In the middle of “Chapter Ten,” Della takes in a boxing match. Though, at first, all Della can see is punching, her new prospective beau with one hell of a name, Anita St. Pierre (Jen Tullock), telling her there’s a story happening in the ring. The short boxer eats the shots as he waits for an opening. As St. Pierre puts it, he must “work the body and the head will fall.” It’s a solid metaphor in an episode riddled with them. Perry needs to work the case until a clear shot presents himself, and this fleet-footed episode sees him doing just that.
“Chapter Ten” gets Perry Mason on track, giving the show a sense of urgency absent last season. Perhaps starting the season on a dead baby whose eyes were sewn open wasn’t the best way to welcome people to Los Angeles. Here, opening on Brooks McCutcheon’s death, “Chapter Ten” is a necessary step in any Mason story. The king of refusing the call, Mason usually spends chapters of his books (or minutes of TV time) deciding whether or not to take the case. Season one took five episodes before Mason even passed the bar. Here, we wrap up that convention in about 30 minutes.
With the Dodson wounds still fresh, Perry’s willing to sit on the sidelines even as D.A. Burger ratchets up the prosecution against Brooks’ supposed killers, assigning the hardnosed and vegetarian deputy Thomas Milligan, who probably shits pellets, to the case. Played by Mark O’Brien, best known by this writer as Halt And Catch Fire’s resident arrogant prick, Milligan promises swift justice, pinning the case on two Mexican teens, Mateo (Peter Mendoza) and Rafael Gallardo (Fabrizio Guido).
Perry Mason considers truth to be the only useful tool a good lawyer needs. But truth doesn’t pay the rent, so he must rely on the whims of an aspiring grocery emperor to make ends meet. Della listens to Gryce go on about sniffing cantaloupes for traces of ants as he orders them to seek out litigious ways to crush his competitors. Let’s get it out of the way: Gryce is definitely sniffing those melons for sexual gratification, and I won’t hear it any other way.
Mason is caught between two worlds in this episode. When we meet him at Gryce’s shop, he disassociates during Gryce’s scheme to weaponize Mason’s services and lets his thoughts drift off into the world outside the story. When they return to the office, their new hopeful clients await them. Mateo Gallardo’s wife pleads with Perry to do for her what he did for Dodson, what with her boys heading to the gallows as Burger ramps up a quick conviction. However, after learning that Dodson killed herself weeks after the trial, Perry knows that justice doesn’t bring salvation. Last week, Perry wondered, “Who’s responsible for what happens next?” He believes he is and doesn’t want to repeat that tragedy. When Perry tells her that he isn’t the man for the case, Matthew Rhys imbues it with all the pain of the Dodson trial, but we know he doesn’t believe it. He’s delaying the inevitable.
Meanwhile, enjoying a nice spaghetti dinner next to a pile of trash, Pete Strickland (the always-welcome Shea Whigham) awaits Paul Drake with news about the Black loanshark Paul’s been trailing. Paul’s assessment: Perkins is a harmless community fixture who often puts money back into it. On a criminality scale, Perkins is not worth bringing down, and though he doesn’t know why Pete’s interested, he’ll come to regret working for the mustachioed dumpster diner.
After wiping the marinara from his mouth, Pete joins Perry for one of their late-night whiskey sessions. As Perry bemoans the injustice rampant in the city, Pete tells him about a trip to the pier, where they saw a horse high-dive into a small tub of water. “How do they get him up there?” As the episode’s closing credits outline, it’s not that complicated. They drag the horse up the high dive and force him off. Here’s another metaphor the show throws out: Perry’s the horse being led up the ramp and forced to make an impossible dive. The mental image of a horse being dragged up a ladder leads us to Perry’s trip to the police garage housing Brooks’ impounded vehicle. Perry, who is way too comfortable poisoning dogs than we’d like to admit, measures the distances between the bullet holes, concluding that the shot was even more unlikely than initially believed. A scared kid at night pulled off this shot? “Not a chance.”
The next day, Perry and Della tiptoe closer to taking the case. Della heads to the Hooverville home of Gallardos to return a doll Mateo’s daughter left at the office. The Gallardos believe her visit means she’s taking the case, but nothing’s official yet. But, unbeknownst to Della, Perry is a step away from accepting the job. He visits Mateo and Rafael Gallardos in prison, learning that the killers were two brothers collecting bottles when they came across Brooks’ lucky coin in the trash. The two are barely 18, if that, and pinned with the long-range shot that hit Brooks square in the eye.
Taking the case re-invigorates Perry, who decides they should use Gryce to finance the firm on retainer and use the money to take on the Gallardo case pro bono. Reaching into some of that duplicity that made The Americans such a blast, Rhys works Gryce with some old-fashioned American chauvinism. He and Della present the grocer with a plan to buy up foreclosed buildings and fill them with food. He’d be the king of Los Angeles, and it’ll only cost them a grand a month. Gryce, not the lots, is the perfect target.
Perry is less successful in court, where he can’t work the judge so easily. Truth is the only weapon Perry needs in a trial, but his candor starts him off on the wrong foot here. He tries to get one over on the judge with technicalities, disrespecting his honor’s delicate sensibilities. It’s a good reminder that Mason’s by-the-book lawyering doesn’t play well with the enforcers of said book. They, like Burger, want a speedy trial, not an honest one. Outside the courthouse, Perry learns from a gaggle of reporters that he’s behind the eight ball. A new report—probably leaked by Milligan—showed that one of his client’s fingerprints was found on Brooks’ car. So he calls in Paul Drake, who wasn’t happy to learn that his information put Perkins away. Perry didn’t know that Pete was two-timing. Still, Drake trusts the lawyer more than a huckster eating spaghetti in an alleyway.
After a trip to the evidence locker, Perry and Drake go to Brooks’ casino, the Moroccan, which Della learns is hemorrhaging cash. The news is hardly a shock. Compared to the lavish Luxe we saw in last week’s glorious opening long take, the Moroccan is a dump. Brooks owed money all over town and frequently liquidated whenever his creditors called. With a motive coming into the picture, Perry and Drake find none other than Detective Holcomb aboard the casino ship. After some tricky public speaking, once again proving Rhys’ ability to pivot on a dime, the two leave knowing that Brooks was even shadier than previously thought.
Around this time, the show begins ramping up the series’ pulpier aspects: a brief sequence featuring a dark figure with a black glove tucking a letter into the Brooks’ billfold that was supposedly under police protection; one of Gryce’s distributors, the very type of person that Perry’s supposed to go after, getting his head smushed in a vice; and, finally, one of Brooks’ business partners getting a call about the man’s death and tossing a subpoena for Brooks in the fire.
Things are coming together. If last week’s felt like we were doing a lot of catch-ups and resetting from the previous season, this one puts us on a clear path. We have a case, a mystery, and a Perry Mason ready to sober up and do some work.
- Title Card Corner: Lydell standing over his boy’s dead body with the light casting through the window, looks about as close to a Mason book jacket as I’ve seen. That or the darkest Norman Rockwell in history.
- Matthew Rhys’ E.B. is going to make me cry.
- Justin Kirk’s D.A. Burger is setting himself up as a quiet big bad this season. I love Kirk, who is doing delicious work here and appears to be reveling in this morally complicated character. We see a new side of their dynamic with Della as his beard prodding him with questions. But man, she will be crushed when she takes a bite of the Burger.
- Katherine Watterson is one of the most reassuring actors to show up in anything. We look forward to future parent-teacher conferences.
- Horses are now known as “whinneying fuckers.”
- Rhys’ rushed questions and dumb smile for the server (“I heard the owner got hurt or something?”) is more of that Perry Mason gumshoeing. You love to see it.