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Perry Mason S1E7: Chapter Seven Puts Faith in Question

Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

Perry Mason S1E7 begins with a flashback to a time when a young Alice and her mother Birdie were out of gas on the side of the road. Alice picks a flower and maybe hears voices, as a man arrives to offer her mother help because it’s the “Christian thing to do.” Of course, after noting that the gallon of gas he gave them won’t be enough for them to get to a real town, he looks lasciviously in Alice’s direction as he says he’d love to help more and wouldn’t ask for much in return. Men are creeps.

We don’t quite see what happens after Birdie beckons young Alice over, and I wonder if this is something that will be returned to in the finale of Perry Mason or just left to the imagination. I have to admit that I personally hoped that the scene would end with Alice and Birdie murdering the man and stealing his car, but I suppose it’s far more likely that Alice’s mother handed her off/persuaded her into sexual favors given Birdie’s actions in S1E7 and the series as a whole.

Easter Sunday arrives in Perry Mason S1E7 to bring the culmination of Sister Alice’s promise to resurrect Charlie Dodson. This was never going to happen, of course, but rather than Alice opening Charlie’s casket to find a small corpse inside, she opens it to find it empty. Is Birdie responsible for this?

A fight breaks out and they flee, but rather than follow their escort, Birdie insists the driver turn right. Here they come upon a group with a baby that Birdie begins to proclaim is the resurrected Charlie Dodson. Where did this child come from, and who is he? What kind of strings did Birdie have to pull to make this happen, and how criminal was it?

She more or less tells Alice that God does not exist; it’s just them. Perhaps she thinks that at some level Alice has always known that what they were doing was scamming people. Earlier in S1E7, when Elder Brown brought Robert into the radio station in his wheelchair to proclaim that his faith healing didn’t take, Alice was quick to blame his lack of faith. Was this (just) a cover or what she truly believes?

Sister Alice reaches out a hand to the wheelchair-confined Robert
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

There is an ambiguity to Sister Alice throughout her storyline, but what is not ambiguous is that she runs away from her mother at the end of S1E7. This woman has been manipulating her for most of her life, going back at least to that day on the side of the road. At the end of the day, it would seem that Birdie is cynical and faithless. She views the Radiant Assembly as a business and thinks about things like faith healings in those terms.

Alice, on the other hand, truly believes. Perhaps this belief veers in the direction of delusion, but it does seem to be genuine nonetheless. As such, Birdie’s ploy with a random baby doesn’t sit well with her, and she flees. One can’t help but wonder what will happen to her next—not just in terms of material consequences, but in terms of who she is as a person.

Breaking the Faith

What Perry discovers from Jim Hicks is that the Radiant Assembly was indeed involved in Charlie’s kidnapping—or, at least, Eric Seidel was. The church has long been in financial trouble, and Hicks got sick of helping them cook their books. So he trained Seidel and took the 20 acres of land as a payoff. But he also took those books with him, which he has now given to Perry Mason.

In this regard, the case is largely solved in S1E7. Herman Baggerly stopped giving money to the Radiant Assembly, so Seidel hired Ennis and the others to perform the kidnapping to get the $100K the church needed to cover its debts. Charlie was crying in the motel room, so Ennis brought one of the sex workers from the brothel around to breastfeed him. Unfortunately, she was a heroin addict, and so little Charlie died.

Strickland tied a lot of this together through his investigations in Denver, discovering connections between the involved parties when they worked at Colorado Fuel and Iron, but when he’s tasked with tailing Seidel, he loses him. And when Perry yells at him for allowing a key witness to get away, he quits. Thus we see Paul Drake finally come into the role of being Mason’s investigator.

Ennis takes the advice Holcomb gave him in S1E6 and kills both the sex worker and Seidel. We only see him do the latter, but it’s brutal. Thinking that Joe Ennis is lending him a hand in getting out of town to avoid being snapped up in relation to the Dodson case, Eric Seidel’s last words are, “Hey Joe…thanks!” Then he gets stabbed more times than you can count. I do wonder if his body will be discovered.

So it’s possible that the finale of Perry Mason might simply revolve around proving Ennis’s guilt in court. But I still think there will probably be a bit more to it. I’m increasingly suspicious of Birdie McKeegan. If she views the Radiant Assembly as a money-making enterprise, then it is easy enough to see her motive in getting money to take care of the church’s debt. She has no qualms about deceiving people for profit and using her daughter to do it. Again, Sister Alice may be a true believer, but Birdie thinks she’s a charlatan—just a really good one she is more than happy to exploit in the pursuit of money.

The public in Perry Mason has made a faulty and pernicious inference when it comes to Emily—that since she cheated on her husband, she killed her own child. But I think the inference that S1E7 leads me toward is a bit more well-grounded. If Birdie was willing to prostitute her own daughter for gas, is it a stretch to think that she’d be willing to have a child kidnapped for money?

This is my suspicion, at least. If HBO’s Perry Mason is going to end in classic Perry Mason style—with the guilty party basically confessing on the stand—my money is on that person being Birdie McKeegan. But of course I could be wrong. It increasingly looks like I was wrong to think there would be something important about turtles…

Questions of faith tie Perry Mason S1E7 together. The issue of faith in God with regard to Sister Alice and Birdie exemplifies this, but the other threads of the episode also deal with faith at a more interpersonal level. Birdie (it would seem) betrays Alice’s faith in the opening scene and again at the end of the hour. Mason’s faith in Strickland is tested, but their bonds are broken in the other direction—Pete no longer trusts that Perry has his back. Seidel trusts Ennis, only to literally get stabbed in his back. And of course, in the background is whether one can have faith in the justice system itself. We know that Emily is innocent, but will Mason be able to save her when the world they inhabit is so corrupt?

I suppose that next week we’ll find out.

Caemeron Crain

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain studies philosophy and is a writer and head of the TV department at 25YL. He is a party to a Twin Peaks podcast that then did a few episodes on Surrealism before entering an indefinite hiatus. He also has a cat.

2 Comments

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  1. I have been suspicious of Birdie since episode and this is my take. Birdie is a version of the huckster that Elmer Gantry; her preparation for the two of them to escape was just too well organized. She has a daughter who, at least until the end of ep 7, had enormous faith in God and who believed that He was speaking through her. She manipulated this into what was to be a gold mine, but with the bad investments, turned into a pit into which money had to be throw.

    The church needed $100,000 to right itself once Mr. Baggerly ceased his support so they turned to kidnapping his grandson. Perhaps I missed something but who knew that Charlie was his grandson until after the kidnapping? My theory is that only Birdie did. i also think that George Gannon was put up by Birdie into having an affair with Emily to help the kidnapping along and he did not care about her at all.

    Birdie’s amorality is evident from that first scene when she prostitutes Alice. Birdie got Seidel to organize the thing.

    • Yeah, I’m basically with you on all of that. I think maybe Emily told George about Baggerly? I think that’s what the prosecution was saying at least, so not you’ve got me wondering if I maybe took something at face value that I should not have. That would resolve the question I think, though, if Emily told George and he told Seidel. But I am very suspicious of Birdie and can’t help but wonder about her involvement.

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