Martin Carr reviews the third episode of Perry Mason…
Court room distractions, amorous missives and perfectly placed dentures hold the key to the mystery in Perry Mason. Political games, power plays and newspaper headlines take precedence over incarcerated intimidation tactics. In a short time this has turned into a turf war between government appointed officials and high profile defence lawyers, as HBO lean into that 1930’s vibe.
Reporters with flashbulbs stand by as persons of power get a wet shave and Mason works around the edges, between the cracks and beyond convention. This show remains more about the atmosphere and ambience which draws the audience in, rather than anything complex concerning narrative. Stephen Root and John Lithgow glower at each other over brandy and cigars, while our eponymous anti-hero is suitably unshaven and brazenly persistent in his pursuit of evidence.
Tatiana Maslany’s Sister Alice is a delicate balance of theatricality and stone cold pragmatism. Her chemistry with Mason is undeniable while the holier than thou Bible belt sequences walk the line between fact and fiction easily. Meanwhile Chris Chalk’s officer Drake is quickly walking away with any scene he inhabits, as confrontations and quiet conversations with Mason remain continually riveting.
Trial scenes on the other hand are clichéd and typical. Witnesses shout, aggrieved spectators rattle their proverbial sabres and compromised defendants confess at will. Church and state might clash repeated in a series which is still in the process of world building, yet Perry Mason remains pleasing due to an inherent authenticity. From opening frame to closing credit it continues to exude that Double Indemnity vibe without missing a beat.
Shades of grey define these people while secrets of a diabolical nature are hinted at beyond the façade of respectability and good humour. As a show it is more concerned with exploring the various facets of character and motivation than actually driving plot forward. HBO have taken the time to provide a rich canvas so audiences can invest in Emily Dodson’s plight, whilst exploring racial inequality through the trials of patrolman Drake. A character who is constantly conflicted by being denigrated due to colour yet revered due to professional position.
Although this first season may have received its fair share of mixed reviews by some, Perry Mason has quickly established itself as a sophisticated, complex and consistent period piece.