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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. 

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TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Two

The Perry Mason Recap: Season 01, Episode 02

I did not mention in our first episode recap that old Erle Stanley Gardner wrote more than 80 novels featuring lawyer Perry Mason, there were short stories too. 

80. 

When we think about it, especially when we clench our teeth to update a blog and that too with almost zero barriers to publish (except our own will), here was a man who wrote 80 novels with just one character and he had other characters too.

I’m sure that old Erle had his own plot making machine to churn out so many stories, I could almost picture him sitting at a desk going rat-at-tat on the typewriter, often with a pencil in his mouth, which would then be used to reorganize a plot. It’s humbling to picture this.

It was the golden age of pulp, people consumed it a lot, so there wasn’t a necessity to look into the soul of any character, just the bare bores, again just like I picture Erle, I picture a reader too, somewhere in a bunker with a lamp, instead of a pencil, a cigarette in his mouth, reading the exploits of Perry Mason & Della Street, only to wake up next day and go fight Nazis. Character development would have hardly been on his mind. It was a different time, a much harder time to live and these 140-200 pages of pulp gave them the excitement, the respite, the breathing space in a densely packed bunker. A way of escape that could fit in your pocket, along with the cigarette. It’s even humbling to picture this, even in our so called times of distress. 

Which is where I come to chapter two. A great man once said, that the unexamined life is not worth living, and the makers of the HBO series have taken this route, to examine the hitherto unexamined Perry Mason, the one who provided short grasps at entertainment to soldiers, is now a soldier himself, only in an earlier war, the great war, where the trenches replaced the bunker. That sort of looking at death changes people often for the worse, but will he change into the person we know from the books?

Seems unlikely, if you thought (like I did) that the first episode was dark, this one even takes a darker turn. In a sense, most of the characters have been introduced in the first episode barring two. Tatiana Maslany, who gets an entire moving sequence as an introduction to her character and to the Radiant Assembly of God. Note this time, we would come back to this soon. 

So yeah, with the introductions done, the episode literally takes a turn towards noir. It is reinforced again and again with Perry looking beyond a corner,to proceed or not, to face what’s ahead or to turn back? But then for a soldier, turning back is worse than death. He has no option but to stare back at the darkness.

Cut to the case. 

Remember,we left Perry with a strand of thread, he still has it, sitting in a corner. The thread that stitched the eyelids open of the dead baby, maybe we have not seen anything horrific than that, but Perry has. The Dodsons, who lost their baby, are trying to find solace and support from a secret benefactor linked to the Radiant Assembly of God led by Sister Alice who apart from running an influential church presents herself as a lightning conductor to God’s wishes. 

There’s another introduction too, one that is a familiar face , Paul Drake (played by The Newsroom’s Chris Chalk), not as the trusted right hand man and detective of Perry Mason, but a beat cop who discovers the effects of the violence from the previous episode. As is the normal, he is too smart for his peers and his deductions start to hit a wall. 

On the other side of this wall, leans Perry, there is yet another clue that is unearthed but he is beginning to realize that much like war, those who do the legwork don’t control the outcomes as much as those old men who sit around in panelled rooms and talk. Old men with power. 

This distinctly gave me a Chinatown feel, readers can ignore this because I get a Chinatown feel for most things. 

But I really like the dark turn (around the corner) that the series is taking, an earlier non-covid me would have been displeased with the complete absence of my ‘Perry Mason’, but hey, people change and these are not normal times.

Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson I should say has been a revelation in this episode and slowly like the unwinding of the top, the episode also gives us a little more into the lives involved, we have one more clue, another death found and a hero who is willing to turn the corner. 

Great episode, waiting for more. 

PS The look and feel of this series is all film noir, so yeah obviously it is shot in color but the makers have painstakingly tried to limit the color palette to yellow and a deep blue, the nearest visible equivalents to black and white. Did you notice? Mel Gibson’s Payback too had similar styling. Just recollecting. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar in India.