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HBOWatch’s Look at PERRY MASON Season Two

by Travlis Hallingquest
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The premium cable take on the late author Erle Stanley Gardner’s character Perry Mason concluded its second season on April 24, 2023.  HBOWatch previously covered S2E1 and opted to cover the remaining episodes in one article, due to our commitment to cover as much Home Box Office content as possible.  However, this certainly does not reflect our true admiration of this superb legal drama. PERRY MASON exudes the writing, acting, directing, and production that viewers have experienced over the past half-century from the premium cable network. Regarding the latter attribute, entertainment sources state each season of this series cost approximately $70 million. Although HBO is not against keeping high-quality but low-viewed shows on the air (i.e. THE WIRE), an announcement for a potential season three of PERRY MASON has not been made at this time.

THE FOLLOWING IS A RECAP OF EPISODES 2-8.  

Episode 2

PerryMason_S2E2-300x213Perry Mason’s PTSD from the Emily Dodson case can only be quelled by taking on another criminal case. The irony of treating the aftereffects of one traumatic event, by taking on another tragedy-laden case is the nature of this version of Perry Mason. Mason is driven by uncovering the truth, no matter the consequences.  The Gallardo brothers present the opportunity to satisfy Mason’s zealous nature and to generate exposure for the law practice. Acutely aware that the Gallardos cannot afford counsel on their own, Della and Mason turn their attention back to Sunny Grise. This is the owner of the supermarket chain that they represented in S2E1 for the copyright infringement case.

Grise is convinced to hire the Mason firm on retainer, on the notion that they will continue to help expand his business. The Gallardos now have competent representation but little prep time; the arraignment transpires the following day. The prosecution successfully secures a no-bail order. With the murder of a rich man allegedly at the hands of poor Mexican nationals, Mason has a mammoth challenge ahead. Before the episode concludes, Della uncovers a myriad of debts that the late Brooks McCutcheon owed. This revelation gives hope that the real killer is still on the loose.

Episode 3

Assistant DA Milligan asks the judge to begin the trial immediately. Mason vehemently objects, asking for adequate prep time. The judge is clearly not a Mason fan but grants three weeks. Della laments that three months is needed for a case of this magnitude. In her off time, Della converses with a wealthy socialite and philanthropist named Camilla Nygaard, who is a mentor for our aspiring lawyer.

Former LAPD officer and occasional Mason associate Paul Drake grows impatient with his living situation.  Paul is newly married and has a newborn, but lives with his cousin due to the lack of civil cases that require his PI skills. Paul is approached by Pete Strickland to investigate a possible assassination plot on a prominent African American figure.  This investigation leads to peripheral evidence related to the Gallardo case.

PerryMason_S2E3-300x131The Gallardo brothers are subjected to even by incarcerations brutal treatment while being held in county jail. In one instance, Rafael nearly swallows a shard of glass that was placed in the already inedible jail food. Perry requests the judge to mandate his client’s safety. The judge does not appear to be the typical tv-trouped bigot but laughs mildly at Mason’s suggestion. The judge eventually agrees to add a layer of protection for the accused.

Mason takes some time out of his busy personal life to spend time with his son. They cut school to see the 1933 release of King Kong.  Returning from the outing, Mason is confronted by Della about why they had not taken on criminal cases since the Dodson affair.  Mason admits that he has had sleepless nights since Emily Dodson committed suicide. Della is understanding but insists he cannot hide such issues from this point onward.

Paul’s investigation leads him to a poor community (informally known in the pre-FDR days as Hoovervilles), very close to the community where the Gallardos lived. Two young children are firing a revolver at a rat.  When questioned, the kids reveal that an arms dealer rents guns for a low fee. Paul bribes the children to lead him to the dealer.  Paul poses as a low life that needs to rent a gun for a criminal act. The dealer rents Paul several guns. Paul fires the guns at old books. Retrieving the slugs from the books, he compares the strike marks to the ballistics tests of the bullets that killed McCutcheon. One of those revolvers killed McCutcheon, and that particular revolver was rented by one of the Gallardos.

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Episode 4

Paul confides in his wife that the murder weapon was in the possession of the accused. She urges Paul to immediately inform his friend and employer that the accused are not falsely accused. This is the biggest departure from the 1950s PERRY MASON story arc: Mason’s clients were always innocent. However, HBO’s take removes this contrived plot armor and opts for a grittier realization: Good people do bad things. When Mason confronts his clients with ballistic evidence, they confess. Rafael pulled the trigger. They were hired by an unseen employer for $2500. The brothers killed McCutcheon out of desperation and they resented their old home being destroyed to make ground for McCutcheon’s proposed baseball stadium. The writers borrowed this plot point from the real-life controversy involving the construction of Dodger Stadium.

PerryMason_S2E4Mason, Della, and Paul struggle to keep their personal lives meaningful. Mason and his son ride horses with Ginny Aimes, his son’s teacher. Soon, Mason begins a relationship with his son’s educator. But the lawyer’s haunted past makes it difficult to properly communicate. Due to the atmosphere of the 1930s, Della must keep her love affair with the enigmatic and captivating Hazel, on the down-low. Paul wants to spend more time with his wife, but the case requires hours of surveillance time. Also, Paul is called an “Uncle Tom” for working for the law, words that nearly resulted in fisticuffs.

Episodes 5-7

The next episodes are filled with violence, betrayal, and atonement.  After a romantic rendezvous with Ginny, Mason reluctantly makes his way to court. Although not quite the magnitude of “a trial of the century”, the case is bigger than any sporting event or movie premiere in California. The first witness for the prosecution is a city bus driver. The driver states he dropped the Gallardo brothers off a block from the scene PerryMason_S2E5of the crime. This witness is unfiltered in his disdain for Mexicans and suggests that the accused are guilty merely because they were close to the scene of the crime. Perry uses the witness’s arrogance against him, stating it is insipid of him to assume what the Gallardos did after they departed the bus. With that simple argument, any customer onboard during that route could have been the killer.

Later that afternoon, DA Bulger offers Mason a deal that would spare the boys the death penalty but include a mandatory life sentence without parole. This is to the chagrin of Bulger’s assistant DA Milligan. Mason later rejects the deal, but he ponders what Bulger knows that they don’t know.

PerryMason_S2E5Pic2Mason’s next day in court is a superb outing. The prosecution calls up a fingerprint expert that confirms a fingerprint left at the crime scene is Rafael Gallardo’s. When Perry gets up to cross-examine the expert, the guy has to admit that the fingerprint is reversed and that it’s impossible to naturally leave behind. Meaning it was planted evidence. This is a pivotal moment in the trial and Assistant DA Milligan fully realizes how great Mason is as a lawyer. Milligan convinces Pete Strickland to betray Mason, by breaking into his friend’s office. Pete cracks the combo into the safe and finds the murder weapon.

PerryMason_S2E7Paul tracks the man that arranged the murder of McCutcheon. Paul realizes the low-life is just a middle-man when it is disclosed that the person who hired him was a wealthy man with a drug-addicted wife. Paul asks his wife to pose as a maid seeking work to reveal the mystery employer’s identity. Paul’s wife is able to extract a name from the household’s junk mail, and this person is the personal attorney of Camilla Nygaard.

Mason and the prosecution are summoned to the judge’s chambers. The prosecution reveals to the judge that Mason has the murder weapon in his safe. Both sides plead with the judge not to have a mistrial. The judge says the case will continue but Mason will face charges upon its conclusion.

Pete Strickland atones for his actions. Much to the initial anger of Paul and Della, Strickland helps the Mason firm track down the person who wanted McCutcheon dead. Pete Strickland and Perry Mason board a McCutcheon-owned ship and they find that the ship is dumping all of its fresh produce overboard, and the vessel receives additional cargo from another vessel. What the hell does this all mean?


Episode 8

Pete, Paul, Della and Mason piece together all of their findings and arrive at the conclusion that Nygaard is not the community ambassador that the city believes her to be. The evidence revealed that the socialite was in competition with McCutcheon and eliminated the competition. This hard truth hurts Della but she is prepared to bring her mentor to justice.

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The dream team also uncovered bribe evidence on DA Bulger (this is why he offered Mason a deal earlier), and the DA now offers to set one of the brothers free while the other receives 30 years without parole.  The older Gallardo accepts the guilt, while the actual trigger man goes free.

Mateo confesses to the court that he killed McCutcheon. The judge accepts the confession, and the jury is dismissed. Mason is ordered to report to jail within a week for a four-month sentence.

Mason and Pete make amends.  Paul thanks Mason for employment and friendship but decides to work for the rich African American man Pete originally hired him to investigate. Della confronts her former mentor with the uncovered evidence. The rich woman is seemingly unfazed by the confrontation until FBI agents swarm the property.

Mason meets with Ginny shortly before reporting to the county jail. The brief encounter is poignant and suggests a future together is a high possibility.

Overall Thoughts

Despite its overall positive reception, HBO’s PERRY MASON has been criticized for not having the fun factor of the original series. The original series and novels featured the titular character finding evidence in the last phases of the trial (in the nick of time from a TV perspective) and exonerating his client. For HBOWatch, this premise belongs alongside the well-intentioned yet overly sentimental programming of the 1950s.  HBO’s and Downey Production’s vision is that the “good ole’ days” were not always so good. This series though,  is good.

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What are your thoughts on PERRY MASON Season 2?  Is a third season warranted?  Whether or not the series returns, HBOWatch hopes new viewers will become acquainted with 1930s Los Angeles’ most controversial and talented attorney.

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2 comments

Bruce May 9, 2023 - 1:56 pm

Yes, I hope that a third season is approved by HBO. The first two seasons were first rate.

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Jef Dinsmore May 9, 2023 - 2:48 pm

Agreed, but with the current Writers Strike who knows when a third season will be scripted? We will keep you posted.

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