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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

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter One

The Perry Mason Recap: Season One, Episode One

Anyone who has spent some time in lending libraries around Chennai would know that Perry Mason was not just a book that you borrowed, but a whole shelf of paperbacks to get through. 

This is how them shelves be labelled and helped boys (at the time) such as me optimize our time within their premises: 

Romance (skip)

Periodicals (10 mins, mostly Cosmo) 

Comics (10 mins, mostly Phantom) 

And bulk of the time…

Agatha Christie

Perry Mason

So you see reader, Perry Mason was not just a set of books, it was a genre, a name that even blocked its author Erle Stanley Gardner out of memory. Maybe it was easy to label it as just Perry Mason. 

Speaking of names, the books had very intriguing titles, almost always a case attached to it; like the case of the velvet claws or the case of the black-eyed blonde (incidentally the black-eyed blonde part was borrowed for a recent Marlowe novel title, there’s our fun fact) and when the first episode  of the HBO TV series dropped, I was quite disappointed when it read ‘chapter one’. 

But the makers make up for the lack of imagination in titles with the richness of the settings. 

It’s 1930s Los Angeles.

The great depression, the cynics utopia, the golden age of pulp that relished the washed-out wit of detectives, the time when Chandler, Hammett (the Maltese Falcon was exactly 1930, there’s another fun fact), Gardner and a whole lot of others wrote their weight in gold. I could go on, because I love this as my literature and it’s there in this updated series from image one. 

It’s one thing recreating the city visually, it’s another recreating what I thought it was from the books. It begins with a ransom call and a baby kidnapping gone wrong, the unspeakable happens in which even a bit of thread could be so diabolical. 

That’s the case, it’s graphic and I understand why they don’t want to put in the title. 

When we meet our hero, it’s raining and he walks through his name credit, styled to resemble the Warner films of yore into a diner. Perry Mason, detective, not lawyer, detective and currently he is on a tail job. Classic. 

If you are a Depression era detective you must have the some of the following 

🔫 a pistol, because you never know what you get on the job

🤣an unhealthy sense of humor, because life’s bad anyway

👮a healthy hatred of uniformed policemen, ex-job maybe

🔬 an eye for detail, every clue counts

🐌a relentlessness search for an end and maybe the truth

👤a perennial love for social distancing

But more importantly, every detective of the time had their own take on life, a running social commentary that walked along with them that when these writers brought it out with the necessary turn of phrase, it became how readers made sense of the world, their own philosophy. 

If Marlowe was the Arthurian Knight, Mason was the one who stood between the underdog and society’s ills and monsters. 

Not in this episode, no, he is a typical detective, his philosophy will hopefully evolve over the course of the show, because there is space in ten episodes to do a lot of character development. 

Here he is quite clueless, when his partner asks him about life and fun and the next few scenes, we uncover layer after layer, his Great War experience, his marriage or lack of it, his diary farm that precariously sits next to a flying club and his general shabby life. Perry seems pretty empty at this point, clearly he has seen a lot and his motivation, although not his only, seems to be to get over with cases and get paid for it. There’s shockingly a streak of unscrupulousness too which comes out when he goes blackmailing, but I couldn’t read greed in him. Again, not typical Mason. 

But what’s typical in these types of stories is that our hero gets hit by thugs and I forgot to add resistance to thugs in my essential detective checklist. 

After much character development, we now have the kidnapped baby case brought to him by the ever terrific John Litgow who plays a senior lawyer (E.B) and our detective. 

That’s all really what I pine for, in a revival like this. 

The case is definitely high profile for Perry, he has to face off with insulting policemen at the crime scene, a shadowy client with deep pockets and deeper faith, a fidgety father who looks good for the killer on paper and a grieving mother who reminds him of his own son, far far away, separated. Oh yeah, there’s Della Street too

As we call to turn the page to chapter 2, our hero literally just has a strand from the case and there are lots of ways in which it could go from here. But is it not the job of the detective to go down the mean streets to get to the truth? 

Stayed tuned, till the next episode of Mondays with Mason. 

Oh yeah, this is a HBO show and it goes without saying.So there’s already at least two scenes that you cannot watch with family, but there’s a certain fun in solo watching of a show which features a lonely detective. 

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