Television

Perry Mason Chapter 4 Review – Blasphemer!

I said in my review of Chapter 3 that the series was preparing to become more bizarre. Chapter 4 did not disappoint in that category, but I didn’t expect the crazy to start in the opening scene, as we see when Sister Alice is visited by a family of overzealous Church goers. At the end of the previous episode, Sister Alice collapsed during a sermon, but upon gaining consciousness she vowed to resurrect Charlie Dodson from the dead. This claim gets out to the media, and now Alice is the subject of much scrutiny, with some actually believing she’s capable of this miracle, while others lament she has lost her mind and betrayed her faith.

Alice is the most interesting character in the show, partially due to the performance of Tatiana Maslany. But also due to the fact that the character is experiencing the most intriguing conflict of the show. If you put what she believes on paper, most would consider her to be certifiable at best. But the show gets us on her side, in opposition to her overbearing mother and oppressive congregation. It’s the charisma of Maslany, combined with seeing an ambitious individual have her spiritual connection challenged, that makes Sister Alice a protagonist worth rooting for.

It has become apparent that her refusal to shut up about Charlie’s murder will be a key factor in reversing the odds against the deceased’s attackers. Her arc takes another turn when she refuses to go back on her word; instead, she doubles down and vows once again to bring Charlie back. This inspires a mob of people to brand her a “Blashemer!”, including one rabid Christian (played by David Wilson Barnes) who throws in his hat for the 2020 award for over-acting.

Of course, the aforementioned Charlie is the infant child of Matthew & Emily Dodson, kidnapped and murdered under mysterious circumstances. Emily is in jail because her affair with one of the kidnappers puts her innocence in question. Matthew is prepared to testify against Emily, while her defense team consisting of E.B. Jonathan, Perry Mason, and Della Street scramble to fight back against the prosecution.

Unfortunately, Chapter 4 features the defense taking one big L after another, partly because they don’t seem united. Della wants charges pressed against the cops for brutalizing Emily while in police custody. E.B. scoffs at this because the idea of the corrupt LAPD investigating itself is absurd. Both parties have a point, but fail to compromise.

Meanwhile, Perry has gone full vigilante as he has little faith in the legal system. Perry and his partner, Shea, continue to investigate the death of Emily’s lover, falsely reported by the media as a suicide. The obstacles standing in Perry’s way to get a proper autopsy feel more like a “problem of the week” type story than one that’s actually worth the time. It’s the one element of the episode that comes off as filler. Yes, Perry eventually gets the autopsy he needs, but it doesn’t negate the desperation E.B. finds his practice in amidst crippling debt and a client who may not be able to prove her innocence.

The disarray, however, does inspire the evolution of Della Street. Long fulfilling the thankless role of secretary, she’s finally had enough of E.B.’s shit, standing up to him when he becomes too demanding and mistakenly criticizes her job performance. It’s a great moment, one that’s been building since the start of the show. Della has had to kowtow to both Perry and E.B., and her frustration with their lack of appreciation for her work, or unwillingness to accept her input, has finally boiled over. This, combined with the intimacy we see in her personal life, go a long way to flesh out Della. But is this just window dressing for a character, or will she have an important role as the season nears it’s climax?

But above all others, this episode belongs to John Lithgow. He’s been a sneaky good supporting player from the beginning, but this is where his performance as E.B. Jonathan takes center stage. E.B. faces the most obstacles in this episode – fights with his colleagues, questions about his practice’s profitability, failing health, and a defense case that seems stuck in the mud. While visiting Emily in jail, he can’t even muster the right words to comfort her. LIE! Lie to her, E.B.! Tell her something that will give her piece of mind, this poor woman looks like she hasn’t slept in 200 hours.

But E.B. Jonathan isn’t the hero of this story, so of course he can’t ease Emily’s concerns. The pressure to perform in this case leads E.B. to a fate that is as sad as it is captivating. All the while, Lithgow knocks the performance out of the park, elevating the show to another level. He doesn’t even need to speak – his eyes and expressions tell us everything we need to know. It’s a commendable performance in a great episode of a potentially great series.

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