perry Mason’s occasional love interest asks him, it’s after he has been beaten into a ball inside a telephone booth, a vestige from an earlier case. 

While the life of the detective is one that seems to be exciting, it is not impressed upon about how much physically demanding the role is, basically next to the level of taking blows like a boxer on the backfoot; and with the detective it’s not just the physical blows but mental ones too, those begin to strike when the detectives hit the wall in a case. 

If you are not used to daily failure, then no point being a detective, guess that’s why writers love the detective novel, it’s similar to their daily drudgery of having to come up with words with much difficulty, and most of it won’t make the final print and most of most of what makes print, won’t be read at all. But then there’s always the law of averages and they crack the case. 

A break. 

Not in this episode though, which delves deep into failure, we are still giving the spotlight, not to Perry and his work partner (a most wonderful Shia Wingham, whose presence I had failed to devote even a few words to in preceding episodes) who are logically pursuing with what they have (a dead body with a broken mouth), but whatever they might come up with, might not be enough. 

This time the system is coming at them with the biggest hammer possible, last time it was just cutting our heroes out of business, but now it could be reputation or in fact, even careers. 

Oh I’m beginning to love the series, which understands what it really wants to be, a show that breathes life into characters who have appeared in multiple plot focussed novels and the iconic TV shows. It doesn’t want to be more of the same, but this is not a whimsical decision, but one that’s been carefully worked out in writing. 

Well I should stop referring to the whole HBO series as “it” and explain that Erle’s books and the early TV shows would be the end result of this one, a true character builder, so that we go chomp away case after case that Perry’s been in. Thanks to Matthew Rhys and associates, we get a sense of what makes Perry,well Perry. It’s the answer to our “why do you do this Papi?” opening, if you didn’t notice, just saying. 

Good job. It’s character development that should make other writers envious. It makes me and I’m not even a writer. To make something out of something that’s already made, good job Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and all the others in the writers room. 

Back to failure. What I feared about E.B Jonathan, John Lithgow’s defense lawyer seems to come true, an old man in a time and profession where being an old man is the surefire path to destruction. But there’s only so much failure, a man at the end of his life can take, there’s only so much that E.B can push back and I think I saw the last of those pushbacks. Lithgow, in prison, with his client trying to explain that he believes her but he could only go so much ahead is a brilliant one, one in which he goes from being hopeless to hope-giver and his eyes do more than the talking. John Lithgow is a treasure. 

I have a theory, hear me out, it’s simple, it’s a theory about judging conviction on screen, it takes time. Yes, that simple. Maybe like in real life, you need to know the person to really believe in their convictions. The first three episodes have been that time,so when Della Street means that she is angry at the inability of society to do the decent thing, I believe it, it’s not some angsty twitter account, it’s a person. 

Apply my theory to why so many ‘socially conscious’ movies feel hollow even when they are loaded with good intentions all through. No real character, just empty words and good intentions of course. 

Besides meditating on failure, Chapter 4 also makes some inroads, but these inroads only seem to deepen the mystery, but all I can say at halfway point, that Perry Mason now almost knows about the Charlie Dodson murder that the viewers knew two episodes ago. 

That doesn’t seem much. Four down, four to go. Stay tuned. 

Perry Mason Chapter 4 teleplay by Steven Hanna and Sarah Kelly Kaplan. 

Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven

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TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Three

The second chapter opened a door and the third one just pulled me down a winding staircase. 

If the layers are coming off, they are not coming off in thin peels but with thick history. 

The last time we left our hero, Perry Mason turning the corner, he had decided to go ahead, system broken or not. And the first few moments beautifully capture how broken the city is, it is told in cross cuts between John Lithgow’s E.B and the crooked DA Maynard Barnes. It is almost played like arguments and counter arguments, only out of court and they have Lithgow visiting a barber. Now what’s a classic American crime show without a shaving scene? So far Perry Mason has been putting in the right genre signals but this episode seemed a little more brighter than the last one, still a two-tone but less noir. 

Yet another classic American crime show trope is a fast talking detective and that’s what Perry says when he means “that words have a tendency to go beyond his mind and through his mouth.” Smart. But Perry has very little to do in this episode, it’s an outing for the others- Della, E.B and Paul Drake. 

E.B and Della are trying to put together the case for Emily Dodson’s bail, with hope to get some sympathy from the judge- while now innocent Matthew Dodson is unable to come to terms with his wife’s infidelity. The whole scene takes place within a prison cell and gives the impression of Emily Dodson being boxed into feeling guilty, which is what reflects in court. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking, this has been consistent in all three episodes, so far. 

Remember, we wrote about Perry Mason’s character philosophy? Well he ain’t developed one yet and Della Street rightly points it to him, this is when things don’t begin to go too well for E.B who seems older than usual, time seems to have swept away while he slept, his tiredness comes through, I am afraid there is not much ahead for the lawyer. 

And this is where the trio get fired out of their own case. 

Does Perry Mason really believe that Emily Dodson is innocent? At least that’s what he says when he meets Paul Drake. Does Sister Alice really speak to God, as she claims and can she see an end to this case?

I don’t know, we began with a single string but there are a lot of strands out there now, the case could go any way, it is beginning to feel like a real dense crime novel now and I love it!

Who killed baby Charlie Dodson and why? 

Stay tuned on Mondays with Mason until next week.