Monday, March 6, 2023

REVIEW: 'Perry Mason' - Perry Shifts the Focus of His Legal Work Hoping to Feel Less Invested in the Outcomes in 'Chapter Nine'

HBO's Perry Mason - Episode 2.01 "Chapter Nine"

In the months following the Dodson trial, an aimless Perry leans on Della to keep the law firm afloat. While Paul accepts a job from an unlikely source, corrupt oil scion Brooks McCutcheon recruits Detective Holcomb in his quest to reshape the future of Los Angeles.

"Chapter Nine" was written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler and directed by Fernando Coimbra

What was the purpose of the case from the first season? That's the question that essentially haunts Perry Mason. The pressure is felt both internally and externally. He received letters from Emily wondering why they endured every brutal detail of the trial. It ended in a mistrial. That didn't revive her son even though she wanted to believe that. She could only live in denial for so long. And now, her death is the latest thing hanging over Perry. He's not responsible for the suffering of those around him. He doesn't want to contribute to it. That seems unavoidable given his proximity to the criminal justice system. One could argue the purpose of the first season was bringing Perry, Della and Paul together as a team. Perry was the lawyer, with Della as his partner and Paul as his investigator. That was the silver lining that came out of this whole ordeal. And yet, dysfunction still prospers. Perry has made the transition from criminal to civil work. He did so with the belief that the pay was better and it would be less personal. Someone's fate wouldn't rest on his actions. That's simply not true. He destroys a man's business just because his client orders him to do so. That's what his money buys. It's all about the intimidation and killer instinct. Perry possesses those traits. He's simply miserable because he's plagued by all of this devastation. It's a mentality that has drowned everything out since his days fighting in the war. He's placed on this path as a lawyer now. Sometimes, he's really inspired by the work. He knows how to present his cases in a way that swings juries. However, he's still reluctant to embrace the profession as a whole. That may come from the inherent pessimism that radiates from his every move. Hamilton Burger deduces that it's actually because Perry still believes in the justice system as being good and noble. Perry is surprised that the elected District Attorney is so cynical. To Ham, the system he operates in is nothing but an illusion everyone has simply bought into over the years. It's whatever the powerful want it to be. It's then Ham's job to do whatever the public wants him to do. It doesn't need to be more complicated than that. Human lives are on the line though. Perry can't escape that despite this transition to civil work. Sure, that shift means he has less need for Paul as a full-time investigator. That's led to Paul and Clara having to move in with her brother's family. It's nice to be surrounded by family. And yet, it's always seen as white people reaching in to provide him with opportunities. He's grateful and willing to accept what he's earned. That's it. He's prideful in that way. He's good at the job and deserves everything Perry and Strickland give him. The nature of the work simply means the storytelling is often dealing with shady individuals. Perry can get away for a few blissful moments. That's not enough to compensate for his dreary outlook on life as a whole.

All of this could be really annoying as it asserts how the characters and the narrative haven't really changed from the first season. That's comforting to the viewers who enjoyed that experience. It's a more difficult sell for people who wanted more variety. The show is still bleak and complicated. It delves into an expansive world in 1930s Los Angeles. Perry Mason isn't the same man as previously depicted on television. That can absolutely be a good thing. It presents as a more gradual evolution. One where all the pieces are currently there to explore in depth. It's a work in progress. It's only meant to be briefly celebratory when he does something that he becomes known for later on. That's a difficult framework to maintain for storytelling. It's much easier to relax into what makes this specific show unique. Some of the pleasures are familiar to other prestige projects. Matthew Rhys continues to do well depicting the sad nature of Perry's life. He is so good at conveying misery and internal turmoil. It's not always beneficial to the character's overall goals. It means Perry is not really listening to Della when she is doing all the work. And then, he busts out his own strategy in court believing it's the superior approach. Of course, it works. Perry is simply too good not to try. Once he's fully committed, he's actually a great lawyer with keen instincts. He just hasn't quite honed in on how to use those skills to produce the best outcome for everyone in and out of court. That's his struggle. Moreover, it's unlikely he will remain delegated to civil work for very long. A murder occurs yet again. This time it's at the end of the season premiere. Brooks McCutcheon is seen the entire episode trying to prove himself as this capable businessman continuing his father's legacy. It's clear his father developed this city. He has had epic wins and projects not go according to plan. He accepts all of that. He wants his son to acknowledge his limitations. He tried his best. It didn't work out. He should focus on philanthropic work. That's respectable to an extent too. That's not what Brooks aspires to do. He wants to bring baseball to Los Angeles. He has a clear vision of what he wants. No one is listening. Somehow that gets him killed. The truth is probably much more complicated than that. It so often is. His murder highlights the inherent darkness of this time and place. Plenty want to deliver stories of hope and prosperity. That doesn't line up with the truth. Of course, this is also a time when people have relatively few options to express themselves as they actually are. Della and Ham can't aspire for a happy life with the people they love. They are forever condemned to life being comfortable in the closet. Their stories are just as vital and necessary to be told. Those perspectives immediately pop even though Perry remains the core character. His journey is central. However, he's far from the only one worthy of exploration as this narrative develops.