Perry Mason episode 5: The one with all of Perry’s backstory

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

Perry Mason episode 5 centered on Perry Mason’s history.

Perry Mason was touted by HBO as a prequel, and that was incredibly apparent in the most recent episode of the TV crime drama, which handed fans a ton of information on its title character.

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

“Chapter Five” started with confirming what was pretty obvious when we left off—that Mason’s mentor E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow), despondent over his financial ruin and being threatened by the District Attorney, had committed suicide.

E.B.’s body was found by his loyal assistant Della Street (Juliet Rylance), who immediately called Perry (Matthew Rhys) to help her take care of the situation. That formed the bulk of this episode, putting the Dodson murder mystery on the back burner to take a ponderous walk down memory lane.

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Viewers saw the duo deal with their feelings about E.B.’s death—and their opinions about one another—while making the trip to put their colleague to rest in his family crypt. Matthew Rhys and Juliet Rylance are fine performers, but these melancholy scenes didn’t have any punch, with their characters seeming more numb to the loss than anything else.

Then there was dealing with E.B.’s affairs afterward, most notably Della trying to take the reins of his law practice, especially in relation to Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin). It was all a bit of a slow, broody journey through the past.

But that was nothing compared to Perry Mason‘s next scenes, where he thought it would be a good idea to make an unannounced visit to his ex-wife Linda (Gretchen Mol) and their son Teddy. Yes, the ex-wife whom he exploded at on the phone in an earlier episode. Needless to say, it was not a happy reunion.

At least audiences now had faces to put to names, and a better idea of exactly what had caused their family to go to pieces. Many TV crime drama heroes have family issues, and Perry’s, it seems, were almost all of his own making—which came across as being rooted, unsurprisingly, in the trauma he’d experienced as a war veteran and everything after.

With Perry and Della indisposed, the legwork fell to Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), who had a talk with the first cop on the scene of Charlie Dodson’s murder. The sergeant explained that Detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) had paid off their boss in order to take over the case. No, not suspicious at all.

Pete should be the MVP of this series, too, for how much he’s been hustling on this investigation and getting his hands dirty, often with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Perry Mason has continually struggled with the balance of illustrating Perry’s origin story versus telling a compelling murder mystery, and “Chapter Five” proved that point, turning hard left to be a massive information dump for the audience. It had Della explaining her point of view about him, a whole section about his broken marriage and parenting issues, and Perry finding himself without a mentor.

If all of this had been spread out over the series, it may have felt more organic. Or even if this had been one of the earlier episodes, and then we saw Mason plunge completely into his case with all of these issues informing that investigation. At least now HBO audiences have insight into what makes Mason tick—but with just a few episodes left, how will the show mix all this in and still get a satisfying conclusion for Charlie, too?

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