“Chapter Two” proves that HBO’s reimagining of Perry Mason is nothing like its old self, but it continues to be a bit too much like everything else.
This recap of Perry Mason season 1, episode 2, “Chapter Two”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I have no idea why this show is called Perry Mason. I mean, it’s the name of the title character, obviously, but any association with previous versions of him seems misguided. In “Chapter Two”, more so than perhaps even last week’s premiere, the show’s bleak intentions are made uncomfortably clear; the episode ricochets back and forth from a gorgeous-looking war to a Depression-era L.A. where Mason sits alongside three-legged dogs who rummage for scraps.
Sources of light are few and far between; one of them introduced in this episode is Tatiana Maslany’s Sister Alice, a preacher at the Radiant Assembly of God temple who can’t help but remind viewers of Sister Molly from Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, another period show set in L.A. which presented “radio box” evangelism as the only enticing prospect in a city fractured along every fault line imaginable.
Mason navigates those fault lines precariously, as does another new character, Paul Drake, an African-American policeman who wanders from a domestic dispute to the two men executed by Detective Ennis last week. Everyone’s stuck in a bad day that keeps getting worse. There are revelations about bastard sons and dishonorable military discharges and illicit affairs; reminders about there being “no colored detectives” as evidence and theories are swept under the rug. Everyone’s corrupt to some extent, and Perry Mason episode 2 is eager to show it. It’s just as eager to get gruesome again, as Mason fishes within mutilated faces for clues. It’s only right that even the evidence in this show requires a strong stomach.
“Chapter Two” at least devotes time to its new players: Paul Drake is smart, frustrated at the idiocy and bigotry of his superiors, and has a pregnant wife at home; Sister Alice is nursing some kind of trauma, has a dragon mother – another similarity with Sister Molly – and can’t help but use her evangelism to rile up her adoring followers. These elements aren’t new – one isn’t even new this week – and they aren’t assembled in a fresh composition. The thing holding Perry Mason back at the moment isn’t how far removed it is from the original, but how familiar it is to everything else.
The takeaway as things begin to draw to a close is that Mason and Drake are working along the same lines; two men trying to be upright in a crooked world. But Perry Mason season 1, episode 2 is quick to remind us that even its title character’s uprightness comes with caveats. In the final flashback to his time at war, we see him executing his wounded, dying comrades. He’s being merciful, but not everyone wants his mercy. Now, America seems similarly resistant to his instincts.
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