Chapter 6 of Perry Mason wastes no time jumping into the action. The scene – the courtroom where Emily Dodson is on trial for conspiracy in regards to the murder of her infant son Charlie. After the events of Chapter 5, Mason has replaced E.B. Jonathan as Emily’s attorney. The setup of this episode doesn’t feel all that dissimilar to a typical episode from the iconic Perry Mason (1957-1966) series, starring Raymond Burr. In other words, this is the first episode that ventures closer to the Perry Mason we’re familiar with – a mysterious case with a vulnerable defendant, dramatic objections, and unforeseen reveals.
However, there is still one major difference remaining in the reboot – this Perry Mason sucks at his job! Sure, Perry (Matthew Rhys) no longer looks like a disheveled wino, settling into formal attire and a slick haircut. But his first address to the courtroom is strained out as he experiences a coughing fit, even having to accept water from the prosecution. He stumbles on his words, forgets details, shows inconsistent courtroom etiquette, and forgets portions of the law. I guess this is what happens when you try to become a lawyer literally overnight. Perry’s failures eventually lead him to angrily damn E.B. in death. It’s a scene that is equal parts theatrical and melancholy – shaming E.B. for his suicide is Perry at his lowest.
Meanwhile, Emily fares no better. It’s become a weekly routine that some scandalous secret about Emily will be revealed, and Chapter 6 was no exception. A witness reveals to the court that Emily and her lover, whom she was having an affair with, rented a room at a motel to have sex while a crying Charlie laid in the next room. An incensed Perry is outraged Emily never told him this story, and her innocence gets harder to prove with each episode. Regardless of the truth, if this case happened during an age of true crime podcasts and various Netflix shows, Emily Dodson would look like a guilty woman to much of the general public.
Making matters worse is the presence of Sister Alice, who clashes with Perry during the episode. She still maintains this idiotic declaration that she will resurrect Charlie Dodson from the dead. This promise has led Emily down a path of delusion, and Perry can see the impact, leading to a tense conversation where both Rhys and Tatiana Maslany get to flex their acting muscles against one another. It’s still unclear what role Alice will have in the climax of this story, as she deals with her own neurotic state of mind. She feels like she has a duty to be an instrument of God, and a savior to the afflicted. Her story is interesting, but it’s time for the show to begin to reveal where this is all headed.
It appears we’re headed down a path where Alice must come to grips with her sanity, and her mortality. The plotline, centering on divinity, would normally be too over the top for a gritty show that deals with racism and police corruption. But Maslany makes Sister Alice feel like a real, flesh and blood character whose insecurities and ideals are believable amidst all the religious hysteria. Her casting continues to be the most important of the series.
The second half of the episode focuses less on what troubles Emily and Alice, and zeroes in on the filth in the LAPD. This thread is re-introduced with Paul Drake, the black cop whose lack of agency within the department has silenced his voice. He and Perry share knowledge that could be a breakthrough in the case, but Perry has yet to reveal it to protect Drake from his racist colleagues. But as Chapter 6 develops, Drake is continuously forced to make choices that provide him monetary benefit, but completely fracture his morality. His inevitable breaking point may end up being the turning point in the entire series; a moment for the show to rally against the system of oppression that incentivizes the innocent to bury the truth.
Drake’s story is almost in direct parallel to Detective Ennis, who’s the culprit behind several of the show’s crimes. While Drake is conflicted by his perilous environment, Ennis has bought into the life of a dirty cop. He sees it as a shark simply adapting to his environment. He seems like the type that would rationalize that he’s not a bad guy, he just knows how to survive in a bad world. Convenient reasoning so you don’t have to show any remorse for who you hurt.
As Perry struggles to find his footing as a lawyer, it’s this dichotomy between Drake and Ennis that forms the bedrock of the series’ narrative. Together, they represent the idea that no matter what system you find yourself in, it’s your choices that will either enable or upend that system. So far, both characters are enablers, but only one seems to have the potential to change course. Rather that leads to a heroic ending, or a cynical take on idealism against insurmountable odds, is yet to be seen.