This Perry Mason review contains spoilers.
Perry Mason Episode 7
Perry Mason, episode 7, “Chapter Seven,” steers out of control to a very unexpected crossroads. There are deals with the devil happening in this installment and none of them are specifically satanic. Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) tries to exorcize demonic truths from the Assembly of God Church, while its leader plays god, and not just on the radio.
In “Chapter Six,” Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) remarks to her mother, Birdy McKeegan (Lili Taylor), that she’s been remembering quite a few things, lately. The new installment brings up a memory, though it appears it is one of many. “Chapter Seven” opens with Sister Alice as a young girl. She and her mother are stranded, out of gas on a remote highway. The kindness of strangers gets a little out of hand with the first traveler to pass their way, and there is an understanding over the Christian thing to do. Young Alice is in a state of reverie in the field beyond the road, but after the entire scene unfolds, it looks like it might be dissociation. The look on Birdy’s face also hints this isn’t the first time this scenario has played out.
When Alice recoiled, in “Chapter Six,” so intensely from her mother’s slap, it told a history. Tonight’s depiction of it shows it was an ongoing thing and hangs over the rest of the episode. The faith Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) finds in her belief in the Sister’s powers also carries the scent of post-traumatic stress. “I’m not going to lose him twice,” Emily tells Mason at the midway point, and lets him know he may not be among the forgiven when her child is resurrected through divine intervention.
The legal minds of Mason and Della Street (Juliet Rylance) know this is far less than a guarantee, unless she’s going for an insanity plea. Robert, the man who was healed in an earlier episode, comes back but not on his own two feet. He is guided to Alice’s radio broadcast by the money lenders themselves. The miracle healing only lasted for a few hours, Robert tells Alice and all her listeners, and it appears he has uncovered some grande scandal. No, the evangelist has a cure for that. It failed because he lacked faith, she says, and finds her voice again. The radio station scene is very exciting, and its resolution only adds to the overall ambiguity of both the spiritual and legal proceedings.
Perry’s opening is walking through a property with Jim Hicks (Todd Weeks), the man with the gun who closed out last week’s episode. “Sun Root Services convinced themselves they’d make a killing but look at them now,” the man says as he tosses the gun to Mason, proving he’s not going to kill him over it. Not only to the lawyer, but to the audience who sees He was a “drunkard, a liar and a thief,” he admits, and Mason confesses he can match him on all counts. They are two men looking for redemption. This is why, on the stand, the man with the gun has all the answers. It is also why Mason takes his case so personally he changes his team mid-stream. Mason’s on-again but always slightly off girlfriend Lupe Gibbs (Veronica Falcón) finally buys the farm and will make good on her plans to turn it into an airstrip. He should have seen that coming, but it shows how focused he is on the redemption he will find by saving the life of the defendant Emily Dodson. Just like he didn’t see he was pushing Peter Strickland (Shea Whigham) too far until he was long gone.
It’s fun to watch Mason with a new partner. We don’t get an introduction. Officer Paul Drake’s (Chris Chalk) just starts working the case in the scene after Peter walks out. But he’s not going to eat any shit. Drake’s scene with Miss Nina is fun, and she’s right: he does look better out of uniform. He has great repartee with the Lady of the house who is having a ball right back at him. He’s chasing a bad man with a badge, and Miss Nina knows he’s black and blue enough already. The thirties patter comes off easily, and the set passes pretty well for a dance dive with a jazz trio.
Drake shoots down Mason’s plan A immediately, and counters his plan B by just ignoring it. It is actually a fun give and take between the two, similar to the dynamics of Mason and Strickland, but entirely new. Mason still doesn’t have the upper hand here. And it is hysterical that Drake waits until after Mason gets a beating on his way out of the club before he gets involved. It is exactly the kind of punch line the drama needs to drive the point home to Mason. The scene has action, tension, the faint promise of sex, and everything comes crashing down.
Rhys puts up a good show as far as macho masochism goes. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And to his credit, he looks like it hurts and that he’s just able to take punches. He brings that across. Mason never looks like he would be very good at hitting back, even the one stomach punch he successfully throws in the cemetery looks like a lucky shot. Perry looks like he’d be as effective as Bill Murray was against Warren Oates in Stripes. But we completely believe he would stick until the last round. To be fair, Chalk does make it look like he’s at least a little surprised to find Mason on the wrong end of a chain link, but he also looks like he knows he’s going to enjoy it in retrospect. We all are. This is what Mason gets for shaving.
Throughout the series, Rhys’s acting in the fight sequences has been as subtle and effective as during his courtroom battles. Whether he was being kicked by Chubby in a phone booth or is getting stomach-punched out of a brothel, after each wallop you can almost see him say, “Is it over?” His eyes never ask if that’s all anyone’s got. They know there’s always more to come. They just want to know when the pain is going to stop, and honestly believe each punch is the last. He does get his licks in in court, though. He counters a sucker punch from the prosecution by asking DA Maynard Barnes (Stephen Root) what the picture of the dead child has to do with the objection he is raising. It makes him a contender.
It’s interesting how Mason gets accosted by an autograph hound who specializes in celebrity killers. But the lawyer’s revered status is immediately quelled by the greasy garbage dumped on him by one of the zealots. They will also make their appearance in the courtroom. The sewn up eyes of the baby-dolls are more mocking than horrific now, possibly because we’ve seen them enough to have developed an immunity.
Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) really goes at it in his getting-rid-of-the-witness scene. His knife is flying through splattered blood in a beautiful ballet of justice disrupted. “What we did to that baby,” the churchman says, and gets an amen. “Yeah, nobody wanted that to happen,” Ennis replies. It sounds honest, but as he is driving the knife in over and over and over, we begin to wonder whether Ennis wanted it to happen. Howard is very good at this ambiguity, he knows whether Ennis wanted this or not, and he’s giving us signs. He likes whatever violence he’s got to do. He wouldn’t do it without pay, mind you, but it is an on-the-job satisfaction.
Sister Alice is wondering about bigger sins than Emily’s case. She wants to know if she should sell her soul to Old Gold Tobacco, knowing full well the temptations of shilling face creams and toothpaste. Perry Mason is doing a good job of keeping the mysteries of faith mysterious. Emily completely believes in Sister Alice’s powers and Sister Alice wants to know why? They are as much hidden from her as they are from her follower. She has no idea she can resurrect Emily’s child, but she has to believe she can. Maslany brings both. Sister Alice is fully committed to failure, if that is the lord’s will. If only because it will end the penance of the sins of the opening scene.
The actual resurrection is the circus it has been promised to be. There is a moment though when Mason looks over with interest, and it appears he is actually expecting the miracle to happen. Everything about the series is upended and the rot at the center of the church is exposed. It doesn’t exonerate Emily but it doesn’t condemn her. “Chapter 7” brings a very different kind of cliffhanger to Perry Mason, the kind which can only lead to a leap of faith in a final episode.