You’ll find the crux of Perry Mason season two thus far around midway through “Chapter Eleven,” when Mason pays a visit to the Judge (Tom Amandes) to see about granting the Gallardo boys some extra protection in jail — our defendants aren’t making new friends in there. The Judge first scoffs at Mason’s idealism, but by the end of the conversation, he grants the Gallardo boys some security. “I can’t say too many of your ilk come out on top,” he says. “But I’ve often admired their fight. There was little of that idealism when I began practicing in the 1890s.”
And that, as Mason points out, is the big rub: All these years later, it’s so hard to survive in Los Angeles because “so few people have control over their own fate, so as you dangle, you just hope that whoever’s got you out there will be compassionate.”
Mason could’ve been talking about L.A. circa 1931 or 2023. The situation is the same. As benefactors of the American project, we allow ourselves a view of civilization as something that brings order to untamed chaos. From this conversation, we get a different picture of American civilization: a muddy trench of oil and gold where the rich and powerful secure their bag with the strong arm of the law. Real “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown”–type shit.
At the top of the episode, we find ourselves in court again. And this Milligan asshole is still playing on the public’s sympathies for a publicly wealthy family, asking for an abbreviated pretrial period so as not to exacerbate the suffering of the poor, defenseless, oil and blood-speckled McCutcheons. Once again, Mason calls McCutcheon out on his bullshit. In a rush to hang his clients, Milligan conveniently forgot that everyone has the right to a fair trial. If the roles were reversed, Brooks McCutcheon’s family would undoubtedly want ample time for his defense to prepare. Milligan wastes no time saying the quiet part loud. “The roles would never be reversed because Brooks McCutcheon was nothing like your clients.” In other words, the roles would never be reversed because the McCutcheon family has the resources to wield the law. It’s inconceivable that the Gallardo brothers could ever do the same.
But where the Gallardo brothers lack influence, they have an abundance of chutzpah in their corner. Our legal eagle Della Street, always coming in clutch with the heaters, hands Mason the California rule book with just the right penal code for this little skirmish. It buys them three weeks in the pretrial period, which is good but not enough to get them out from under the wire.
And Mason’s still living under the weight of the Emily Dodson boulder he’s strapped to his back. After a quick shot of Mason sitting in his dark apartment, staring at Dodson’s postcards again, we find him revisiting the Gallardo boys in jail. He doesn’t know them or their story as well as he should and wants to get on top of that before anything else. So where’d they come from before Mateo and Rafael were at the Hooverville?
“Here,” says Rafael. “We’ve always been from here.” Their family’s farm was paved over by the city. Mason’s gestures thus far — a pad and pencil for Rafael to draw with, an affirmation that he’ll get them extra protection while they’re locked up — were precursors to this moment of connection.
“I lost my family farm. Hard to let go.” They chuckle when Mason tells them it was because he “forgot to pay his taxes,” but even that difference is insignificant in light of what they’ve found they share in common, which is more than most people who ever lived will ever share with the Lydell McCutcheons of the world.
Fresh off a quiet night in with Anita St. Pierre and a pack of Turkish cigarettes (officially loving this spicy romance for our girl now, by the way), Della spies the program left over from Camilla Nygaard’s stupid L.A. Philharmonic fundraiser party and reckons her girlboss game-rec-game moment with this lady is a thread she and Mason can tug on for reliable intel on the McCutcheons. They find Miss Nygaard at her fabulously mod pool, giving marching orders to her lawyer, Melville “Phippsy” Phipps (Wallace Langham), between laps, something about securing new oil leases and such. Dr. Evil voice: “Pretty standard, really.” Whatever she ties up first, her competitors, including the McCutcheons and the “other asses,” can’t get later. Still, she and the other California oligarchs have been better at keeping the peace in their old age and established some “rules” to help them “work together when it serves.”
Della asks Nygaard what she thought of Brooks McCutcheon, to which she rather politely but no less directly calls Brooks a dumbass. “He was like a French realist painting. Nice to look at, nothing below the surface.” When Brooks was in financial trouble, he went to Nygaard for help, but she turned him away, part of keeping the peace with Lydell.
“What about San Haven?” Mason asks, and right away the vibe shifts. Nygaard knows whom she rolls with, and she isn’t about to cross the 1 percent line for some oddly sexy alcoholic defense lawyer. Not on purpose, anyway. She won’t traffic in tawdry rumors, but she accidentally gives up a name. “The Lawson girl’s family has been through enough.”
Mason takes that name to the San Haven Home, a live-in facility linked to the Santa Monica phone number he “conveniently” found in the McCutcheon evidence box from the last episode. Getting past the front desk by making up (I think) some law about attorneys getting full access to a patient in a private facility, he finds a catatonic Noreen Lawson and a photo signed by her brother with only his first initial, V. It’s some especially unnerving shit as Mason leans down and apologetically takes a picture of Lawson, recalling the genre-appropriate ickiness hovering around the crimes and investigations of the first season. A case like this, the abyss is always closer to the surface than you think.
Back at the office, Mason, Street, and Drake review what they’ve got so far and try to assemble a narrative they can run with. Mason’s eyes are already fixed on building his case around Detective Holcomb. We last saw everyone’s favorite dirty cop arriving home in the morning after another night of criminal activity and boat, or “perps and paperwork,” as he affectionately tells his wife. Did this guy really not tell his wife that he went in on a fucking gambling boat with some rich, dead asshole? So much for “not making a mistake marrying a flatfoot.” Anyway, Mason figures Holcomb was trying to get his money back from Brooks. Partnering in a boat couldn’t have been cheap, so Holcomb figures he “can go from owning half the Morocco to owning all of it with one bullet,” as Drake puts it. Holcomb saw Rafael and Maeto rummaging close to where he shot Brooks, and he found himself L.A.’s perfect patsies.
Della doesn’t buy it, so you know it won’t stick. They can’t link Holcomb directly to any of it. It’s reasonable doubt, but Milligan will rip it apart. Mason’s conclusions may be wrong for now, but his instincts are right. The pattern is clear when you want to stay at the top of the heap. In the words of old Billy Shakespeare (most likely), you “put down strangers … cut their throats, possess their houses, and lead the majesty of law in line, to slip him like a hound.”
Speaking of which, it’s finally time for our first official standoff with the big baddy. (Love it.) That’s right — Lydell McCutcheon’s thugs show up at Mason’s office and drag him to see Lydell at the track. It’s a crisp, ominous, sun-drenched setting fit for a simmering exchange.
“Mason Dairy, that was your family’s farm, wasn’t it?” Right off, old Lydell sets the tone, letting this punk attorney know he has the resources to dig into anyone’s life and sniff out the most personal weaknesses.
“You’ve been digging into my son’s affairs,” he continues. “I’d like you to consider finding another hole to dig in … Any one that isn’t full of mud to drag his good name through.” Lydell is no fool; he knows his son’s “good name” was just a fabricated “version” of many Brooks McCutcheons. “Is there a version that includes Noreen Lawson?” Mason asks.
That perks old Lydell right up, and he goes for the throat. “That poor Emily Dodson girl. All you went through for her. You worked tirelessly to have her set free. And for what? Just so she could walk into Lake Tahoe.”
Lydell will follow that up with a more direct threat. “Keep digging into my son, and I will burn you. And no one will give a damn.” But the Emily Dodson name drop is the real wound that could take Mason out of the fight. Fortunately, he knows where he’s standing and why, and this face-off with a snarling flesh-and-blood manifestation of his inner demons knocks some sense into our guy.
So he returns to the office and finally tells Della about Emily. Della’s reaction is an instantaneous mix of shock, sadness, empathy, pity, and anger, but she leads with more pity and anger in the moment. I like that character beat, and I dig the authenticity and awkwardness it creates in the conversation. “When I said we’re in this together, I meant it. We’re partners,” Della says. “But when are you not alone in anything?”
Mason has nothing left to say but “I’m sorry.” Della’s disappointment is palpable, but in an instant, we feel the relief, for both of them, that the cards are all on the table now. The wounds are fresh, but they remain one in purpose.
But wait, there’s a last-minute shake-up in the case. When Drake goes to the Hooverville to verify the Gallardo brothers’ timeline of events, he finds a pair of little white kids shooting a gun. Apparently, they rented it from some guy in the neighborhood, whom Rake tracks down and uses the kids’ dad’s name as an alibi to rent some “equipment.” Drake takes every .32 this shady man has on hand and does a little damp phonebook shooting to see if the bullet markings match those found in Brooks. Our big “whoopsie” of the day comes when Drake finds a match and confirms (at gunpoint) with our neighborhood gun-rental agent that he rented a .32 to the Gallardo boys.
Call me crazy, but when Rafael and Mateo said they were never at Brooks’s car, there wasn’t anything there to suggest they were lying, right? I dunno, man, one of the things about me covering these shows is I’m seldom ahead of the mystery as it unfolds. So all I know is that Drake has found the literal smoking gun in this case and tied it to the Gallardos. Innocent or guilty, there’s a big hole in Mason’s case now. This is a sign of some deep shit on the horizon for our crew, and you see it in Drake’s eyes in the episode’s final shot.
• Both Della and Perry are finding welcome emotional counterweights in their romantic interests this season — new, illuminating connections coming in clutch in the eye of the L.A. shitstorm. While Della’s new relationship seems to be off to the races, things are just starting to materialize between Mason and Ginny Aimes, his son’s hot teacher. After a debaucherous first night staying at his dad’s apartment (complete with a trip to the movies to see, gasp, King Kong), Teddy rides into school on the back of his weird dad’s motorcycle without finishing his homework. It’s okay, though; Dad’s on the case. He charms Miss Gaines with some colorful language and an endearingly off-his-game demeanor. “I won’t hold it against you, the language or the movie choice.” Seriously, I love that taking your kid to King Kong in 1931 is equivalent to taking your kid to Saw.
• Just letting you commenters out there know I’ve heard the call to watch The Americans. I’m an episode and a half in, and I’m already hooked. Many thanks for the rec. Now, if you haven’t already, do me a favor and watch The Knick (also on HBO Max). As I mentioned in a previous recap, The Knick is my dark-horse pick for the best television drama of the 21st century. If you’re new to it and dig what Jack Amiel and Michael Begler are doing as the incoming showrunners of Perry Mason, it’ll be a real thrill to watch their stuff through the lens of series director and Gen-X auteur–GOAT Steven Soderbergh.