We’re 3 weeks in, and HBO’s Perry Mason has taken us to some dark places. But we’re now seeing the show is going to take us to some weird places too. But weird can be good. For a brief refresher, Matthew and Emily Dodson are shrouded in suspicion for their role in the kidnapping and murder of their infant son, Charlie. Both were arrested in Chapter 2, but Chapter 3 sees judgment on Emily take center stage. She’s revealed to have had an affair with one of the kidnappers, calling into question her innocence. She takes a beating in the press, while E.B. Jonathan expresses to whoever will listen that he’s confident he will prove her innocence.
Meanwhile, the series MVP (so far) is Sister Alice after her scene-stealing performance in Chapter 2. However, she arrives here in a more subdued state, giving an understated sermon to her congregation. This is explained by her mother, as she confides to one of the Church members that she told Alice to tone it down. That is an act I find more reprehensible than the kidnapping, so for me, Momma Alice is now the biggest villain in the show.
While she’s visited in jail, Emily and Matthew fight over the affair, as Matthew believes it’s her fault Charlie is dead and her fault that Matthew was in jail during the funeral. It’s a very animated fight, one that E.B. Jonathan is comically overmatched in trying to moderate. The most empathetic character of this episode is easily E.B. We have no idea if the Dodsons can be truly absolved from the murder of their son, and the uncertainty surrounding them continues to railroad E.B. at every corner. John Lithgow really puts in work here, emoting the stress and desperation his character is facing. Making matters worse are some concerning things we learn about his health, with clear indicators of what that ultimately means for the show.
As his comrades face adversity within the case, Perry turns into Batman and goes to great lengths to crack new ground in the investigation. This includes breaking into a morgue and tracking down Paul Drake. Drake is the black police officer who discovered the crime scene that may lead to the truth surrounding Charlie’s kidnapping. But he is in no mood to entertain Perry’s requests for information. Drake lives in fear of the racist detective Ennis, whose connection to the murder gets shadier by the episode. Drake is faced with the choice of staying quiet in the face of oppression or risking his life and his family to help Perry.
But the tests of morality aren’t limited to Drake. Perry gets into a heated argument (this whole episode is practically one argument after another) with Della Street (Juliet Rylance), E.B.’s secretary. She feels there’s a double standard in the press and the courtroom regarding Matt and Emily. Matthew seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt, while Emily is slut-shamed. Perry can’t sympathize with Emily or Della’s concerns; he has tunnel vision on the fact that Emily has lied, unwilling to acknowledge the sexism in the press. What’s interesting about the show is it’s not a simplistic “find clue, then solve case” mystery. Rather, the show hints that its protagonists will run into moral quandaries that they must overcome in order to solve the case. This is a fascinating story choice and one that appears critical in building Perry into the hero we need him to be; he’s not at that moment yet.
Chapter 3 moves faster than the previous two episodes, juggling a large array of characters with quick scenes, new developments, and new breadcrumbs. After introducing us to the players in the first two episodes, it feels like the show’s character arcs are all now firmly in motion. And perhaps the most fascinating of the bunch remains Sister Alice. Tatiana Maslany, who put in underappreciated work for years on Orphan Black, proves to be the show’s best casting decision.
Whether she’s outclassing Perry in a game of wits, comforting a distraught Emily, or expressing the anxiety she feels while under her mother’s thumb, there is not a single note that Maslany’s Sister Alice does not land with grace and precision. But then the show makes a curious decision with her character in the final moments of the episode, one that is as intriguing as it is baffling. This is where the show gets weird. Not Twin Peaks weird, but weird enough that’s it’s hard to tell where Sister Alice’s role is headed.
She believes God has given her a message, and if the show is serious about what she says, I expect the next few episodes to venture into some bat-shit insanity. Usually, that would be a sign that perhaps the show is going to ascend to another level or go off the rails a bit. Chapter 4 will be directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (the first episode of the season not to be directed by Tim Van Patten) which could see a change of pace in the show, for better or worse. But I believe with Maslany, we will forever be in good hands.