Television

Perry Mason Chapter 7 Review – The Thin Line Between Fear & Faith

At long last, Perry Mason plays it’s hand on what ails many of its key characters. Chapter 7 begins with a flashback from Sister Alice’s childhood. Alice and her mother, Birdy, are stuck on the side of the road until they receive help from a kindly Christian. The scene is mesmerizing visually, awash with saturated colors and contrast. But the beauty of the setting is upended by the scene’s twisted conclusion – one that fills in the blanks on Alice’s fragile mental state. She’s a victim of her mother’s transgressions and we finally get to see what some of those transgressions are.

Flash forward to the present day, where Alice is a neurotic mess. She’s on edge due to her promise to resurrect Charlie Dodson, Emily Dodson’s son. But it’s in Chapter 7 where Alice begins to question her supposedly divine powers. Emily (Gayle Rankin) is convinced Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) can bring back her son. In an earlier scene in the episode, Alice is confronted by the man in the wheelchair whom she supposedly healed in front of her congregation, back in Chapter 5. However, he’s here to show her the “healing” only lasted a few hours. I mean, duh, like we need to be told that Alice is delusional and spreading dangerous rhetoric. Alice rationalizes all of this, exclaiming that the man simply lacked faith – the go-to excuse for explaining why the impossible is actually possible.

Shifting to the improbable, Perry (Matthew Rhys) is settling comfortably into his role as Emily’s defense lawyer. He’s only been on the job for a couple of weeks, but gone is the stammering and dry mouth. He has conviction in his arguments, and the necessary quips to combat the prosecution’s objections. His partner, Peter Strickland (Shea Whigham) even remarks “You almost look like a real lawyer up there”, prompting a friendly middle finger from Perry. He continues to zero in on implicating both the LAPD and the church for their roles in Charlie’s death. However, there is a considerable lack of drama regarding the case because we know who’s responsible early on. It’s entirely possible that there’s a revelation coming, one hiding in plain sight, that will salvage the lack of drama. But at present, it’s fair to say that the case of Charlie’s death is just as uninteresting as it is transparent.

Despite the court case hanging over her head, Emily’s focus is devoted to trusting Alice. She’s steadfast that Alice will bring her baby back, and this insanity leads Della Street (Juliet Rylance) to joke that she and Perry should have Emily committed. The problem is this plotline went on too long without anything in terms of a resolution or major development. Alice announced her intentions to revive Charlie all the way back in Chapter 3. This wild plot point should have been saved for a later episode so that the payoff would be closer. Instead, it’s been sitting in the fridge for weeks, waiting to be re-heated.

Fortunately, Chapter 7 is the showcase for the re-heat. Alice’s promised day of resurrection arrives, but the event leads to mass hysteria at Charlie’s gravesite. Despite the terrible scene, Alice is nearly redeemed when Birdy tries to convince onlookers that her daughter’s promise has been fulfilled. It’s at this moment where Alice makes a crucial decision regarding her devotion to Birdy – except it doesn’t fit in well in the context of the episode. Or rather, the opening flashback doesn’t support this climax well. The tension of the flashback has almost nothing to do specifically with faith, religion, or delusion, all of which are major themes in the climax. It’s a weird mix that makes it seem like some of the season’s scenes are in the wrong order. I understand that the flashback is meant to manipulate the audience into fully taking Alice’s side, so that the eventual rejection of her mother is met favorably. But thematically, the scenes do not compliment one another.

While the dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship continues to crumble, one positive relationship in the show is the growing partnership between Perry and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk). Drake makes the decision to help Perry in the case, despite the possible blowback he’ll face as a black cop. However, the show doesn’t treat this decision as being as cathartic as it deserves to be, given the weeks of buildup. Nevertheless, Rhys and Chalk have good chemistry with one another, and their scenes in this episode feel straight out of a buddy cop movie. Knowing the history of the franchise, it’s obvious that Paul Drake must be positioned as Perry’s future partner. But it feels that Paul’s struggles with oppression have yet to reach a climax, and hopefully, the finale will not disappoint.

Perry and Drake are set on a collision course with detective Ennis (Andrew Howard), the hired gun responsible for the murder of Charlie Dodson. Howard is so convincing that I wonder if he’s a maniac just like Ennis. If anything, Ennis deserves more screentime; his psychotic outbursts give the show a different tenor, and establishes Ennis as a villain that is incredibly intimating. He and Sister Alice are the most electric characters in the show.

Overall, Chapter 7 feels grand. The ethical showdown between Sister Alice and her mother represent the best scenes of the episode, partially due to fantastic performances by the two actors playing those roles. But many of the show’s themes and threads feel undercooked. At times, the show seems to be stretching itself too thin, wasting screentime on filler (no, writers, I do not care about Perry’s girlfriend buying his farm and you can’t make me!) that could be better served to strengthen other plot elements.

Perhaps it’s a bit selfish, given the terrific acting and excellent production values, but I want to love Perry Mason more. Yet, it feels that the many plotlines and character dilemmas (racism, sexism, blasphemism, Perry’s paternity, his relationship to his parents and home, his Dishonorable Discharge, police corruption, the failure of fatherhood, etc) are a bit scattershot rather coming together to form a cohesive and fulfilling narrative. This could all change with an excellent season finale. But the penultimate episode of this season leaves me with more questions than answers – wondering, much like Alice’s believers, if the show can deliver on everything it promises. But appropriately, I have faith.

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