Perry Mason S1E6 largely takes place in the courtroom. Perry bumbles and coughs as he gives his opening statement, and he continues to struggle as the trial proceeds when it comes to the norms and rules of the court. This is in pretty sharp contrast to how Mason is presented in the classic show where he is portrayed by Raymond Burr. There he seems polished, whereas here he is all rough around the edges.
This is not to say, however, that Burr’s Perry Mason had the style of a traditional lawyer. I recently went back to the first episode of Perry Mason from 1957 (“The Case of the Restless Redhead”), and it features Mason filing a mark onto a gun in order to trick someone and ultimately prove his client’s innocence. There’s what’s legal and there’s what’s right.
It makes sense of course that Perry Mason would not yet be a great lawyer in S1E6, given that he’s just gotten a quick and not quite above board course in the law from Hamilton Burger in order to pass the bar. Regardless, things do not go well for him in court. Matthew Dodson testifies against his wife. Barnes calls a surprise witness who testifies that George and Emily had sex in his motel while baby Charlie lay crying in the adjoining room. The guard who had been tasked to watch Emily takes the stand and misrepresents the conversation she overheard between Emily and Sister Alice, claiming that Emily confessed to the crime. And Judge Wright (Matt Frewer) does not seem at all interested in taking Perry seriously, as he rules against him at every turn.
This includes what ultimately happens with the dentures. Mason faces a dilemma about whether to present them as evidence given the fact that he promised Paul Drake that he’d leave him out of it. He comes close to breaking his word when Drake is on the stand, but he doesn’t. Drake, however, has had enough. He’s not even allowed to cuff a white murderer, and being paid for his false testimony doesn’t sit well with him at all. So he decides to help Perry, which puts him well on his way to becoming Mason’s investigator down the line.
Of course, the character of Paul Drake is vastly different in the Burr-led series than he is here. He’s white, for one thing. But the decision to cast Chris Chalk in the role and bring a racial dynamic into the story makes HBO’s Perry Mason far more interesting than it would be otherwise. To explore the social dynamics of Los Angeles in the early 1930s without bringing race into the picture would have seemed myopic, and I can hardly think of a better way to do it than through a Black beat cop who’s fed up with injustice.
Unfortunately, Drake’s decision to help Mason doesn’t amount to much. Judge Wright refuses to allow the second autopsy into evidence because of the fact that the body was stolen and ended up on a golf course. In fairness, that makes a lot of sense and is probably the right position in terms of the law. Perry’s going to have to learn that if he wants to finagle things he needs to do a bit better.
Emily, meanwhile, seems to believe that Sister Alice is going to resurrect Charlie on Easter, which is fast approaching. She’s even signed a document granting permission for the child’s corpse to be exhumed, as apparently Sister Alice has determined that she will, in fact, need the body (it kind of seemed like she hadn’t even considered the question until Emily asked). What will happen when the resurrection does not occur? To Emily? To Sister Alice? To the Radiant Assembly of God?
If I Say Yes Can I Go Back to Work?
Things go a bit better for Perry Mason and his associates outside of the courtroom in S1E6. Pete Strickland discovers some checks sent to Sunroot Services at George Gannon’s house, and Della Street manages to follow this lead to uncover financial ties between the Radiant Assembly and various enterprises. Apparently, the church’s money does not all come from donations and the support of wealthy Elders—they have investments. But why were these checks going to George? Was he stealing from the church? And what does this have to do with the Girard project that Herman Baggerly showed Matt Dodson back in S1E3? Is Eric Q. Seidel’s signature forged on the checks to Sunroot, or is it a sign of his corruption?
As he investigates possible connections between Sarecki, Nowak, and Ennis in Denver, Strickland discovers that Seidel was at one point the president of the company they worked for. So if the other three, along with George, were the ones who kidnapped Charlie, perhaps Seidel was the one pulling the strings behind the scenes?
Ennis does tell Holcomb in S1E6 that he was hired to do the job, which seems to confirm my suspicion that there are more players involved in the crime than we know about so far. What could their motive be? It seems a bit unlikely that this was simply done for the money.
As for Holcomb, it would seem that he was not involved, though he is certainly corrupt in other ways. He thinks Ennis has gone too far and busts up his precious car as he interrogates him about the whole thing. But on the other hand, this conversation ends with him insisting that he doesn’t want to know who else was involved; he just wants them dead. He may not have been involved in the crime, but he has been involved in the cover-up and he knows it. He is brazenly self-interested and seems to object to what Ennis has done less because he views it to be immoral and more because he views it as stupid.
The biggest question Perry Mason S1E6 leaves us with is the role of Jim Hicks (Todd Weeks) in everything. When Perry arrives at his house at the end of the episode, he answers the door with a gun in his hand, but he says that he has been waiting for Mason to find him. This makes me think that the cheap price he got on 20 acres was more along the lines of a payoff than anything else. But if he has been paid to keep quiet, will he be willing to talk now? If so, what’s changed for him? Maybe the fact that a small child has been killed?