“Chapter Five” sees new and old meet in the middle, as Perry Mason becomes what he has always been known as just as someone needs him most.
This recap of Perry Mason season 1, episode 5, “Chapter Five”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Chapter Five” begins with confirmation that E.B. Jonathan is dead; Della finds his body slumped in the kitchen chair. She doesn’t take it well. But, ever-faithful, she enlists Perry in making the attorney’s death look more insurance friendly. It’s the least they could do.
Speaking of the least that one can do, Sister Alice is still insistent that the mailed-in donations are put to the task of posting Emily Dodson’s bail, and she’s perfectly willing to threaten Birdy’s position unless she plays ball. The public response to Alice’s bold prognostications is still pretty mixed; some are perfectly happy to pony up the dough, but some still consider her a blaspheming you-know-what. Promising to bring murdered kids back from the dead is never straightforward, is it?
Neither, for that matter, is investigating a crooked cop, even if the general sentiment surrounding said crooked cop isn’t great. Pete Strickland talks with a detective about Ennis, who apparently bribed the division chief to ensure he worked the Dodson case – the “biggest case in town”, according to the slighted detective.
In the wake of E.B.’s death – which prompts a poor turnout, by the way – Perry Mason episode 5 takes the opportunity for some character development and some quieter scenes away from the case. Perry and Della spend some time together and share a bottle; Perry’s insistence that there’s what’s legal and what’s right, and that they’re not always the same thing, is the shared belief of every hard-knock gumshoe in the history of fiction, but it’s still useful to have him state his ideology out loud. The next morning, shaken a bit by the loss of E.B., he goes out to see his ex-wife Linda and their son, to spend some time with the lad, but Linda lets him know that there’s a cap on how much time they can spend together, and where and when they can do it – the ship, apparently, has sailed on Perry being a doting, responsible father.
No relationships in “Chapter Five” seem straightforward. Paul Drake and his missus clearly have very different views on civil rights and the battle against segregation, but Drake is a proponent of the “happy wife, happy life” school of thought. That’s until, though, they’re both accosted at the beach by a racist cop and Paul decides he won’t hold his tongue anymore.
Emily Dodson, meanwhile, arrives at the estate of Sister Alice, her new custodian, of a kind, which is a strange dynamic in itself; Holcomb and Ennis assure Birdy that Dodson must remain on the premises, since she’s still a prime suspect, and Della arrives later to find her a new lawyer. The slovenly, court-appointed fellow, Frank Dillon, doesn’t seem much use, but when Della visits E.B.’s old partner Lyle, she’s informed that in all likelihood Dillon is in Barnes’ pocket, which means finding anyone else to take the case will be a near impossibility. It’s a career killer.
But despite the odds being stacked against the side of law and order, Perry Mason episode 5 finds the coincidences piling too high to be ignored. Ennis gets wind of Pete following him, but his efforts to throw him off the scene – which include pointing the finger at Holcomb and trying to buy him off with a prostitute – only make him seem more suspicious, which is what Pete takes to Perry.
“Chapter Five” indulges in another big Sister Alice performance; in this one, she miraculously heals a disabled man in front of a baying crowd. But it’s significant not because she seemingly performs the impossible – although the man absolutely does not look healed to me – but because it converts Emily Dodson and drowns out Elder Brown’s ploy to usurp Sister Alice.
Elsewhere, we see Perry’s ideology become contagious, as Della repeats it to her girlfriend when she’s questioned about storing files at home since Dillon is in bed with the D.A. (something she confirms by eavesdropping on a call.) Perry himself is amused by Dillon, and then nastily ejects him, which is a cathartic moment for the audience. With this, the show has more clearly established its good-guy-bad-guy lines as well as a coherent viewpoint; we know who we’re rooting for, and we know why.
It’s a bit more difficult to figure out where we should stand on Sister Alice, who sneaks Emily out to visit her son’s grave. Emily, sobbing, asks if the resurrection will require him to be dug up, which Alice doesn’t answer, presumably because she knows on some level that it’s nonsense.
Perry Mason season 1, episode 5 also solidifies the transition of HBO’s version of the title character to the CBS version; from gumshoe to criminal defense attorney, beginning with Perry visiting Della, half-cut, and delivering a foul-mouthed speech addressed to, at one point, the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” You can see Della arrive at the idea just as it becomes clear where the show is going. Mason, who has been learning law under E.B. as a kind of “apprenticeship”, is the lawyer Emily needs. He promises he’ll prove her innocence, and he’ll find her son’s murderer. She says she wants him to defend her.
First, though, he needs to pass the bar, and he’s able to do it with help from Deputy D.A. Hamilton Burger, who is gunning for Barnes’s job and so offers to help Perry finesse the exam. Lo and behold, we next see Mason clean-shaved, buttoned-up, and being sworn in. “So help me God,” he repeats. And for the first time, we really see what this show might become.