This recap of Perry Mason Season 2 Episode 1, “Chapter Nine”, contains spoilers.
It says a lot about our current understanding of and relationship with the justice system that the only way to make a compelling lawyer protagonist in a TV show is to have him reject that system entirely. And it says a lot, too, about how far we’ve come in the century since Perry Mason was created and became both a literary and television hero that his essential defining characteristic – his honesty – is still what makes him stand out. After all that time, it seems we haven’t come very far at all.
Perry Mason Season 2 Episode 1 Recap
HBO might have changed a lot about the iconic Erle Stanley Gardner criminal defense lawyer; he’s now a traumatized war veteran with a fondness for the bottle, existing in a grittier, prestige-TV version of 30s Los Angeles, and he’s nursing not just old wounds but the outcome of recent cases, not to mention present financial strife. But he’s still very much in opposition to the “illusion” of justice that greases the wheels of American courtrooms. Unfortunately for him, keeping on the lights in law offices means a fair amount of ethical compromise.
Who are Brooks and Lynell McCutcheon?
You know that Perry won’t spend the entire season making ends meet with civil cases, but the Season 2 premiere makes it clear anyway by introducing – and then bait-and-switching – the new villain, Brooks McCutcheon, the pampered idiot son of a no-nonsense oil magnate named Lynell who, in the opening scene, orders the high-profile sinking of the Luxe casino barge. This was intended as a bit of business-savvy sabotage but ends up sinking the entire vessel in broad daylight in front of countless witnesses, which is shorthand for Brooks’s general uselessness. He’s determined to earn daddy’s approval through various misguided investments, including a local money-pit baseball team, but Lynell thinks he’s a moron and advises him to focus on his charity work instead.
Who died in “Chapter Nine”?
Since the HBO version of Mason has an overarching season-long plot instead of a procedural case-of-the-week format like its beloved CBS forebear, the audience naturally assumes that Brooks will be the bad guy here. He has all the right characteristics – he’s rich, arrogant, stupid, has some implied sexual peccadilloes involving asphyxiation, and will happily go against his father’s wishes if he believes he’s onto something, which he always does since he has grown up too privileged to believe otherwise. Only, Perry Mason Season 2 Episode 1 ends on a close-up of Brooks having been shot straight through the eye, his corpse abandoned in his flash car. So, there’s more to this than first appearances suggested.
What was the outcome of Mason’s civil case?
And this murder will, inevitably, come to involve Mason, which is why a good chunk of the premiere is devoted to establishing why he’d take the case. What he’s dealing with on the civil side of things is what D.A. Hamilton Berger describes as the illusion quoted at the top of this recap, the fantasy of justice righting wrongs and the truth being of some real relative value, more so than money or influence or simple professional responsibility. Mason, along with his associates Della Street and Paul Drake, was employed to help the owner of a local grocery store bankrupt an underpaid former employee who had used the same methodology he thanklessly uplifted his employer’s store with to set up his own. He was obligated to ruin an entrepreneurial man for having the temerity to unshackle himself from his perceived betters.
Compared to that, a bullet in the eye of a tycoon’s son is simple. There’s less moral flexibility in that kind of criminality. There’s right and wrong, good and bad, and within that framework, Mason knows where to position himself. It might have taken an ambling hour to get there, but Perry Mason’s Season 2 premiere arrives at a decently compelling conclusion: There’s a case to be solved that’ll need an honest man – and there aren’t too many of those around.
You can stream Perry Mason Season 2 Episode 1, “Chapter Nine” exclusively on HBO and HBO Max.