Perry Mason episode 4: A series of desperate measures

Perry Mason. Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO
Perry Mason. Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO /

Perry Mason episode 4 fills the HBO series with desperation.

Perry Mason‘s fourth episode was the HBO drama’s halfway point, so it’s expected that this was where things would reach a sort of fever pitch. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened, as the prequel went slightly off the rails.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the latest Perry Mason episode.

In “Chapter Four,” everyone was chasing their own ideas about the murder of Charlie Dodson, and doing some kind of outlandish things to further them. E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) continued his crusade in the media, and a large part of this episode was spent on his decline both with this case and in his overall career. “Chapter Four” was more about him than anything else, including its last scenes that saw him attempting suicide.

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E.B. was clearly not looking past his own ideas, and as for Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys), he went off the reservation in his own way. Perry and Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham) dragged their buddy at the coroner’s office down into a cellar, in hopes that he’d do an off-the-record autopsy on George Gannon’s body and prove that Charlie’s kidnapper was indeed murdered.

Poor Virgil (Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays, who briefly appeared in this season of Westworld as Liam Dempsey’s dad, Liam Sr.) was scared witless, and it was honestly uncomfortable to watch him squirm while Perry and Pete tried to push him into aiding them. They were now sure that they were looking for a fourth perpetrator, who had killed the other three.

Now if only E.B. hadn’t taken that information right to the scheming District Attorney to use as a bargaining chip. Because, after all, he was only interested in his goal—getting Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin) out of jail—and had no regard for how much fallout this major revelation could cause. It was no shock at all that the D.A. was involved with the corrupt cops.

Meanwhile, Sister Alice survived her seizure—luckily keeping Tatiana Maslany on the show—but lost the respect of her church for declaring she could raise Charlie from the dead. One of the most intense scenes of this Perry Mason episode involved the men of the church, including Charlie’s grandfather Herman Baggerly (Robert Patrick), confronting Alice’s mother (Lili Taylor) like an angry mob. That was after referring to Alice as a “hysterical female.”

Perry Mason is definitely trying to say something about sexism with Alice, a woman who seems to have all the power in public yet in private, is quickly regarded as a disposable figurehead. And what of the later information that she’s left other towns after similar “revelations”? The issue is that the subplot has very little relevance to the Dodson mystery or to Perry, at least so far. And the show is about Perry Mason cracking the Charlie Dodson case.

There was too much in “Chapter Four” that didn’t matter enough, from that to the reveal that Della Street (Juliet Rylance) is at least bisexual (she’s seen kissing another woman), to more of Perry in bed with Lupe (Veronica Falcón). Even E.B.’s downfall only impacted the case so much as it meant that Emily is now without a defense attorney.

There was one real “a-ha” moment when Perry had a conversation with Ennis (Andrew Howard), leaving the audience wanting more of what must be the ultimate face-off. HBO’s Perry Mason is developing into more of a broad character piece than a TV crime drama, even with the allowance that it’s trying to tell an origin story, too. Certainly it can continue to flesh him out in the final four episodes within the context of telling what’s supposed to be a sensational crime story.

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Perry Mason airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.