“Chapter Seven” lays out the details of Charlie Dodson’s kidnapping in a penultimate episode that ends with a miracle – or does it?
This recap of Perry Mason season 1, episode 7, “Chapter Seven”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Miracles are lovely things, on principle, but they’re always best when they come after a period of intense misery and a sequence of calamitous screw-ups. The miracle everyone keeps talking about in Perry Mason episode 7 is Sister Alice’s promised Easter Sunday resurrection of Charlie Dodson, a feat that “Chapter Seven” finesses in a rather fitting way. But the real miracle, the real resurrection for that matter, is of the titular gumshoe himself, who died as a schlubby PI whose military career, marriage, closest friendships, and professional associations had all been ruined, and who was reborn a crusading defence attorney who once had a CBS show.
That rebirth occurred a couple of episodes ago, but it crystallizes in this one, as Perry teeters on a breakthrough – thanks in part to the investigative efforts of Pete Strickland and beat cop Paul Drake and the admin of the tireless Della Street – that potentially exonerate Emily Dodson of the murder of her infant son, Charlie. The stakes are higher than ever, these tentative relationships at their most frayed, but “Chapter Seven” finally outlines, in clear terms, the exact circumstances that led to a young boy’s death.
It’s all down to Radiant Assembly of God elder Eric Seidel, who enlisted George Gannon, the church’s crooked book-cooking accountant and Emily Dodson’s fancy-man, and corrupt police sergeant Ennis, an old ally from his time busting unions, to facilitate the kidnapping of Charlie so that his well-off paternal grandfather, Herman Baggerly, would cough up a ransom hefty enough to repair the church’s disastrous financial mismanagement.
But this already bad idea went terribly wrong. Ennis, in an ill-fated attempt to stop baby Charlie from crying, enlisted a Chinese-American sex worker whose sickly veins were full of heroin to breastfeed the nipper. His crying did indeed stop, but for much longer than expected. The stitched-open eyes, such a horrific image, was purely a logistical detail – a way to ensure he looked alive for the ransom.
Since then, Ennis has shot, stabbed, and otherwise finagled his way through all of his co-conspirators; he shanks Seidel himself up in Perry Mason episode 7 in a messy, nasty, desperate scene. With all that, there’s only really Perry left to crack Ennis, which he intends to do on the stand after exposing the church’s coincidental financial woes.
This stuff forms the red meat of “Chapter Seven”, but the penultimate hour is bookended by telling scenes focusing on Sister Alice, both highlighting an enduring pattern of abuse and exploitation committed by Mother Birdy against Alice, on the vague pretext of molding a new-age prophet. In Alice’s insistence at resurrecting Charlie, that prophet has overwhelmed whatever real person once existed inside Sister Alice’s lily-white robes, but the catastrophic failure of the resurrection strips away the mysticism and leaves the real Alice bloody and terrified. Charlie’s tiny coffin, it turns out, is empty, and upon seeing this, the assembled masses go ballistic. A devastated Emily is whisked away by Perry and Della, while Birdy and Alice, like a presidential motorcade under fire, veer off in a new direction.
That re-route stops dead before a living baby, found in the middle of the street, which Birdy swaddles and claims instantly to be Charlie Dodson, reborn. It’s an obvious opportunity to save face, and she seizes it. But Sister Alice, nose broken, face and clothes bloody, turns away from the supposed proof of her own power. She flees, having perhaps finally realized the extent to which everything she believes in is a fiction.
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