Perry Mason Recap: Lucky Me

Perry Mason

Chapter Fourteen
Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Perry Mason

Chapter Fourteen
Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Warner Brothers/ HBO

Nothing like an unlikely ally or secret foe to come in and shake up a mystery, huh? In tonight’s episode, we get both, and they bring some serious heat to the case. Our unlikely ally comes in the form of Detective Gene Holcomb (Eric Lange), a real “better the devil you know” job for Mason & Co. And we know Holcomb: a heavy-hitting dirty cop out to get his bag and improve his station and eke out his own healthy share of the American Dream. He tried to get there by doing a deal with a rich-kid devil, Brooks McCutcheon, who was never going to let a glorified thug with a badge into the platinum lounge of 1930s L.A.

And now he’s got a subpoena to testify in court from Perry fucking Mason.

“Brooks was into something big,” Holcomb tells Mason later in his office. “Bigger than you, Burger, or anybody this town’s even thinking about.” Now he’s talking some sense, but Mason isn’t having it. No beating around the bush. Holcomb’s here to negotiate his way off the witness list, and Mason doesn’t want to pass up a clear opportunity to fuck this guy up for good. They both know that if Holcomb gets on the stand, his life goes down the toilet — job, pension, everything gone.

But here’s the thing: Holcomb is more valuable to Mason as an ally than as an enemy to be flogged in the public square — just as he’s more valuable to us as an unlikely audience avatar. Holcomb speaks for us when he says, “I got a bunch of puzzle pieces, but I don’t know how they all fit together … so now I gotta figure out how to make this shit work for me somehow.”

Ain’t that just the way in the U.S. — we’re all compromised, because we’re all just trying to make the debris “work for us somehow.” Eric Lange is one of the greatest character actors currently permeating the stratosphere. Most of us have probably seen him on TV somewhere before Perry Mason — and remember him well. My inroad with Lange was his turn as demonic CIA operative Bill Stechner on Narcos. He brings that same simmering menace and sinister edge to Holcomb, but those piercing eyes speak volumes of vulnerability, fatigue, and, in this scene, desperation. And he shows enough of it to get Mason to listen.

So we’ve got an unlikely ally, but what about our mysterious informer? We last saw Mason confronted with a cryptic message from an ominous invader in his apartment. Now he’s rigging his door with new locks and heading out the fire escape to court. The walls continue to close in on our crew, and we’ve got two love interests in the mix who seem to have shown up a little too conveniently the longer this case goes on.

Some of you have been pretty good at tracking this in the comments. Admittedly, I’ve been too wrapped up in these budding romances at face value to even want to see either Anita St. Pierre or Ginny Aimes (or both) as femmes fatales, but here we are. In any case, I’m less convinced by Anita. At the top of the episode, she drops Della off at court and invites her to live with her. “There are plenty of women who make it work,” she says. It seems on the level and potentially a little too risky a move to make if your intentions aren’t pure. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Things are getting weirder in court, though. After questioning an expert on the gold coin that Brooks McCutcheon was carrying when he was murdered, Milligan rests, even though three more witnesses were on his list. It’s just as well, as Mason’s distracted, literally looking behind his shoulder in court during the proceedings. He thinks Lydell McCutcheon is behind the toy-train setup in his apartment, but, as Della points out, he isn’t exactly “the type to fire warning shots.” On their way out, Della catches Hamilton Burger in the hall and tries to get anything out of him. “I just want to know you’re all right,” she tells her friend and comrade in the closet. “You can trust me.” Burger’s response is nil — to the point of absolutely chilling. Somebody’s got him spooked, which doesn’t bode well for Della, as her similarly controversial personal life is under a secret, sinister microscope.

Back at the office, Mason has his little chat with Holcomb and tells him that, if they work together, he will need insurance: “Just an abuse of your power. Nothing you can’t handle.” So Holcomb gets Mason the San Haven file on Noreen Lawson — a big puzzle piece offering us our only respite from the mounting pile of shit our crew faces. So what do they get from the San Haven file? For one, they confirm that her brother, Councilman Taylor’s car-accident story was bogus. Her file shows petechial hemorrhage of the blood vessels under her eyelids — choking is the most likely cause.

The San Haven file’s nice, but as Della points out, “It’s no smoking gun.” (Bookmark that shit for later!) Nevertheless, it’s the best lead they’ve had in the case thus far, and it gives us our first big courtroom scene with Della Street at the helm. Heeeyyyooooo!

At the top of Taylor’s testimony, it’s still Mason at the reins, setting up the councilman’s public, albeit shrouded, connection to Brooks McCutcheon. Old Brooks was a major contributor to Taylor’s campaign, and wouldn’t you know it, McCutcheon Stadium just so happens to be in his district. Mason even gets off one of those little “naughty question objected to and immediately withdrawn” numbers: “How much of Brooks’s contribution to your campaign went to guaranteeing zoning permits?” Nice.

But when the time comes to bring up Noreen, they’ve already lost three female jurors. Della catches it, and she knows immediately that she’s gotta tap in. It only takes a quick beat for Mason to realize it’s time to let our girl cook.

And cook she does. Rylance was made for this shit, man, commanding the center of the ring with the simmering confidence of a clairvoyant viper. Making it look like it’s easy in a way we’ve never seen, even in Mason’s most animated courtroom theatrics, Della lures Taylor’s false narrative out of him, then systematically tears it down with a wicked combination of facts and drama. If his sister’s current condition resulted from a car accident, why is there no evidence of head injury — internal or visible? And Noreen’s medical records indicate brain damage was sustained from lack of oxygen. Then our girl brings out Brooks McCutcheon’s belt — the one he preferred to strangle women with sans consent — complete with sworn written testimony of this recurring act. The “M” mark on Brooks’s belt looks awfully similar to the mark on Noreen’s neck after her “accident,” as shown in a photo from the San Haven file.

For the finale, Della puts Brooks’s belt around her own neck and stands before the jury. “She was strangled,” Taylor finally admits. See what happens when you take a walk down Street Street, baby! We have our reasonable doubt — game, set, match, and all that.

Fresh off her victory, Della jumps in a phone booth to tell Anita she’ll be coming over soon with all of her stuff. Rafael is high off the day in court — so sure their way out is secured that he’s willing to fuck with the guards and get beat up and thrown in solitary (or worse). Bro, please don’t do that! Things may not be as wrapped up as you think they are. Your smoking gun is still out there waiting to be plucked from the ether.

Speaking of plucking things out of the ether, our shifty old PI pal, Pete Strickland, is in a bind with Milligan and the DA’s office. Earlier in the episode, Strickland was established as another mole suspect trying to break into Mason’s apartment to no avail. “I think I made it clear how important this information is to me,” Milligan tells him. “We can’t be going into the rest of their defense blind.”

Yeah, well, “Mason ain’t no rube,” says Strickland. “He knows someone’s onto him.” Milligan, obviously in no mood to hear another co-worker tell him how great Mason is, turns that shit on Strickland. Does he really want his old drinking buddy to think he’s smarter than him?

Meanwhile, Mason shows up at the beach on his motorcycle for a meeting with Holcomb. They both leave their pistols at their respective vehicles and stroll up the coast, away from the beach area, and Holcomb dishes some of his dirt on Brooks. Apparently, he was paying fellas under the table to unload produce south of Santa Barbara — “sull it around, make a couple bucks.” He was in cahoots with Goldstein, who was butchered four days before Brooks was killed. And that’s when the ships stopped going up there altogether.

So where are the ships going now? The answer is right in front of ’em — crates of rotting produce strewn along the shore covered in oil.

So it’s something with all the McCutcheon oil. Of course! That is bigger than anything Mason & Co. or anyone else has been thinking. “This is what Lydell’s been covering up this whole time, not some bullshit about protecting the McCutcheon family name,” Mason tells Della. But what is he covering up? We don’t know yet, but Mason isn’t ready to take Della’s suggestion and rest the defense. Sure, the prosecution’s case has already been undermined, but Della’s right to sense that any further exposure could burn them. But Mason’s got a scent for the big baddie, and he’s not about to back down from the fifth now.

A shot of a shadowed figure breaking into Mason’s office transitions us to the next day in court, where Milligan and Burger drop their big bomb on the defense. They know about the murder weapon, and they all take a field trip to Mason’s office, where he’s forced to unload it from his safe and surrender it for ballistics testing.

Well fuck. How’d this happen?? Who broke into their office?

Now what’s really ailing our crew is, more likely than not, a significant web of dubious people and events. There’s a whole machine working against them, and the information flows up from many sources and situations. The exact center of it, and the most direct contributor to their current woes, is still fuzzy. So back to the present — who do these guys think leaked the smoking-gun intel?

The obvious answer, for the time being, is Strickland, but the crew doesn’t know that yet. Mason’s throwing out some names rather haphazardly between hard, manic drags of a cig. “Do you talk to Anita about work?” Hey, there’s one. Can’t blame him for asking.

“Did you tell Clara when you found the gun?” he asks Paul. No way that’s a thing, but while we’re on the subject, let’s check in with these two. Paul has been in a bad way ever since he had to deal with that rough interrogation of Ozzy Jackson. The episode opened on Ozzy’s Converse sneakers hanging from a wire and splattered with blood — another vivid, uncanny image to queue in the title card. (Nobody’s doing title cards better than this show, man.) And we don’t really know what exactly happened to Jackson nor the full extent of Paul’s involvement.

We do know that our guy is still shook, and it ain’t exactly bringing out the best in him. On an anniversary night on the town with Clara, Paul catches Ozzy Jackson’s Converse on another man’s feet and tries to stop and question him. He’s curt with Clara for asking him what’s going on, and he’s shutting her out of his work in a way we haven’t seen yet. He’s also a total dick to his brother-in-law Mo, whom he brings on to run surveillance on a corner where the mysterious “hophead in a fancy car” might roll through. Mo’s notes leave something to be desired, and Paul gets nasty. “You mind how you talk to my brother in his house,” Clara reminds him. Later, he’ll stake out the corner himself, then lose sight of his mark while trying to chase down the guy in Jackson’s Converse again. Our guy’s internal center is shaky, and the reverberations are spilling out on the street.

Anyway, the point is that Clara and Paul are in a rough patch, but it hardly makes her a viable leak suspect. Mason smokes and broods a little longer, until something comes loose. He checks the office logbook, and that’s when he remembers. Ginny went to the office right when he was talking about having the gun in their possession. That same night at dinner, between helping Mason with his chopsticks, she was asking a lot of questions about Della and their work. It adds up just enough for Mason to go off the handle, fly over to Ginny’s place, and demand a confession. Right now, her reaction plays like it could be either confusion or rising guilt. Either way, the heat is on now, and we’re no closer to discovering who our spy is. The cogs keep on turning, and the world keeps on spinning.

Inculpatory Evidence

• How about this late-night ladies’ sesh with Camilla Nygaard? Call me an idiot, but back in episode four, when Nygaard was trying to give Della girl-boss lessons over tea, I didn’t really suss out a sexual element to this lady’s motivations. But when Della shows up at her mansion just as her old lapdog lawyer Phipps is on his way out, I was getting some serious Lydia Tár vibes from Miss Camilla — coming on with “Aren’t you special?” sweet nothings and offering a toke from her pipe. (Sidenote: There’s no way Della has never smoked weed before. Just saying.) I was relieved when Della hightailed it out of there just as Nygaard was feeling up her couch with some serious “hits blunt once” energy.

• “I am not a fan of theatrics in my courtroom, Mr. Mason,” the judge says when Mason passes questioning duties to Della. “Nor am I, Judge,” he replies. Hilarious from the guy whose name is synonymous with theatrics in the courtroom. That’s like Carrot Top saying he’s not a fan of prop comedy.

• There’s something goddamned iconic about Matthew Rhys in that leather jacket on the back of that motorcycle with those goggles on, you know? I can’t think of any other actor who could make it look so odd, antisocial, and cool all at the same time.

Perry Mason Recap: Putting the City on Edge