The finale’ of Home Box Office’s take on the timeless Perry Mason story arc, is one of the most memorable in the past decade of television and streaming. Tim Van Patten has helmed top-tier shows such as Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Deadwood, and Black Mirror. “Chapter 8” ranks among his finest work. The analysis of the superb conclusion of the Perry Mason cannot be succinct without acknowledging key plot points.
The courtroom drama is a staple is American television and film, and its effectiveness is hard to secure. The scrambling to gather evidence and the gnashing of teeth by both the prosecution and defense may come off as cliché’. The original 1857 to 1966 run of Perry Mason featured last-minute gathering of evidence and on-stand confessions to exonerate the titular character’s clients. The opening scene of “Chapter 8” seemingly presented us with the latter scenario. Mason has the repulsive Joe Ennis on the stand, and the corrupt detective is being bombarded with accusations. Ennis is guilty as sin, yet our good counselor cannot prove Ennis’ involvement in the Charlie Dodson kidnapping and murder. Mason is seemingly on the cusp of getting a classic Perry Mason courtroom confession, then someone almost seems to breaks the fourth-wall and exclaims “They never confess on the stand”. That someone is Hamilton Burger, the assistant district attorney who advises Mason. This scene is a masterful mix of directing, acting, and editing. Although I would have been slightly disappointed with an impromptu confession that wrapped up the case, the scenario was thoroughly engaging.
With Burger’s interruption, we realize that we are in the midst of a rehearsal by the Mason legal team. Della Street and Paul Drake, the latter quit the corrupt LAPD, concur with Burger’s assessment. Ironically, the Burger character was the DA in the original series that lost to Mason on 98% of the trials. The reimagining of the Perry Mason supporting characters is refreshing in this politically correct and woke age. Yes, we have black and lesbian characters, replacing the original straight white male and female characters. However, their background enhances the story, rather than being shoe-horned into the series to fill a demographic checkbox.
With Paul Drake and Della Street (pictured) in his corner, the series is now more reminiscent of the Perry Mason that the world was first acquainted with decades prior. The first five episodes were indeed enticing, with Mason doing the gritty private eye work. We saw him navigate the dark slums of LA, putting his life on the line for TRUTH. However, once he passed the California Bar, the show became more intense within the confines of a court of law.
Truth is the theme of Mason’s closing arguments in the Dodson case, an argument that was weak on evidence but strong on emotion, intelligent delivery, and raising reasonable doubt. This triage of effectively gets a hung jury, and Mrs. Dodson is a free woman. This is not a clear victory for team Mason, whoever it says something that an inexperienced lawyer was able to go toe-to-toe with a relentless DA and impressionable public.
The Dodson case, with its corrupt officials, peripheral murders, and public spectacle, made for an outstanding season of viewing. However, I would like to see entirely new storylines for Mason, Drake, and Street in Season 2. Save for Mason’s relationship with Pilot Lupe Gibbs, who is now the owner of the land that Mason’s deceased parents once owned. In a touching scene, Mason left Gibbs with an empty bottle with a note that read “The Price was Fair”. Their relationship was more than erotic voyeurism for a mature audience, it was a window into Mason’s soul. Gibbs was the character that he opened up to the most on a personal level, and her return may continue to give us deeper insight into our main character.
What are your thoughts on the finale’ and series as a whole? This HBOWatch reviewer felt vibes analogous to the first season of True Detective. Perhaps in the future, we will see a scenario where Mason’s client is guilty, and he still has to jealously represent them within the bounds of the law. The opportunities for more great seasons are in place. Please comment below.