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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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TV

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. 

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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.